August 06, 2002

They Got Religion Here

There seemed to be a lot more Godliness afoot during my sweep through East Texas. At the airport, a grandmother was reading the Bible to her 10-ish grandson, and coaching him on how to read it to his younger brother. At the diner where I had a very greasy hash, three patrons and the waitress were talking enthusiastically about how joyful it is to speak out for the Lord. And the radio dial was chock full of religiosity. There were a dozen or so stations with the usual fundamentalist take on things. One talk show sounded a note that I hadn't heard before: Islam is Satanic.

A Catholic AM station, probably leaking in across the border from Louisiana, kept me glued in for an hour while I drove through the dark. The show was about the lives of the saints and this week's episode was about 16 Carmelite nuns who went to the guillotine during the French Revolution. How courageously they took their turn, asking the head nun for permission to die before stepping up to the blade. The hosts of the show bubblingly described an opera by Poulenc which depicts the scene. The chorus of 16 female voices is diminished, one at a time, punctuated by a Whoosh! from the orchestra, until only one voice is left. Then none. A bit like a hundred bottles of beer on the wall.

It's a good thing I didn't know about this music when I was a kid. I can picture myself gathering my friends for a listening session in which we would map the opera onto our own experience at St. Mary's. "OK, next up is Sister Louise DeSalles.", I'd announce. Whoosh!


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