What a mingy lot. There are people complaining, who have been complaining, that the Pope's visit -- the visit of the Bishop of Rome, John Paul II, the man and office that levelled despotic communism, one of the twin horrors of the entire 20th century -- is going to tie up Toronto traffic!
Oh, spare me. Britney Spears has been here and gone, jamming the jaded end of Yonge Street, and I don't recall hospitable Toronto moaning that the two-note pop-houri was stressing the ramps to the Gardiner. This city threw out a welcome mat for Ricky Martin during that confection's microsecond as a pop superstar, and there was no revolt on the open-line shows then that Toronto was being used as a pit stop for the merchandising of Livin' La Vida Loca, and that the swarming around that Taj Mahal of pop taste, the MuchMusic parking lot, strangulated the downtown for the day.
Even brighter light bulbs (or at least more durable) of pop fantasy (I think of the bubblegum elders, Madonna or Janet Jackson, antique Cher, the great Paleolithic Stones themselves) have come to wave, yodel and sell, and it has been the red carpet and hosannas to one and all. No natter about tying up Toronto then.
Should Hollywood call, should someone want to make a movie in Toronto and tart it up to look like Philadelphia or Seattle or Buffalo, the scamper to accommodate is unseemly to indecent. If Richard Gere, or Tom Selleck, or Steven Seagal (I'm just picking flotsam at random here) want to put Toronto in freeze-frame for a couple of weeks, and use her as a dummy for a more interesting city that won't have them, why then it's "Gentleman, park your trailers here. Make yourselves at home. Our downtown is your cheap studio lot."
The Indy comes here every year to belch and roar, sell beer and add its octane to every summer's smog siege and city officials and citizens act as if Toronto were being given the municipal equivalent of the Nobel Prize.
Let us not speak of the sclerosis that seizes the beating heart of this metropolis when there's a "game" on, whether it's the Leafs losing yet again, or the Raptors executing another major embarrassment. The games tangle this city into more tormented intricacies than a bag of snakes.
Every trivial, ostentatious, celebrity-sotted, sports-mad moment has its day or days to freeze Toronto into immobility and there's not a murmur.
Then there's the official illnesses. Every disease in the morbidity handbooks has one of its summer walk-a-thons or bicycle logjams, so that there's hardly a weekend anyone with a car can flee or enter.
There's always some damn bunch jogging around the main arteries of the city to raise consciousness -- or irritate it: The social-justice impresarios do more to paralyze this city than Mel Lastman's second term as mayor. Every "marginalized" cluster in this town has its own weekend to pour millions onto the main strips -- the "Prides" come out in such numbers that it's impossible to walk, let alone drive. Minorities in Toronto are multitudes.
Add to this the sadistic geologists who return every summer to the Don Valley, the Gardiner, or the 401 -- under the delirious fiction of being "highway work crews" -- and make impassable or unbearable both the going-in to Toronto and the going-out therefrom. The picture that emerges is of a city knotted and clotted by choice at least 10 months out of every 12.
Then, when the Pope himself announces a visit, the Pope in the days of his physical decline summons the strength and breath to honour Toronto with what may be -- is likely to be -- the last major visit he is able to make anywhere, and the local open-line shows groan on about the inconvenience.
The world thirsts for exemplars of real leadership, for personalities who are not the artful, calibrated productions of studios, advertisers or pollsters. We thirst for someone larger than the faces that merchandise People magazine covers and rotate with such frequency on the talk shows and music videos.
Celebrity is unearned fame, and for celebrity the world -- not only Toronto -- gasps and gurgles and, yes, genuflects. But even the world can be ashamed of itself once in a while when a person of real consequence, real depth, real force walks on its cluttered and crazy stage.
We recognize the real. Trudeau was one. Toronto saw another not long ago when visited by Nelson Mandela, perhaps the only other living person to be placed without any jarring note of disproportion in the same frame as John Paul II.
And now an old, frail, magnificent man is coming to Toronto, and using this city, this country, as the venue for most likely a last audience/connection with the young of the world. It's a visit, an honour, worth 20 Olympics and an infinity of J-Los.
And if it "ties up" Toronto for a little while, so be it. The city will be able to boast for a long time to come that in the summer of 2002 it stood still because it was an honoured way station on the remarkable pilgrimage of a remarkable human being. Rex Murphy is a commentator with CBC-TV's The National and host of CBC Radio One's Cross-Country Checkup.