In an effort to Pepysify this blog and give it some historical context, I will reflect on the effect on my life of the recent G8-20 Conference held here in Toronto this past week.
I report these events as a former 60’s activist, of sorts, having participated in the very first ‘sit-in’ held in Toronto to protest the Viet Nam war. That protest, like the ones held here, was organized mostly by outsiders, too, come to think of it. A few draft dodgers and their friends joined together to get things rolling. Canadian students had very little to complain about, in those days, tuition being all of $420 a year, but being empathetic and incredibly bored, a group of us jumped on the bandwagon to see what it was like to be part of a ‘demonstration’. We were to meet up in Convocation Hall on the main campus and march together down University Avenue to the American Consulate where we would occupy the sidewalk until hell froze over. (I didn't think it would take too long, seeing as how it was winter).
To illustrate how politically astute I was at the time, I didn’t even know there was an American Consulate on University Avenue, but I had nothing better to do, so I joined in.
This is the primary qualification of most demonstrators, of course.
One of my girlfriends, a very wealthy young woman with her own car, fur coat and a ton of Jewish middle class guilt, was one of the ringleaders. In her persistent attempt to bond with the downtrodden, she later invited Stokely Carmichael, himself, to dinner at her family mansion when he came up north to address members of SNCC - an acronym that stood for ‘Student Non-Violent Co-coordinating Committee’, which it certainly wasn’t for long. She was appalled that he had the nerve to insult her parents during the evening and soon after, turned her focus from student protests to selecting china patterns at Ashley’s. He was so shaken by the occasion that he went on to found the Black Panthers.
So there I was, traipsing down past the Mount Sinai hospital, singing ‘We Shall Overcome’ or something similarly appropriate when all of a sudden everyone around me collapsed to the ground. We had arrived at our destination and the ‘sitting in’ part was to begin. I carefully inspected the ground before settling down for what I hoped was a brief occupation. Unlike my friend in her raccoon coat, I had but an insubstantial cloth pea jacket and no hat or scarf, this political opportunity having come upon me so suddenly. My friend, who folded like her Bubi’s maj jong table in front of me, bundled up in her pelts, was prepared for a longer haul. The police quickly circled around us and then went about their business, smirking at our efforts.
After a while, I got cold and went home. Later, that evening, I saw the event covered on the evening news. This was the crucial political awakening for me. There, in the front lines, was my friend, being dragged along by her furry sleeves, smiling at the camera. The opportunity to be on TV had completely escaped me at the time. This was what it was all about!
In later years, I met a young American couple at a Caribbean resort who regaled us with stories about how they’d demonstrate on their college campus all day and then run home at night to watch themselves on Walter Cronkite. Those were the days, they fondly recalled, sipping their Pina Colladas by the pool.
I haven’t felt the need to protest publicly about much since those times. Occasionally, though, I get roped in. One time, early in my teaching career, I was strongly encouraged to attend a rally at Maple Leaf Gardens (or else!) to support contract negotiations with the local school boards. It was a very big deal and all the teachers from the city packed into the arena. In happier times I had seen the Beatles concert, a circus or two, the Ice Capades and a Maple Leafs hockey game on a date with a guy who drove me crazy all night with his Shelley Berman impressions. This crowd of educators was so unruly and hysterical I flashed on a movie I’d seen about the Nuremberg rallies and fled for my life.
I hate crowds, especially screaming ones.
The fuss that was made about the fuss that was made was completely out of line, if you ask me. Once again, I feel it is the failure of the educational system to make people aware of how these events have been handled throughout history, so they don’t embarrass themselves.
For example, doesn’t every English castle have a special suite of over-decorated rooms designated for the day when the King and his court pop in for a visit? Have you ever seen the extravagant film ‘Vatel’, where a French prince tries to impress King Louis XIV by having him up for the weekend to his chateaux to curry favor by putting on the ritz? Read a little of ‘A Distant Mirror’ by Barbara Tuchman, if you want get some ideas for your next conclave. I seem to remember her gossiping about a series of pre-nuptial fetes held in the 14th C. when an English princess came over to marry a French royal offspring and almost everyone died from nibbling on the gold leaf icing ostentatiously gilding the goodies on the buffet. A fake lake and a few waffles with maple syrup certainly seem almost pretentiously modest, by comparison, to what used to pass as hospitality for heads of state.
So here are my astute personal observations about the G8-20:
(Keep in mind, I wasn’t actually invited)
Except for the few blocks tied up by demonstrations, the rest of the streets in the city were, for the first time in years, passable. I could get around town in 10 minutes. There was no traffic on the parkway.
It was like they’d dropped a neutron bomb.
I didn’t go to the St. Lawrence Market on Saturday morning. I
missed my annual Delphinium and Peony fix. I am hoping my
Mennonite flower grower will be back this week with double
the blooms. My husband had gone there a few days earlier and
had to wait behind a long line of Mounties to pick up his
lunchtime back-bacon-on-a-bun at the Carousel Bakery.
My friend and I were enjoying a cuppa at a cute teashop at Bathurst and Dupont on Sunday afternoon and heard sirens. Looking out, we saw the advance escort cycles of a huge motorcade rushing by. We ran out on the street to see a long black limo followed by lesser vehicles full of Middle Eastern minor potentates in full white headgear (the bigger-wigs were obviously in the stretch limo with the dark windows). They were on their way up Bathurst Street, a route which goes directly between Forest Hill and Cedervale, past the Beth Tzedec, Holy Blossom Temple, Nortown Kosher (style) Meats, Shaarei Shomayim, the bakeries Hermes and Haymishe, the Boat Shul, Shaarei Tefillah, The Baycrest Jewish Home for the Aged, the Associated Hebrew Schools of Toronto, Pancer’s Delicatessen, Earl Bales Park, Bathurst Manor and the Lipa Green Building for both Jewish Community Services and the Holocaust Centre of Toronto, to name just a few institutions of the ‘Hebraic persuasion’ this convoy would be passing by.
And that’s just up to Sheppard Ave. Don’t even start me north of Steeles!
We waved and they spontaneously waved back. I couldn't imagine why the drivers were taking that street, unless someone wanted to show them where to find all the Jews in Toronto. For some reason.
Locavore colour: A friend, who was covering the event, got a media tour of the notorious ‘Fake Lake’ installation. He thought it was very nice, although he didn’t check to see if it had a rocky or sandy bottom. He got to sample some Muskoka treats and reported that the butter tarts being handed out to foreign journalists in the Media Pavilion at the Ex were, in his expert opinion, “the best I’ve ever tasted! And they had raisins, too!!!”