Thursday, July 08, 2010

Mike Sees the Queen

So, the other day I went down to see the Queen at Queen’s Park. I suspect it’s a bit of a unique experience, so let me resurrect my blog go on about it at length (I am well aware that this is of interest to, at the absolute most, two people).

The Queen had a little farewell stop at Queen’s Park Tuesday morning before she left the country. I figured this was my one shot to actually get a glimpse at her, so I trekked downtown (Through not a little bit of morning rush hour traffic, I add. I have no idea how people do that every day. God bless ‘em.).

Coming up to Queen’s Park about an hour before things were set to begin, I had to figure out where to stand. There were barriers to direct people, various roads were closed off, some people needed passes, some people were gathered here, and others over there. It was all a bit of a crap shoot, trying to guess exactly where one might get a peek at her. Where would she enter? Where would she walk? Where would she leave? There was a covered plaque out front of the legislature (you know, of the Ontario heritage variety), so I figured that was as good a place as any to go as it stood to reason that someone was going to have to uncover it. Surprisingly few people made this same move.

To get a good view of the Queen, I don’t think you have to arrive particularly early. Getting up right against the barrier, with the magical chance to have – maybe!- an actual chit chat with her requires an earlier arrival than mine, however.

To pass the time, I chatted with some of the other folk waiting around. Pleasant enough people. I will readily admit that wanting to go and see the Queen is… not strange, but certainly unusual (even though it fucking shouldn’t be, goddammit), and of the varying levels of insanity/devotion to the Queen on display, I’d like to think I trended towards the normal. Certainly compared to the people with their home-made, Queen-themed outfits and such, I think I came off as relatively well-adjusted.

Eventually the Queen came out the front of the legislature, accompanied by McGuinty and the Lieutenant Governor. This came as a bit of a surprise, as nobody really knew what the hell was going on, when it was going on, and where she was or wasn’t. Unbeknownst to us, the Queen had been getting a little tour inside of the legislature the whole time. Anyway, McGuinty gave a little speech about re-dedicating Queen’s Park, and the Queen revealed the plaque, just as I had anticipated. This all happened not too far from my face, I must say.

The Queen was obliged to give the plaque a little once-over. It was a bit comical, really. I mean, obviously she doesn’t particularly care about yet another arbitrary re-dedication, but she has to make some show that the plaque matters on some level. On the other hand, she can’t quite stand there for two minutes and read the whole thing. I definitely appreciate the effort she makes in pretending to be interested, especially considering nobody in the crowd was.

At this point, she started her walkabout. Again, I should point out that I was closer to her than about 98% of everyone else there, so I felt well-positioned. To begin, a man not a few feet away from me wearing a shirt with her image sewn into it (a crazy person, in other words), shouted “Your Majesty!” a number of times. It was quite awkward, and you do feel sorry for the Queen, having to deal with such folk day in, day out.

To her credit, amazingly, she actually went over to him and took the bouquet he offered. I probably owe that guy a beer, since, while I had expected him to scare her off, he actually acted like a Queen magnet. She then went to the guy right in front of me and took his bouquet. Yes, I was literally three feet from the Queen!

(At this point I want to pause to underline how good of her it was to entertain the first crazy guy. He was rather wacky-looking in his attire and fairly off-putting, so it’s amazing she approached him. We were convinced she would actively avoid him, as we had been trying to do the whole morning.)

It’s a bit weird, measuring the success of an event by your proximity to someone of note. My previous record was 30 feet from Mick Jagger at the SARS concert. Here though, it was pretty surreal. Short of actually talking to her – which surely is a bit of a pipe dream – that’s just about as good as it gets.

Aside from one or two crazy people who seemed to have mild hysteric episodes when she came close, the crowd around me at that particular moment was eerily calm. I hate to say this, but it was essentially like being at the zoo when a silverback gorilla or something comes up to the glass: total silence, everyone gaping in awe. It makes sense, in retrospect, but I hadn’t expected that. It’s also a bit like a zoo animal (I really, really hate to make that comparison) in that you have no way to anticipate how she’s going to move, or why, or for how long. You just sorta have to go with the flow, and hope it works out your way.

