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If your idea of really getting to know a city goes beyond visiting museums, going shopping and spending money every five minutes, then here's the perfect Montreal activity. When you're ready to bask in the ambiance of the city and have a memorable day that will come back to you for years, then put on your comfortable clothes, grab some picnic supplies and go experience the Tam Tams drumming session in Parc Du Mont-Royal. This feast for the eyes and ears happens every Sunday (spring and summer only) from mid-morning through the afternoon on the east side of the park, in the shadow of the statue of Sir George Etienne Cartier. At the center of the event is a crazy collection of free spirits, their drums and assorted other percussion instruments. Anyone with a drum can join in. Most transfixing is the large group of drummers, guided loosely by a rotation of self-appointed leaders who take turns walking their drums from one percussionist to another, trading rhythms and building on each other's riffs. But there's more to watch than the drummers. While you're lulled into the ever-changing rhythm it's extraordinarily fun to watch the crowd. There are the the expected hippies dancing without inhibitions, but it's even more fun to watch the conservative, well-behaved looking people start getting caught up in the rhythmic energy. And on the green, soft rolling hills surrounding the statue you can watch martial artists and rhythmic banner dancers gracefully exploring their arts in the background.
This is not something where you feel scheduled to hurry and get to the next activity, but it is someplace you can put down your tourist map and book, and lazily bask in the personality of Montreal. You can watch individual drummers doing their own thing off on the steps of the statue, and you can enjoy the smaller groups of drummers that gather tentatively nearby. But it is the dynamics of the large group that will likely make you want to find a seat on the wall behind the drumming circle and watch the whole thing unfold. It is of course interesting to observe each drummer but it's even more interesting to see the group dynamic and observe how one person begins to take the lead in introducing a new rhythm, watching to see who quickly flows into the new rhythm, and then watching as the whole group gets involved in a cycle that can last for a couple of minutes or many more, and evolves to include castanets, rhythm sticks, or whatever else someone has brought along. This is so relaxing and hypnotic, it's like an auditory massage.
Although your kids (from toddlers to teenagers) may frequently be in a hurry to leave museums and galleries, this is an activity where no one is likely to complain of being tired or bored. You don't have to watch the drummers at all. You can spread out your blanket in the soft grass and stare at the clouds, eat your lunch, watch the other picnickers and listen to the drums in the background. So if you're ready for some relaxing fun in Montreal, on Sunday afternoon make sure you're heading to the Tam Tams with a blanket, a lunch, and nothing else on your agenda.
It's easy to get there using public transportation. Take the green Metro line to the stop at Place-des-Arts. Hop on one of the northbound busses - there is one going straight north on Avenue du Parc which will take you to Parc du Mont-Royal. Get off the bus at Rue Duluth, which is the stop for the Sir George Etienne Cartier Monument. There's a good chance there will be people carrying drums on the bus - if so just get off when they do.