Published in Mint Lounge, June 2010
Roger Waters, frontman for the seminal prog-rock band Pink Floyd, is in Toronto rehearsing for a grand world tour of his former band’s album The Wall. The classic 1970s album, with songs entrenched in the rock pantheon, was a concept album, dealing with alienation as its central theme. Its climactic denouement features the roars of the crowd chanting “Tear down the wall!!”, demanding an end to the barriers of alienation.
His world tour kicks off this September at the Air Canada Centre in downtown Toronto. But right at this moment, the part of town he will be rocking in a few months is seeing an increase in barriers and fences that seem to be going up at an alarming rate. Forget tearing down, the walls are going up literally and figuratively at fever pitch.
Welcome to Toronto. Welcome to the city bracing itself to host the G-20 (25-27 June) and G-8 (25-26 June) summits of world leaders this month. Tourists flying in to enjoy this laid-back city, be warned that the last week of June promises to be a nice little quagmire if your hotel is located downtown. If you live and work in the city core, like me, the headaches multiply. The Metro Toronto Convention Centre, located next to the baseball stadium Rogers Centre (previously known as the SkyDome), is summit central. But the security blanket being draped over and around it extends far and deep enough to wreak havoc for locals and tourists alike.
Okay, US President Barack Obama will be in town with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. So will Germany’s Angela Merkel, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi and the rest. As will Manmohan Singh, on his first ever visit to Canada as Prime Minister. India, being a part of the G-20 (and represented here by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee), has a seat at the main table. But Singh will also be joining the select G-8 at nearby Huntsville before relocating to Toronto proper for two days. If the past is any indicator of events, Toronto is on the verge of becoming the magnet for every protest group on the planet. Some of the protests have turned bloody and violent before. It may be a party behind the security fences and walls, but it will piss on your parade if you are outside.
Therein lies a problem. For there is a massive citywide party under way right now in Toronto. This being one of the most ethno-diverse cities on the planet according to the UN, with more than half the population being immigrants, their complete focus and attention at this moment is on that other big “summit” happening halfway across the globe—the G-32, you could call it. The football World Cup in South Africa is under way and Toronto, as always, is caught up in World Cup fever. The weather is gorgeous, the street-side patios and terraces that lace the sidewalks are packed, and the insides of pubs and bars raucous with football-crazy fans from every single country represented in the beautiful game’s grand ball.
On 25 June, when Portugal take on Brazil on the last day of the group matches, the excitement in Toronto is guaranteed to ratchet up to the maximum. With its huge Portuguese and Brazilian populations, and with each of them being closet supporters of the other, this will be a loud Friday. The 1994 win by Brazil had resulted in College Street, in the heart of downtown, turning into the venue for a street party of epic proportions. I remember standing there with the shutdown thoroughfare throbbing sidewalk-to-sidewalk for a mile in each direction to samba bands, chugging down a Brahma beer with tearful Brazilian fans in Ayrton Senna T-shirts and Brazilian flag bikini-tops.
But trying to sneak into a bar in the pub-heavy part of downtown for this game may involve a cavity search this time.
Ten thousand security officers will be on duty in a congested area for those three days. Just a few blocks away, the city has thoughtfully cordoned an area with 10ft-high fences to “host” the anarchists and saboteurs who have been picked up off the streets. “Torontonomo Bay,” my friend called it. I am seriously considering how I can get picked up now, so that I can enjoy the hospitality that my tax dollars are being used for. The estimated cost of security is $1.2 billion (around Rs5,592 crore). Quite a tab to pick up for bouncers guarding the gates of this glitterati-ridden party.
The sidewalks in this part of town have been given a surreal makeover in preparation. Anything that could potentially be used as a missile or a projectile has been swept out of sight— including garbage cans, bus shelters and bicycle stands. Last week, people walking in the hood were greeted with buried fire hydrants, a sight which promises to perplex dogs out on a walk when the party has blown over.
Highway closures without notice are on the horizon over the three days as motorcades flit through on route to downtown. This week came the news of the English contingent scouting local pubs to plan their own World Cup parties. That is grounds for a protest right there. They are even planning to infest the people’s haunts now? This calls for pint glasses filled with the choicest brews being used in lieu of Molotov cocktails.
At least the finals are a way off. In 2006, the Italian celebration was a sight to behold. Sixteen blocks of a central street packed with half-a-million screaming Italian fans partied through the night. It was a carnival, loud and raucous. Speaking of loud, the latest technological weapon to be used this time to disperse rioting protesters is the “Sound Cannon”—reportedly, the frequencies of sound waves it targets crowds with makes you run in agony, trying to get away from the sound boring into your brain.
I really think this boondoggle of an event messing with our lives and costing the moon needs retaliation in kind. Here is an idea: vuvuzelas! Those awesome buzzing horns emanating from our TV screens from Johannesburg and Cape Town would do the trick. Arm yourselves, my Torontonians and visiting protesting friends. Let us blow our lungs out and take this party out on to the streets during those days.
Time to reclaim our streets and be heard by our leaders too, don’t you think?