I guess something inside you changes a bit when the Queen comes up. Up till that point I’d been taking a few photos, but you just feel incredibly self-conscious and almost guilty about it when she’s a few feet away. Here’s an 84-year-old woman a thousand miles from home, in the sweltering heat, with a full day still ahead of her. She doesn’t need yet another rube shoving a camera in her face.

Another thing you notice is how utterly normal and natural it feels. Like, “oh yeah, here’s the frigging Queen, right up in my grill. This is essentially exactly how I pictured it, and it doesn’t seem the least bit odd. Everything I planned for has worked out perfectly.” Although she is maybe shorter than you’d expect.

For her part, the Queen betrays very little. I noticed that she avoids eye contact, at least for the two guys in front of me whose flowers she took. She must be very careful to make any sort of connection with someone, lest she be drawn into conversation with a crazy person; or even a normal person, really. Can’t talk to them all.

Generally, she was fairly stone-faced when I was watching. At one point – in reaction to what, I couldn’t say – she had a big, brief smile. Something about that was nice, and I think the crowd noticed it too.

Dalto McG!

As she made her way along the line, Dalton McGuinty was sort of left behind to chit chat with whoever. It was pretty funny, the way in which nobody gave a stuff about him at that point (in the sense that he had to compete for the Queen for attention, that is to say). He came up to the guy in front of me who had his flowers taken (who seemed to be in shock), and had a nice little talk with him. I think he was just trying to help the guy come back to the real world; seemed very nice of him. He stuck around signing autographs and shaking hands (mine included! Wowee!!) and that was about that. Very good-natured guy. I would have thanked him for sticking to his guns on the HST, or gotten on his case about not sticking to his guns on sex ed, but something about that didn’t seem particularly appropriate at the time.

The Queen had by now made her way around, and, amazingly, it looked like there was a giant open spot behind us where she would pass by. I made my way over. After this, it was a bit strange. Like I said, the crowds at these things have no clue what’s going on, and magically the Governor General, the Queen and Harper made their way in front of me (along with their spouses). Quite where they came from, or where McGuinty went to, I have no clue.

At this point, the Queen was obliged to chit chat with the weirdoes from the Monarchist League, opposite me (Jean had her hand around the Queen, directing her to and fro). They’re sort of… fucking weirdoes, essentially. Insufferable, small-minded campus Conservatives, say. I see what they’re trying to do, but there’s something incredibly off-putting about the organization and them as individuals. There is no way that that’s an effective vehicle for supporting the Monarchy in Canada.

I tried getting Harper’s attention, shouting (respectfully!) “Mr. Prime Minister!”. My first instinct was to rag on him about any number of things, but, as with McGuinty, getting overly political in this atmosphere just didn’t feel right. Instead, I decided that I wanted to find out if it was true that he used to watch Star Trek. I did get him to look back at me, but by then he’d passed a bit too far. The atmosphere was such that I hardly noticed him till he had gone by. I mean, the fucking Prime Minister, right? “Oh, there goes the elected head of the legislature, I guess.”

I would have liked to have had words with Prince Philip, get him to say something funny. God knows what he thinks of any of this. If I was in charge, I would deploy him to mop up the bits of the crowd that the Queen didn’t get to; a sort of consolation prize.

Overall, a pretty good treat. Like I say, it was essentially as good as you could reasonably expect. One never knows when the Queen will return, or whether she’ll even come to Toronto if she does, so I’m pretty satisfied with this one.

I was pretty impressed by the lack of security. Sure, there were cops and secret service guys all over the place, but they were very unobtrusive. One certainly didn’t need to pass through any metal detectors, or anything of that nature, to get in. One wonders what it’s like seeing Obama at a similar function. I guess it’s nice knowing that when the Queen’s around, people are just there to have a nice, relaxing time.