Instead of Valentine’s Day, Why Not Celebrate The Pagan Holiday That It’s A Cover For?

A couple of years ago, I got invited to a “single ladies outing” on Valentine’s Day, which sounded good until said single ladies informed me that we’d all be getting together for an evening viewing of the romantic moving picture “Dear John.”

I declined.

There is no worse way to spend Valentine’s Day than crying over a second-rate version of “The Notebook” alongside other single women in a theatre full of couples. Valentine’s Day isn’t fun for single people, but there’s no need to make it worse by doing things like this.

I asked three single men what they do on Valentine’s Day if they don’t have a date, and they said they either go out to prey on lonely women at bars, or play with their Xboxes. Seems reasonable.

Some people base their stance on Valentine’s Day on their relationship status. I do not. I’ve come to enjoy the day for its chocolate offerings, and as a chance to throw shade on those canoodlers who put their love on display on park benches and at busy coffee shops; mostly though, while I am fond of love and romance, I dislike February 14th.

My disdain for Valentine’s Day started in the Second Grade, when, being the new girl at school and not privy to the ways of the Valentine’s Day card game, I arrived to class on February 14th with Mickey and Minnie “Be Mine” cards for everyone. We had all made little red paper heart cardholders and taped them to our desks the day before. As I went around delivering my cards, a pretty blonde girl named Lindsey I desperately wanted to look like and be friends with said, “You brought a card for everyone?” I found the envelope with Lindsey written on it and handed it to her. “Yes, here you go!” I said. She laughed and turned to her cool friends, proclaiming: “Carla loves Nathan!” Nathan was the dirty-faced booger eater who made honking noises during prayer time that I had just delivered a card to.

The world turned very dark the day I learned about the Valentine’s Day card hierarchy. These little monsters only gave cards to certain people, and they selected different cards based on whether the recipient was a friend, acquaintance, or crush. At the end of the day, everyone counted their cards, and the kids with the most were the Valentine’s Day winners. The kids who received the least cards either cried, pretended not to care, or did as I did and drew pink hearts being pierced by blood dripping daggers.

I got four cards that day. One was from my teacher, one from my friend Mary, one from Soon, who was also new to the school, and my last card was from Nathan, the booger face. He had made it for me out of black construction paper, glue, and white out after I gave him mine, and now we were officially “dating,” which meant he pulled my hair a lot and pushed me off the tall slide on the playground at recess.


I’m my own Valentine, ok?

In the years that followed, the teachers adopted a rule that you either brought a card everyone in your class, or no one at all. I’d like to think that I helped instigate this change, but I did not. Valentine’s Day sucked for most of us. Imagine if your entire office had to bring everyone a Valentine’s Day card? It would be a brilliant reenactment of elementary school politics complete with the dude who totally forgot to buy cards and scrambles to make his out of used computer paper and highlighters.

I did some V-Day reconnaissance, because despite what you may have heard, Saint Valentine is not exactly a sweet, rosy-cheeked cherub with magical arrows.

Depending on who you talk to, St. Valentine was either a Roman priest practicing in the Eternal City, or a bishop in Umbria. He either got in trouble for performing Christian marriages, or for healing people while serving Jesus. Either way, Valentine ended up in a Roman prison circa 270, which wasn’t the best place for a Christian to be at that time. Emperor Claudius II was said to have taken a liking to the charming Valentine, but Claudius’s affection for V waned when the smooth talking priest tried to push his Jesus agenda on the pagan Emperor. Love might conquer all, but had little effect on Claudius. Valentine was soon bludgeoned and beheaded.

The patron saint of love has an exceedingly vague history, stacked with contractions. Seems about right.

So little is known about the details of St. Valentine’s life that it is widely rumored he was chosen by the Catholic Church for his relative anonymity to cast a Christian shadow over the Pagan holiday Lupercalia. Here’s were things get a bit more exciting, because wolves. This festival was celebrated from February 13th to the 15th each year as a way to ward off evil spirits and purify Rome. It also honored the she-wolf, who, according to Roman lore, suckled Romulus and Remus when they were wee abandoned babies. Romulus would go on to kill his brother and found Rome.

St. Valentine’s Day, celebrated on February 14th each year, under the guise of love and hearts and cherubs and romance, is actually the Catholic Church masking a much cooler holiday that featured feasting and used a wolf for a mascot. If you’re into folklore, or 80s animal t-shirts, or the film Moonstruck, a wolf says more much about passion and love than a curly-haired man in a diaper.

There’s a town in Italy’s Abruzzo region called San Valentino. You might think that San Valentino would be a town brimming with romance, a little love settlement in a country that lives for romance, but you would be wrong, because it’s basically the opposite of that. Every year, San Valentino hosts a parade called Festa dei Cornuti (the Festival of the Cuckolds), which honors, or mocks, men with adulterous wives by parading them through the streets.

