The speech hopped dizzily from Virginia's ozone to kepone to crabs. It was 50 minutes long and ruled boring by nearly unanimous vote.

But Jean McCart, even after falling asleep during Virginia Gov. John N. Dalton's address, still rated today's opening of the state legislature a four-star performance.

"I like the ceremony that goes on here," said the Blackburg woman who extended a business trip to Richmond an extra day to catch the two-hour opening of the oldest continuous state legislature in the country.

When Virginia's state legislators meet, in the Capitol designed in part by Thomas Jefferson and one that served as courthouse for the treason trial of Aaron Burr (he was acquitted), tradition is celebrated.

"I love it, it's like a minuet," said Del. Elise Heinz (D-Arlington) as she spoke of the museum-like atmosphere and old world parliamentary procedures of political life in the capital of the Confederacy. "You will never hear anything so unseemly as two members yelling at each other on the floor."

In Virginia to speak poorly of an elected colleague is considered more than bad form; it is specifically against the rules of conduct. In fact, while on the floor of the House or Senate, legislators may speak to each other through the speaker of that house, who as the pointed end of any triangle slows both the debate and its pitch.

"There are people who ask us, why don't you conduct meetings like the Rotary Club," said Sen. Hunter Andrews (D-Hampton), one of the Senate's most noted orators and keepers of the Virginia way. "There are sound reasons for our procedure."

During today's opening session there was much evidence of that devotion to gentlemanly tradition.

First the 40-member Senate convened in its red-carpeted, crystal-chandeliered chamber to conduct such pressing business as the nominating of pages. The 100 members of the House, meanwhile, convened in their own royally decorated chamber to consider similar matters.

"It's boring. We're only here a short time and this [ritual] takes a chunk of time," said Del. Lawrence D. Pratt (R-Fairfax), expressing the kind of sentiment that some conservative Southside legislators point to as evidence that the Northern Virginians are importing treasonous thought into the commonwealth.

Some of the strongest supporters of old traditions, however, actually represent "upper Tidewater" as Northern Virginia is sometimes called.

"I like it because it starts out dignified and traditonal as compared to Maryland, where you start off with a circus and end with a circus," said Del. Bernard Cohen (D-Alexandria).

An hour after convening, the senators marched across the Capitol to the larger House chamber for Dalton's opening address. A delegation representing both the Senate and the House was then anointed to fetch his excellency, as Virginia's governor is still called.

When the delegation returned, it was at the end of a procession led by Republican Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman, the man Dalton is backing to succeed him next year as govenor. Lynda Bird Robb, daughter of the former president Lyndon B. Johnson and wife of Virginia Lt. Gov. Charles Robb, represented her husband in the procession. The Lieutenant governor, who was seated on the dais, is expected to challenge Coleman for Dalton's job.

Both appeared to be struggling mightily to stay awake during Dalton's speech, which was delivered before a packed chamber that was hothouse warm.

"To be frank, I did catch a catnap," added Jean McCart, after observing the two-hour session from a perch in an upper-level gallery.