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The Globe and Mail

Brunch with G20 spouses, guests worth the effort

It was not, perhaps, the ideal time to be having brunch with Laureen Harper, Michelle Obama and some of the other G20 spouses.

For most of the last four months, locked in my home office to write a book, I have come to look a lot like a serial killer.

I really have left the house only for morning runs, dog walks and errands. I pretty much gave up brushing my hair. I drank too much coffee and chain-chewed Nicorette, so I am both jumpy and a tiny bit stoned. I wouldn't say I entirely stopped bathing, but let's say I did it when I remembered. Manicures and pedicures were a thing of the dim, dark past.

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When the invite came from the PM's wife, June 27 seemed very far away. It was not. It was around the corner, like the deadline on my book.

A couple of weeks ago, I received the protocol details for the event.

The dress code alone - "Day Dress" - filled me with dread. Day Jeans I know, Day Dress not so much; what is that anyway? But I couldn't worry about it much because the book deadline was bearing down on me like a freight train.

I typed until midnight on Saturday, tried on a few things before I went to bed. I woke up in a state of high panic: open-toe shoes not an option, feet a mess; Day Dress not an option, legs too pale and twitchy after months of no sun.

By 9:30 Sunday morning, I was downstairs in a pantsuit, trying in vain not to sweat (due to unfamiliar heat of blow-dryer) nor sit in chairs fluffy with pet hair.

A black sedan dispatched from the Summits office arrived exactly at 9:47 a.m.

Mercifully, Catherine Swift from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business was in the car already.

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She was wearing a great linen dress and in a curious posture because she was attempting to sit weightlessly so as not to crease the dress too much. She was having as much luck with that as I did with the sweating and pet hair.

We were whisked behind the security fence, where I saw a police officer I know (on Saturday night, he had texted me when he and his fellows were pelted with bags of urine) in one of the staging areas.

We passed through three security checks and were deposited at what I think was the back door of the CN Tower.

We were whisked inside, through to the glass elevators. (There is a lot of whisking that goes on at such events.) Mrs. Harper met us at 360, the revolving restaurant at the top of the tower, and put us immediately at ease, in my case by inquiring with a grin if I was going to be trying not to swear. She introduced us to some of the other Canadian women guests who were there, and we stood around for a time, drinking non-alcoholic cocktails of pressed Ontario strawberries (boozy versions were on hand, too) and munching on watermelon-and-feta squares.

Mrs. Harper is a woman of eclectic interests and friends.

She'd invited a couple of senators (Pamela Wallin and Nancy Greene Raine), a couple of prominent athletes (Olympian Joannie Rochette and former Olympian Silken Laumann), the singer and songwriter Beverley Mahood, Julie Snyder, a prominent Quebec TV host and film producer, most famously one about Celine Dion, Fashion Television pioneer Jeanne Beker, Canadian astronaut Julie Payette, federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, whose Nunavut riding is twice the size of Ontario, and two neighbourhood friends, Jacquie and Joy, from Ottawa (who paid their own way to Toronto and their own hotel tabs).

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The international spouses began arriving then, one by one, with Mrs. Harper taking them around to meet the rest of us.

On the protocol sheet, this time was described as "mix and mingle," but it was nothing as grim as that: The group was small enough that you could actually talk to people, and everyone did.

Some of the international spouses had interpreters at their sides, but it didn't stop them from fully participating in conversation: Emine Erdogan of Turkey chatted at length with Ms. Snyder; Nobuko Kan of Japan remembered Nunavut from the G7 held there when her husband was the Japanese finance minister, and talked to Ms. Aglukkaq about the dog sled ride they had.

Mrs. Obama was the star, even in such an accomplished crowd: She's about 20 feet tall, it turns out - she towered over Mrs. Harper, even in four-inch heels, and was warm and friendly.

After a sit-down brunch, there was another mingling period, but this quickly turned into a half-dozen impromptu photo sessions. I got my picture taken with Ms. Payette, who is fun, hugely well-informed and mouthy, and also snared autographed pictures of her in her astronaut gear for my three Montreal nieces.

At one point, it was so loud you could hardly hear yourself think, the classic measure of a gathering of dames: Practically everyone (or her interpreter) was shrieking to be heard.

It sounded just like me and my running friends, out for breakfast after a long Saturday run: Nicely done, Mrs. H.

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