Kiss me, Cupid
February 14, 2005 - 7:13AM
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Is it just a conspiracy of florists and chocolatiers or has the universal
day of love got us hooked? Charles Purcell reports.
If The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown wrote a book about the secret origins
of Valentine's Day, it would go something like this.
Take an ancient pagan fertility festival called Lupercalia. Add one
Christian church that tries to undermine the festival (boo, hiss). Throw in
a secret organisation of, er, florists, chocolatiers, sky writers,
greeting-card sellers, condom manufacturers and makers of small,
embarrassing fluffy dolls, all dedicated to keeping its erotic and romantic
traditions alive. Blend in generations of love-struck fools ready to write
classifieds such as "Dear Pookie Wookie, will you be my little love marmoset
forever", and you have the mass hallucination known as Valentine's Day.
For hundreds of years, Cupid or his non-union European equivalent has been
shooting arrows into our nethers ("Ouch! Do you mind, young man?"). The
first written valentine is generally attributed to Charles, Duke of Orleans,
who wrote poems to his wife in 1415 while in jail. But who hasn't found a
card marked "Will You Be My Valentine?" in their letterbox, stuffed therein
by a spotty, youth who runs into your garbage bins before darting away?
Truly, none of us is safe from an unexpected case of VD.
Ralph "son of Chief" Wiggum encapsulated the bittersweet pain of Valentine's
Day on an episode of The Simpsons. When no one gives Ralph a valentine, Lisa
Simpson takes pity on him by giving him a card.
"It says 'I choo-choo-choose you? and there's a picture of a train!"
exclaims the embarrassing simpleton. Lisa later cruelly
crushes his romantic prospects live on TV. Bart shows Lisa the video, saying
"you can actually pinpoint the second when his heart rips."
But who among us has not wished that their secret love would "choo-choochoose"
them? Who has not longed for the fluttering of the heart and quickening of
the pulse, followed by the agonising certainty that the object of your
desire would rather be torn apart by howling wolverines than be your
Hollywood has embraced Valentine's Day. The pivotal scene in weepie
Sleepless in Seattle has soulmates Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan meet atop the
Empire State Building on Valentine's Day. Tinseltown even structures the
release of certain romantic comedies around February 14.
Amnesia rom-com 50 First Dates was released on February 13 last year in
Canada and the United States to capture the weepie market. On grimmer
terrain, the events of the 1929 St Valentine's Day Massacre were captured in
a 1967 film. And, for the truly morbid, it was the name of a 1999 World
Wrestling Federation video.
The concept of a valentine has been a popular one in ancient and modern
literature. William Shakespeare wrote A Valentine's Day Sonnet, that went:
"Love is not love/Which alters when it alteration finds/Or bends with the
remover to remove/O no! It is an ever-fixed mark/That looks on tempests and
is never shaken."
There are also unsubstantiated reports that the original version also
included the words "if the carriage is rockin-eth, don't bother knockin-eth".
In Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd, a young English country woman
sends her neighbour an unsigned Valentine's Day card marked "Marry Me".
Things quickly go pear-shaped, that act being the 19th-century equivalent of
sending a man home with his codpiece askew, lipstick on his collar and
strip-club money in his top pocket.
Helen Fielding's post-feminist heroine proves valentine angst is universal
in her book Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason: "Friday 14 February, 8am.
Really beyond caring about things like Valentine's Day. 8.40am. Cannot
believe am spending Valentine's Day alone again.? She soon receives an
"enormous bunch of red roses" with a card.
"Just cannot believe it," Jones says. "Mark is taking me on Valentine ski
surprise. Is a miracle. Hurrah! Will be v. romantic in Christmascard village
amongst twinkling lights etc., sashaying down slopes hand in hand like Snow
King and Queen."
Valentine's Day has also inspired love songs. Richard Rodgers and Lorenz
Hart's My Funny Valentineis a testament to the power of love over looks: "My
funny valentine/Sweet comic valentine ... Your looks are laughable/Unphotographable/Yet
you're my favourite work of art."
Which just goes to show even ugly people can get some lovin' on Valentine's
Day. Meanwhile, the worldwide valentine card industry is huge, measuring
into the billions of cards and dollars. Whether they include ribbon, silk,
talking microchips or
humiliating pictures of farm animals snuggling together, physical valentines
still have immeasurably more cachet than e-valentines.
It's jackpot time for florists, too. A spokespetal for Interflora Australia
says Valentine's Day is their second-biggest day of the year, with "add-on"
products such as chocolates, bottles of champagne and stuffed toys such as
bears and, puzzlingly, boxing gorillas are also popular.
Chocolatiers clean up, as well. Lindt sells everything from heart-shaped
chocolates to Barbie tins full of truffle balls. Or you could save money and
bake some crispy chocolate heart cookies, one of the many Valentine's Day
recipes on the Better Homes and Gardens website.
Looking for something more adventurous? The Dark Side of Hyde Park
restaurant offers a novel Valentine's Day experience - eating in the dark,
"where love is blind".
There's no predicting how people will celebrate their Valentine's Day. Some
will say it with flowers. Others will leave cards in letter boxes,
inter-office envelopes, bus seats and any orifice that will accept them.
Condom sales will rise.
The lonely will ount the rooftops and, like the heroine in Amelie, listen to
the orgasmic cries of valentine lovers across the city, from the loudest cry
to the tiniest "oh". And Cupid will be watching over us all, shooting at us
with his little bow. The scumbag.
Martyred For love
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Saint Valentine is the name of two
famous 3rd-century Roman martyrs who are commemorated on February 14, who
might possibly be the same person despite the differences.
"One was a Roman priest and physician who suffered martyrdom during the
persecution of Christians by the Roman emperor Claudius II Gothicus and was
buried in the Via Flaminia. The other, bishop of Terni, Italy, was martyred,
apparently also in Rome."
The origins of St Valentine's Day date back to the Roman fertility festival
of Lupercalia, which celebrated Juno Februata, goddess of "feverish" love.
Early Christians attempted to downplay the eroticism of the February 15
event by holding St. Valentine's Day on February 14, in worship of the Saint
Valentinus. According to legend, he was sentenced to death for conducting
illegal wedding ceremonies during
Gothicus's reign. Before he was executed, he handed his jailer's daughter a
note that read "from your Valentinus", which inspired the tradition of
In contrast, the Britannica suggests the giving of valentines relates back
Nevertheless, more than a hint of Lupercalia's original eroticism "merged
with the tradition of giving valentines" survives to this day.