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Apopealypse now

Published:Saturday | February 23, 2013 | 12:00 AM

By Tony Deyal

When I was a schoolboy, we used to bet 'Lent'. Betting Lent meant that if you were heard singing a calypso, you could be 'tapped' (an open-palmed blow to the back of the head near the nape of the neck) with impunity.

Ash Wednesday, or the day after Trinidad's two-day street carnival, is the start of the Lenten season, and in looking back, I cannot remember my head not resounding from innumerable taps every Ash Wednesday. My love for calypsos caused it. How can any calypso lover, after hearing 'Jean and Dinah' or some other hit for days on end, suddenly disconnect from the melody at midnight on Carnival Tuesday?

I remember much later the Mighty Duke arguing with me on a television show that I hosted, "Calypso is not mango or orange. Calypso cannot have a season. Calypso should be played throughout the year, especially on Ash Wednesday when it is still current."

Custom and the Catholic Church created the calypso 'season' and the strictures that went with Lent. In my case, I was prepared to give up meat (which we had only on Sundays anyway), but giving up calypso was painful, although much less so than its alternative.


This is why one of my friends tweeted me on Ash Wednesday saying that it is now difficult to decide what to give up seeing how high the Pope, Benedict XVI, had set the bar. Of course, his sudden resignation prompted some interesting speculation, especially from the late night comedians.

Conan O'Brien set the bar almost as high with: "The Vatican said that as soon as the Pope resigns, he will no longer be infallible. The Vatican said it's the same thing that happened to Oprah."

Jay Leno's take on it was: "As you know, the Pope is resigning. He said he feels there's just no room for advancement. It's a dead-end job." Jimmy Fallon put it into context: "Tomorrow is the first day of Lent, when Catholics begin fasting for 40 days. Some Catholics will give up chocolate, some Catholics will give up alcohol, and one Catholic is giving up being Pope."

Leno made the link with other current events. "The Pope said he was stepping down at age 85 because he could no longer handle the job physically. To which Lance Armstrong said, 'I've got some stuff that can help you with that.'"

Then the Almighty got into the act, or so some people assumed, when there was a thunderstorm in Rome and lightning struck the top of St Peter's Basilica. Conan O'Brien quipped, "The Vatican was struck by lightning after the Pope announced he was retiring. That really happened. Sounds like someone's not handling the breakup well."

This would have remained an isolated incident in the unfolding papal drama were it not for the meteor that hit Russia on Friday February 15, 2013. Immediately, a connection was made. The resignation of the Pope was the signal for apocalypse now. Media reports said that the fall of such a large meteor estimated as weighing dozens of tonnes was extremely rare, while the number of casualties as a consequence of its burning up around a heavily inhabited area was unprecedented.

Stephanie Pappas of Live Science wrote, "Y2K? A bust. Judgement Day 2011? As quiet as a mouse. The Mayan apocalypse? Certainly not now. As they have throughout history, failed doomsday predictions come and go. But with the Pope resigning, an asteroid whizzing near the planet on Friday, February 15, and a completely unrelated space rock exploding over Russia, it seems a good time to ask: What's next?"


Even Shakespeare has been brought into the mix. Julius Caesar (Act Two, Scene Two) links disturbances on earth with rumblings and tumblings in the atmosphere. Calpurnia says, "When beggars die there are no comets seen./ The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes." In Richard II (Act Two, Scene 4), the Captain says:

The bay-trees in our country are all wither'd

And meteors fright the fixed stars of heaven;

The pale-faced moon looks bloody on the earth

And lean-look'd prophets whisper fearful change;

Rich men look sad and ruffians dance and leap,

The one in fear to lose what they enjoy,

The other to enjoy by rage and war:

These signs forerun the death or fall of kings.

Well, the meteor has come and it is now time to look at the bay trees or smell the Limacol. According to Ms Pappas, in 1595 a Benedictine monk published a series of prophecies he claimed came straight from the pen of a 12th-century archbishop, St Malachy, and dealt with the long line of Popes still to come ... . Pope John Paul II (1978-2005) is said to match the 110th phrase on the list, "from the labour of the sun," because he was born and entombed on days when there were solar eclipses.

That makes Benedict XVI number 111, "the glory of the olive". A monastic order founded by the saint from whom Benedict took his name has a branch known as the Olivetans, though Benedict himself is not one of them ... .

Line 112 reads, "In the extreme persecution of the Holy Roman Church there will sit Peter the Roman, who will nourish the sheep in many tribulations; when they are finished, the city of seven hills will be destroyed and the dreadful judge will judge his people. The end."

This means that Benedict's successor may be the last of the Popes and his election will be the final act in the human comedy. In the meantime, it is said, Benedict XVI will retire to his country estate in Germany where he plans to put a few papal bulls and a few Holstein cows together and let nature take its course. No horsemeat for him.

Tony Deyal was last seen enjoying the Jay Leno jibe, "The Pope said that at age 85, he cannot physically go on. Meanwhile, Hugh Hefner is going to be 87 and he just married a 26-year-old. So much for that celibate lifestyle!"