As you know, despite this town, and St. Valentine’s sketchy past, Feb 14th has become a celebration of love.

Fine. Celebrate love on your made-up holiday.

BUT. Shouldn’t every day be a celebration of love? Not just romantic love, but love in general? You can’t just go around being cranky, stealing dogs, yelling at baristas, and kicking the backs of people’s chairs at movies, and then go buy your girl diamonds on Valentine’s Day like you’re Saint V’s gift to humanity.

I have nothing against the idea of celebrating love, and I like to think I do so in the way I live my life, day-to-day, so there’s no need for egregious gestures to make up for a year’s worth of ass-faced behavior come February 14th.

This year, instead of Valentine’s Day, I will be celebrating the Pagan wolf holiday Lupercalia. I won’t be sacrificing goats and dogs, but I will be warding off evil spirits and purifying my soul by eating a lot, praying to pagan gods, and drinking enough wine to happily howl at the moon.

Honor Valentine’s Day if you must. Go ahead and hand your wife flowers. Give your husband some chocolate, but also write your mom a letter and tell her why you love her. Call your dad to wish him a lovely day because you were thinking of him. Kiss your grandma if you can. Be extra nice to strangers. Hug a damn dog.

Whether you are single or not, make the day about loving everyone, including yourself.

If I had to do second grade again, I’d do it just the same. Cards for everybody.

Blame Laird

Think of a 70-foot wave.

It rises out of the water like a possessed mountain. If you close your eyes to it, your mind still sees it because of the ferocious sound. It curls, creating a perfect temporary barrel that plunges towards the shore with the weight of the ocean behind it.

There’s a tiny dot on top of this giant wave.

The dot glides gracefully over the top and down into the barrel, a little white trail following.

That dot is Laird Hamilton.

Part madman, part dolphin and part Achilles, big wave surfer Laird Hamilton was literally born into the environment that he spends most of his time in. His mother gave birth to him on March 2nd, 1964 at UCSF Medical Centre into an experimental salt-water tank that was designed to ease the pain of labour.

His watery entrance into the world was but the beginning of a life spent in the ocean. Growing up in Oahu, Hawaii, Laird took to surfing at a young age, with his stepfather, former pro surfer Bill Hamilton, teaching him the ropes. He was always an excellent surfer, but despite his obvious skill and natural talent, Laird never wanted to be on the professional surfing circuit.

Instead, he invented his own shtick.

In the early 90’s, Hamilton, along with friends like fellow big wave surfer Dave Kalama, frequently surfed the North Shore of the Island of Maui. Pe’hai, also known as Jaws, boasts some of the biggest and most powerful waves in the world. Spurred on by a longing to ride the massive breaks that they could see in the distance, but couldn’t paddle to with just their boards, Hamilton and Kalama began using a Jet Ski and a towrope to get onto those mammoth waves. This method, known as tow in surfing, would revolutionize big wave surfing.

What does it take to ride a wave bigger than your house? A blatant disregard for, or a superior understanding of, fear? Yes. But it also takes brute strength. With a neck the size of a large bull’s and a muscly physique built to take on waves that could literally wipe out cities, Hamilton, save for his blonde Ken doll mane, is a scary looking dude.

He’s a scary looking dude who has ridden the world’s biggest wave.

Here’s a video from the movie Riding Giants of Laird riding Teahupoo, an insane break off the coast of Tahiti. (The money shot starts about 4:20 into the vid)

Most of us will never even see a wave that large in person, let alone be in the water when it breaks, so lucky for us, Laird’s there.

Another technique made popular by Laird, and one more accessible to us regular folk, is stand up paddle (SUP) surfing. It’s an ancient Hawaiian sport called Hoe he’e nalu in Hawaiian. Instead of lying tummy-down on the board to paddle out, the surfer stands up, balancing with his or her core strength and a long paddle. The paddle is used to propel the board forward on the water and later to balance as you ride the wave.

SUP surfing is fun because you can see everything in front of you as you paddle out to the waves. You can also do it in calm waters and lakes as a more tranquil water activity. If you take out the surfing bit, it’s basically canoeing for those who can’t sit down.

I think Laird Hamilton is the greatest, but he isn’t without his haters. Some people say tow in surfing pollutes the ocean and has corrupted the sport of big wave surfing. A lot of surfers are also bothered by Laird’s promotion of SUP surfing, mainly because it has turned into a trend of yogaesque proportions and is now a flavor of the week activity for rich businessmen and their spoiled kids to try while on vacation in Maui.

