The G-20 show

Some fascinating figures will be coming to town, so book your seat

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The G-20 summit is going to be fun.

Pittsburghers should bear in mind that the 19 heads of state, if they all come Sept. 24-25, are not coming here to look at the tugboats or to watch the Pirates duke it out for last place, but they nonetheless will be around town for a while.

They will be interesting. Most are the heads of democratic countries, elected in sometimes bruising campaigns. (The exceptions are the Chinese and Saudi Arabian leaders.) Most are skillful politicians with some charisma. Most have a highly developed talent for presenting themselves well, and there will no doubt be significant media present from their countries. And even paparazzi, an uncommon phenomenon for Pittsburgh.

Most of them will come, even if some of us here still wonder why. Again, they will come because they want to talk with each other. But their curiosity may be piqued by the different environment that Pittsburgh offers.

There may be important resolutions approved, which will cause some of us to assess their significance, and then nod sagely or declare them to be more sizzle than steak. On the other hand, resolutions that obtain the agreement of 19 countries and the European Union are almost destined to be as tasty as a Smoothie made with 2-percent milk, plain yogurt and no sugar.

The leaders themselves will offer more zest.

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy will be here, with luck accompanied by his singer-model wife, Carla Bruni. Based on her beauty, talent and sometime frankness, she is constantly trailed by photographers. Mr. Sarkozy loves her, but she makes him nervous. The French electorate at first found both of them charming, original and electric, but now are swinging over to find him more of a hyperactive egomaniac. Whatever he is, Mr. Sarkozy is not boring.

A class act, whose coalition was just reelected by an unexpectedly large margin, is Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Mr. Singh, a Sikh, wears that faith's turban and is a sophisticated economist. Pittsburgh's Indian community undoubtedly will do its best to attract his attention, and to make him welcome. It is hard to imagine that he won't take the occasion to visit the gods in Monroeville.

Another visitor on the gaudy side will be Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. His wife has just sued the 72-year-old millionaire for divorce. He likes to be surrounded by underage beauties, upon whom he bestows costly jewelry, public office and who knows what other favors. (Ms. Berlusconi apparently can imagine.) Mr. Berlusconi comes trailed by not only serious media types, some of whom work for him, but also by paparazzi. Pittsburghers may be slightly more than curious to know who will be part of his party -- secretaries, public relations specialists, whatever -- and maybe where they sleep.

And then for South Africa there will be Jacob Zuma. Just elected president, Mr. Zuma already has at least four wives. It would be really exciting if he were to give one of his signature campaign speeches. Normally he accompanies his rousing words with a Zulu war dance, and then sings his favorite war song, "Awuleth' Umshini Wami," which translates into English as "Bring Me My Machine Gun." If he were to do that, the bar would be raised forever for every lackluster Pittsburgh and Allegheny County politician who would no longer be able to get away with the standard gruel that we are fed during campaigns -- boring speeches, no dances, no songs, no machine guns. It would never be the same.

Pittsburghers and other Americans will also be much interested to see the degree to which British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been ground up by the millstones of British politics, who have been concentrating in recent weeks on the greedy behavior of British Members of Parliament. British MPs have been charging the public for all kinds of personal things. Perhaps the piece de resistance was one who charged the British government for cleaning the slime out of the moat at his country home.

Now we, of course, as Pennsylvanians have never before heard of legislators of dubious morality who would do something like vote themselves a midnight raise, for example. A few of the British MPs did the right thing and resigned. Perhaps we could offer Mr. Brown a safe Democratic seat in Pittsburgh or Allegheny County if his Labor Party loses the next election.

Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will definitely be worth watching. He is a populist and popular with his people. Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, will add substance to the gathering. She doesn't like to spend the German taxpayer's money for light undertakings, even faced with recession. It will be interesting to see whether Russian President Dmitry Medvedev or Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, or both, come. The two have made something of a game of keeping the world confused as to which one of them ultimately bats clean-up.

And then there is bound to be considerable swooning over our own president, Barack Obama, and his wife Michelle. They will be the hosts, and also likely the stars of the show, given that most of us wouldn't be able to identify even the flags of most of the other countries, not to mention their leaders. Still, it will be interesting to see which of the foreign leaders make an impression on Pittsburghers.

In any case, this will be a powerful occasion. Short though it will be, it nonetheless will be historic. This is something to redd up for, and to experience to the fullest extent possible. It's not every day that the likes of Mr. Sarkozy, Mr. Zuma and Mr. Berlusconi come to town. Put the chairs out by the curb.


Dan Simpson , a former U.S. ambassador, is a Post-Gazette associate editor ( dsimpson@post-gazette.com , 412 263-1976).


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