There are 256 shades of red. I think this week I managed to see every single one of them. I suppose all shopkeepers must believe that without the red colour extravaganza flashing at innocent passers-by the world would collectively forget the emotional whirlpool in the middle of February. Yes, it’s Valentine’s Day, but that is no excuse for stores to sell exclusively heart-shaped candy containing cheesy verse (that’s right kraft foods, I’m talking to you). Really, why in Venus’s name is that necessary? If I want to stuff my face with chocolate pralines, I don’t need to hear some cliché line about “tender pleasures from the bottom of the heart”. I would much more appreciate a random fact about climate change. For example: “While you’re deciding whether to buy this chocolate or not, the Amazonian Rainforest is being destroyed. Therefore, by the chocolate and go save the world.” I offer this slogan for free. You’re welcome.
Romantic pollution is a problem, but more about this anon. What I really wanted to focus my attention on is the rich lore surrounding Valentine’s Day. As usual, the holidays sometimes loose some of their meaning if we forget the centuries of rich tradition behind them. For this reason alone, I decided to offer a short walk down History Lane and take a peak at some familiar myths surrounding the festival of romantic love.
For example, did you know that the original Valentine was a martyr? Well, now you do. Indeed, he was a poor romantic soul who could not suffer to see true lovers separated and since the course of true love never did run smooth, it so happened that some powerful man (let’s call him Emperor Claudius) was against love and wanted to keep couples from living happily ever after. Very unfairy-tale like. Ok, maybe I slightly misinterpreted history, but the fact is that some soldiers weren’t allowed to marry in order to concentrate on more important things in life like carousing, raping and pilfering. We wouldn’t want that qualities in men to disappear just because having a family could teach them empathy. Just imagine what other soldiers would think.
The point remains that in some regiments marriage was prohibited. As mentioned above, the decision was made by an emperor who must have thought that babies come from Ciconia Ciconia (aka the white stork) and was probably a man whore himself. In any case, Valentinus wouldn’t have this, so he married the lucky doves in secret. Unfortunately, there is always some bitter person who has been left at the altar and that miserable git denounced Valentinus to the emperor. The poor creature then died a gruesome death (a moment of silence, if you please). In honour of this occasion, I’m being made a martyr as well. On February 14, while lovers all over the world will stare in each other’s eyes and exchange tender vows of eternal affection (with Two Cellos (cover) version of With or Without You playing in the background), I will be behind close doors writing about the cultural and political impact of religious quarrels on 17th century French literature. And after the exam, I’ll get to go home to revise for another exam. It feels as if my wildest romantic fantasies are finally coming true.
However, let us not be completely pessimistic about the immediate future. In order to cheer up, I think we should hear another slightly made-up legend about our brave Valentinus. Where did I finish? Oh yes, he died, but before that he managed to give rise to yet another Valentine’s Day tradition, namely the famous Valentine’s Day card. They might have imprisoned him and threatened to end his life, but he kept his spirits high. Even during his imprisonment, he kept busy. The story goes that he healed the turnkey’s daughter and befriended her, although not necessarily in that order. So, when he felt Death’s cruel touch approaching, he sent her a card to thank her for her friendship and he signed it “Your Valentine”. Truly, the man was a saint.
As for myself, I don’t believe in writing cards for Valentine’s Day – I mean, I don’t want any written evidence of a long-forgotten crush come haunting me some day. Sure, it’s not as compromising as nude photos (seriously people, you really thought they wouldn’t get discovered?!), but it’s a terrible burden anyway. I cannot forget that scene from Harry Potter where Ginny sends him a Valentine’s Day card that belches out some atrociously maudlin song (this is the wizard world after all – if cars can fly, cards can sing). Why people invite such shame on themselves I will never know. There is not a Memory Charm strong enough to efface that kind of humiliation. I remember blushing for her and for Harry.
In case you don’t find Harry Potter legitimate literature, I have another example that proves my point and it’s from Shakespeare. Do you by any chance remember the unlikeable Malvolio from Twelfth Night? He also received/found a note that he decided was addressed to him. It might not have been a Valentine’s Day card per se, but it was certainly written in that anonymous spirit (and sent with malevolent intent). Of course, the guy had his faults, but I think what Maria did was cruel. Even though the text itself doesn’t give exactly this impression, I remember watching the 1996 film version where I really sympathised with the character. I mean one should never play with other people’s sentiments, no matter how stupid the reason. Making Malvolio believe that Olivia was in love with him was almost too painful to watch. If any low-life nitwit ever dares to do that to me, I reserve myself the right to remodel his face. There is a limit to humour. In my case, it is when retribution engenders brutal physical violence.
To be continued …