The “Blame Laird” movement was started by purest surfers as a way to accuse him of mainstreaming surfing and selling out.

He wasn’t opposed to being accused, though. Being the maverick that he is, Hamilton turned “Blame Laird” into his personal catchphrase (and business venture, as you can purchase Blame Laird merch from his website:

You surfed all day and forgot to call your wife? Blame Laird. You want to sell off all of your assets and move to a surfing village in Costa Rica? Blame Laird. You’re going to trade in the Armani suit for a wetsuit? Blame Laird. Go try your best to live the life you want, and if you get into trouble along the way, just Blame Laird

By branding Blame Laird onto stickers, T-Shirts, coffee mugs and the like, Laird’s giving us all permission to have fun at his expense.

My favourite part of the Laird video above is when he cries on his surfboard after riding that monster wave. Surfing is a sport where your strongest teammate is also your biggest opponent. Trusting yourself on waves that could kill you in an instant requires a zen-like understanding of both yourself and nature.

We’ve all had moments of this. I’ve cried while looking out at Rocky Mountains on a sunny day. I once had a spiritual moment with a goat farmer in the hills of Tuscany. I’ve felt totally embraced by and at peace with the ocean while swimming in it. I’m not totally a part of that world, though. To really be a part of it, you sort of have to live it and be it, full-bore.

This is why Laird Hamilton isn’t just a big wave surfer. He’s also a big wave.

Madonna’s Namesake

Madonna was born to offend you, now wish her a Happy 54th Birthday.

Every single Italian I met when I lived in Rome had the same reaction to my last name: “Ciccone, like Madonna!” They know that Ciccone is Madonna’s last name, what they’re not buying, however, is the Madonna part.

“Carla, what is her real first name?” my friend Massimo asked me. “Madonna,” I said. He laughed and shook his hands the way Italians do when they want to say, “mamma mia! Whaddaya talkin’ about?!” without actually saying it.

While they wholly embrace Madonna as her stage name, it’s unthinkable blasphemy that Madonna’s real name is Madonna. In Italy, that name is reserved for the one and only Holy Virgin Mother of God.

“It has to be Maria, Mary, Marie,” said Massimo, and after a trip to the World Wide Web proved him wrong—as she is indeed Madonna Louise Ciccone—he was left shaking his head.

Madonna had offended him. Not with her singing or stage humping or cross burning or boob flashing, but with her name.

Etched on her birth certificate, the seven letters that make up her bold first name contain within them an inherent contradiction. It represents the antithesis of what she is. If faced with the choice of being the Madonna or the whore, Madonna is the whore every time, and proud of it.

I don’t have to tell you about the impact Madonna’s had on music and culture. She ushered in the seminal music video era of the early 80s with so much sass that she transcended the corniness of the decade and transformed a generation of tween and teen girls (and boys) into lace sporting, multiple cross wearing, messy haired, gum chewing, cheeky little queens.

She was a fearless, fun, envelope pushing badass who challenged the norms of her Midwestern, motor city Catholic upbringing with so much gumption that, though many people were put off by her, they still believed her.

I remember my grandfather smiling down at me in the basement of his house in Toronto as he held up a poster of Madonna in 1987. He told me that we had the same last name as her and were from the same part of Italy, and I was in awe of the beautiful blonde woman with the dark eyebrows, red lips and mean face who, thrillingly, could possibly (but probably not) be my fifth cousin.

The video for 1989’s “Like A Prayer” featured a mélange of scandalous taboos at the time: interracial making out in a church, bumping and grinding, also in a church, and cleavage bouncing in front of burning crosses next to… a church! So it was perfect for a bunch of 7-year-old Catholic school girls to imitate at school.

My friends and I did so over recess one day, happily dancing and acting out the words of the song on a grassy hill. Life is a mystery… Watching us from her pious corner was the hawk-eyed relic of our Catholic elementary school, my second grade home room teacher, Mrs. Van Kant. Everyone must stand alone…

Van Kant somehow found out that Madonna the hussy’s last name was also my own, and pulled me aside before class. “You have the same last name as Madonna,” she said, her stale coffee breath assaulting my nose as she hiss-whispered through her teeth. “She is defiling the church. You better pray for her soul.”

Mrs. Van Kant was terrifying. All tightly wound white curls and high-collared, starched blouses, she constantly rapped a long, yellow pencil against the palm of her hand while patrolling our desks. She’d whack kids on the head with it for chewing gum, looking sleepy, or not praying loud enough. Madonna would’ve despised her.

Had I been 12 at the time, I would’ve been like “screw you, you tight ass bitch and hell yes Madonna CICCONE!” but I was not 12. I was 7. I was scared to death of teachers, hell and the devil and wanted nothing more than to be a good Catholic girl. Madonna was really messing with my elementary school God game, so after praying for her, I viewed her with severe side-eyed skepticism and hated her very much for three years. Until, that is, she became Mae Mordabito.

