Ah, February 14th, Valentine’s Day! A time when desperate men do a run on the candy aisles at Jean Coutu and purchase flowers wherever they can find some, all at the last minute. Could this be love? as Bob Marley sang, or is it because the media has inundated us with the message that love can and should be bought and paid for on this day? I thought paying for sex was a felony in North America.
What is the origin of this ridiculous holiday? (You must admit that a day dedicated to lovers is arbitrary at best.) St. Valentine was apparently a temple priest near Rome who died around A.D. 270, beheaded by Emperor Claudius II (clearly a curmudgeon like me) for helping Christian couples wed. Some say there might even have been a second St. Valentine, proving that two heads are better than one. There was even a Pope of that name who reigned for a mere 40 days way back in A.D. 827. Finally, there was the great medieval alchemist Basilius Valentinus, the namesake of one of the vilest characters in literature in William Gaddis’ brilliant 20th century masterpiece, The Recognitions.
Lovers, be forewarned that St. Valentine is not solely your patron saint, but also the patron of beekeepers (hence the cliché “Will you be mine?” and “honey”) and epilepsy. Rumor has it that Dostoevsky paid homage to him, particularly after a night of profligate gambling.
Chaucer in his “Parliament of Foules” referred to February 14th as the day when birds (and humans) come together to mate. Hard to consummate, much less imagine, but have you ever seen those sexy ostriches in mini-skirts that lurk in the perverted psyche of world-class stoner and Zap Comics icon, R. Crumb?
The Roman god of fertility was known as Lupercus, and it is theorized that the day we now celebrate as a holiday was actually the effort to Christianize the pagan feast of Lupercalia (celebrated in pagan times on the Ides of February). Originally, it was a bloody, violent, and sexually- charged celebration with animal sacrifices and random coupling to ward off infertility. Sort of like a weekend night out in Montreal on Crescent Street.
So, here is some advice for the lovelorn. Forget the clichés. Chocolate and flowers are passé. Pay heed if you are a true romantic:
- Take your beloved to a cemetery. Prop yourself against a tombstone and tell her/him about the transience of life.
- Read Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” over the intercom of your beloved’s apartment before heading out. Chances are, you will stay “in” for the night.
- Purchase oysters—lots of them—with a good French Chablis. You’ll thank me later. DON’T read Anne Sexton’s poem of the same name; it will surely ruin the mood.
- Watch Last Tango in Paris on the carpet. Stare hard at that stick of butter next to that half-eaten baguette.
- Bake croissants together, piping hot, dripping with butter. Watch them rise in phallic splendor.
- Plagiarize a poem: “She Walks in Beauty,” by Lord Byron is a good one, as is The Bard’s Sonnet 130, though you might want to alter the lines “the breath that from my mistress reeks.” Don’t forget to come equipped with Clorets.
- Profess your love—no flowers, candy, nothing, then say: “I’ll howl at your beauty like a dog in heat.” Then act like one! Wear a commedia dell ‘ arte mask while doing this.
- Lose your inhibitions: dance naked together to the 60s group Ten Years After (ok, admittedly a personal fetish and certainly an acquired taste).
- Paste quotes by Baudelaire (in the original French) on the inside cover of the toilet bowl of your apartment, the hand towel rack, and on every tenth sheet of double-ply toilet paper.
- Write the following ditty on parchment paper with a sea-gull feather quill of your own fashioning:
Roses are red
My mood is blue
For soon I’ll be dead
And so will you.
Paste it on your forehead as you gyrate sensuously toward your lover, stripping off your garments, piece by piece
Remember: death and sex go hand in hand because the immanence of our mortality makes lovers of us all.