We Minnesotans realize that we were not your first choice for a convention site and that probably you would’ve preferred going to a more Catholic area such as Tuscany or Provence, and, of course, so would we if we were attending a convention.
The food here is about as good as you’d expect and cultural life is mostly imported and the scenery is nothing you’d travel great distances to see and the people aren’t particularly friendly. We tend to be polite (not on the freeway, but elsewhere) and seldom raise our voices in anger, except, of course, to loved ones.
We can be helpful if your car should get stuck in a snowdrift, but this has less to do with charity and more to do with demonstrating a command of the situation. And snowfall is so rare in July, almost unknown. I can only recall two or three summer snowstorms — I mean, real storms, not just flurries — and I am older than most of you.
And yet we care very much what you think of us, and if you were to go home and talk about Minnesota as a dreary and inhospitable place, we would be heartbroken, and we would never forgive you.
This makes it hard to live here and be a satirist, but I’m not complaining. Complaining is another thing you don’t do here. Here, self-pity is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, replacing gluttony.
The Cathedral of St. Mark is a handsome and lovely edifice, full of light on a Sunday morning, the church of choice for Episcopalians and social-climbing Lutherans. It has better coffee and shorter sermons.
The Lutheran Vatican is in south Minneapolis, Mount Olivet Lutheran, which does five or six Sunday services during the High Holy Days, like vaudeville, emptying and refilling the big parking lot with real Lutheran discipline. You never saw better traffic control.
The big Catholic church is the Basilica of St. Mary, which, along with the Cathedral of St. Paul, were built by Archbishop John Ireland almost a century ago and designed by a French architect named Emmanuel Masqueray. The archbishop loved marble, and some of us walk into these churches today and immediately remember why we are Protestants. It’s because we like wood.
The Twin Cities are an island in a sea of corn and beans and dairy farms, Minneapolis the wealthier and sexier city, St. Paul slower and more blue-collar. St. Paul thinks of itself as a small town, whereas Minneapolis imagines that it is one of the major American cities — New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis — and a cultural mecca and a hotbed of hipness. This amuses us St. Paulites. We feel that if you really are hip, you would never bother to talk about it or show it. So we don’t.
We are a smug, self-righteous people in the Midwest, and this is not an attractive trait, so you should be careful not to have too good a time here, lest your frivolity be an occasion for gloating by the dark Lutherans watching you from the shadows.
On the other hand, we do sing well together, especially Lutherans do. Lutherans learn to sing in four-part harmony before they can read, and it can be terribly moving to stand in their midst as they sing “Children of the Heavenly Father” or some other hymn they all know by heart.
It makes you feel the Spirit as the apostles felt at Pentecost. It brings tears to your eyes. Of course there is usually an organist on hand who is happy to ruin the whole thing by opening up all of his trumpet and chainsaw stops and then plunging us into the key of D minor for a set of ingenious variations that make us all want to get out of there and worship God in the woods and fields where there are no organs, just an occasional harmonica.
That’s the Midwest for you. It can break your heart and be a stone in your shoe, but there is a spirit here that can move you, a love of the common good, a kind of generosity, even a willingness to serve on committees. I hope you meet up with some good people while you’re here.
Of course, there are good people in Tuscany and Provence, too. There are good people in Los Angeles and on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. There even are good people in Texas, or so I’ve been told.
Garrison Keillor is the host of “A Prairie Home Companion” and a resident of St. Paul, along with his wife and daughter, both Episcopalians. He is still searching for a church home, one where the organ is broken, where the rector reads the prayers and does not perform them, and where the homily is one you remember the next day.