Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Montreal Tam Tams: Exploring Local Community

Written by Jaimie

There’s a tradition in Montreal, going back over thirty years, of a giant drum circle held at the park in the center of the city every Sunday in the summer.  By now it’s quite the institution; if you search “Tam Tams Montreal” on Google Maps, you’ll be directed to the exact location where the drummers and spectators gather each week.
This event, being quite unplugged, seemed the perfect activity for our little family.  Joined by two sets of neighbors (for a total of five parents and five kids), we spent the entire day soaking in the atmosphere of this lively celebration.  
We started off the afternoon with a bit of a snack: still-warm bread served with homemade strawberry rhubarb jam I picked up recently from a small family farm.

We spent most of the day as spectators, but the little ones did take a stab at making a bit of their own music:

There were lots and lots of unplugged vendors.  We weren’t there for shopping, but I do think there’s value in exposing my kids to a different, much less flashy form of commerce than you see in stores and in advertisements.

After we had been there for some time, the crowd grew quite large, a mixture of drummers and other musicians, spectators, dancers, vendors, jugglers, hula hoopers, and all manner of people gathering to soak up the vibe of this utterly peaceful, orderly, and relaxed event.

My daughter and her friend played daredevils, climbing up on the giant statues.  Being free from obligations and expectations, we leisurely spent the day doing whatever drew our attention at the moment.  I knew I wouldn’t be rushing home to edit or catch up on emails, nor did I intend to return home to cook an elaborate meal.  The day was reserved for relaxing in the company of our community and following our hearts’ desire.

There’s a certain continuity to a day at the Tam Tams; after awhile, there’s no break in the drumming.  The experience can be almost trance-like and you don’t necessarily notice how much time is passing.  Without a clock or computer to remind me of the to-do-list, it was much easier for me to just be.  Upon further reflection, I don’t know what about the experience was more meditative for me: the continuous drumbeat, or the absence of electronic devices and the sense of guilt that accompanies the constant need to get something accomplished. 

And, because we were exploring freely and ignoring the ticking of the minutes, we had the good fortune of sticking around long enough to see some of this:

And some of this:

And a little of this:

A nonprofit dance/circus arts/acrobatics group that raises money for education in Guinea was giving what seemed to be an impromptu performance.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’ve never seen people perform such feats in person.  We happened to be sitting near them when one of them started doing backflips.  
Within minutes, they were following each other in quick succession, performing Olympic-worthy acrobatics and gymnastics.  They kept this up until a crowd of hundreds had formed, watching them throw each other in the air, build precarious human pyramids, drum, and perform traditional dances.

Here are four of the five children from our crew, mesmerized by the human feats performed in front of their very eyes.  My own children were deeply inspired by the fact that such things were possible, and before it was over, my older daughter was performing her own rather amusing breakdancing stunts.

While an outdoor unplugged Sunday in the city might not mean hiking through the wilderness, if done right, it might mean its own equally compelling flavor of away-from-home exploration.  If you live in an urban environment, consider what an outdoor adventure might look like.  And if you’re brave enough to do a bit of un-planning while you’re un-plugging, you might just happen upon unique and inspiring experiences.

What activities in your community would you (or do you) like to explore?

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