While waiting for a bus on the corner of Dundas and Ossington, I was witness to a horrible moment. Indeed, I was perhaps the only witness.
As I stood there, a funeral procession turned north onto Ossington from Dundas, snaking its way north up Ossington to wherever this funeral procession was going. So the funerary limousine turned, followed by the hearse, the casket within in a dark reddish wood, brushed metal along the sides.
I remember the casket well because I knew someone lay there.
I have been reading, and enjoying, the three-volume history of the Byzantine Empire by John Julius Norwich. Like the eminent Mr. Roth, I do not much enjoy the act of reading. However, and perhaps it's the fact-loving little boy in me, I can down a 500-page history with ease and delight while my copy of Watt sits there, unopened and unthought.
Now for those of you unschooled in the history of Eastern Roman Empire, it is as blood-soaked as any. The richness of humanity's capacity for unbridled butchery is well represented in these chronicles.
However, the sweetness of the 2nd Viscount Norwich's prose makes even the tale of Krum the Bulgar turning Nikephoros I's skull into a drinking cup an altogether charming thing to do.
Shining through the gore is this wonderfully complex sense the Byzantians had that they were civilized. Indeed, they were civilization.
And this fact is part of our (you know what I mean here) common mythology about the past - when darkness set upon the Western Roman Empire, it was Byzantium who held up the cause of western civilization by just being there, waiting for the Italians to take it back 1000 years later.
So there I stood, in this most civilized city, almost unbearably civilized, Peter Ustinov's accursed scrap weighing heavily on nearly every utterance by our city fathers, when around five cars into the funeral procession comes a taxicab.
Unlike most major centres, Toronto still has a vibrant streetcar system throughout our downtown core. A streetcar stood there, motionless, and, having just let its passengers off, closed its doors. Sensing an opportunity in the way cabbies do, one of Toronto's many delightfully horrible cab drivers decided he simply could not wait any longer and slipped around the streetcar, and in front of the procession.
The light to cross Ossington now red, the funeral procession, who would in other circumstances be allowed to turn unimpeded (oh you poor deceased - where was your police detail?), are now stuck behind the cab stuck at a red light.
Green light. The cab barrels straight through, continuing on Dundas. Then, and this, my friends, is the point of the story, so does the first car of the funeral procession. So does the next one, each car crossing the threshold of the intersection, looking north up Ossington and quite obviously thinking to themselves "I think the cemetery's up that way".
I am watching all of this, and I am utterly powerless to stop it. I wave to some of them, attempting to get them to turn, but they look at me, waving to them in downtown Toronto, and they think I'm some nut waving to a death train like the circus is in town.
So I stop, and I think about the dead man and woman for whom this is all for, whose funeral procession has been ruined by a cab driver before my very eyes, and I wonder what has happened.
Is this blind necessity, or is it a manifestation of the civilized world of which I am a part, a world where people's lives are valued, but people's rituals are not? And then I realise that rituals often mean more to me than people, and I wonder for a moment if my spirit might not have been better off in Byzantium than here.