“A League of their Own” was the zenith of Madonna’s film career. The 1992 movie had a talented ensemble cast and was about women stepping in to play big league baseball for the masses while the men were off killing Nazis during World War II. They faced ridicule and sexism, they had to play in skirts, and they kicked ass.

Not unlike Madonna herself, #5 Mae Mordabito was lippy, feisty, and wicked. At one point, she poisons her team’s female chaperon Mrs. Cuthburt so the girls can sneak out to go swing dancing. More than anything, Madonna, and the rest of the Rockford Peaches (Geena Davis, fist pump!) made awkward prepubescent girls like me want to be sporty and play baseball, which I did, for a little while.

My musical tastes have always run more rock ‘n roll gypsy than pop princess, and I’d be the first to agree if you told me that Madonna’s songs, voice, words, face, performances, antics, or life choices have offended you, but love her, hate her, hate to love her, or love to hate her, Madonna has been the pinnacle of female pop stardom for the better part of the past 30 years. She’s sold over 300 million albums, which makes her the world’s top selling female recording artist.

Two years ago, I took an Alitalia flight from Rome to Sicily. I gave them my passport, and upon seeing my name, the attendant looked at me and smiled wide. She then called a coworker and said, in Italian, “I have Madonna’s niece at my desk!” They bumped me to first class and didn’t charge me for my extra heavy bag. I didn’t correct them. Madonna wouldn’t have wanted me to.

She’s been condemned and rewarded in grand fashion throughout her career, and in much more insignificant ways, I too, have been condemned and rewarded for my name-association.

As she turns 54, my wish for Madonna is to keep on living unapologetically, to keep on pushing (which she will, because she’s Madonna).

Fairground stripper, beret wearing rapper, new-age yogi, whatever’s next for Madonna, it’ll be provocative, because Madonna Ciccone was born to be a controversial anomaly fighting against the majority. I haven’t always liked or agreed with her, but I have always admired her.

She might have the name of a saint, but she’s got the balls of a lion.

Reminiscing about Roma

I was thinking today about  how I’ve all but abandoned this blog since moving back from Rome. Sure, Rome was a profound and unique experience for me, but it can’t stop there, right? Life can be profound and interesting elsewhere and I’m going to try to bring you profound and interesting things and keep this blog up better. Maybe I’ve been hesitant to blog because I know that nowhere can compete with Italy, at least for me.

In Rome, the beauty was in the buildings, the people, the trees, the air. You’re spoiled by it and haunted by it and most of all, mesmerized by it. I sometimes joke with people that living in Italy ruined me for life. All jokes are half true, you know? The experience of living in a place where Disney princess fairy dust floats through the air is indeed mind altering. In my old apartment in Trastevere, which is one of Rome’s oldest and illest areas, I’d work sitting by an open window. Everyday, like clockwork, the smell of fresh baked bread and the most delicious candy you can imagine would waft in on a gentle breeze. I’d look up at the little angel statue carved into the building across the street and the groups of ivy crawling up the wall beside her, and then I’d look down at those charming, uneven cobblestone streets and shake my head. how is this real?

I’m fully aware that Italy has more problems than not. Especially now. What I’m referring to has nothing to do with national debt crisis, or the backwards politics, or the illogical bureaucracy or the bunga bunga bullshit. It’s more the fabric of a culture that was built around living for pleasure. Once you’ve experienced living in a place where they want to enjoy everything they see, taste, smell and touch, it’s hard to come back to concrete sidewalks and frothy, burnt cappuccinos. 

It’s also hard to compete with the pizza. Pizza is the best thing Italians ever invented, in my opinion, and I do enjoy it in all of its forms. But I’ve actually been thinking about Italian pizza all day. The thin crust, the simple punchy tomato sauce, the mozzarella. I’m officially salivating. I will return to Italy one day and the first thing I’m doing is getting myself a pizza. 

Pizza Margherita, love of my life

Speaking of beauty and enjoying life, I just witnessed two construction workers have an uncontrollable giggle fit in my back alley. It was pretty beautiful. 

Please Don’t Ruin the Dancing!


In 1987, the world was a simpler place. The air was cleaner, the roads were emptier, and moms, dads, kids and cousins used to pack into the family Volvo to go see a double header at the drive in movie theatre on Saturday evenings.

My family did just that one fine Toronto summer night. The double bill was Back to the Future and Dirty Dancing. Back to the Future was not a new movie at the time, but Dirty Dancing was.

Even though I was only 5-years-old, even though I peed my pants halfway through the film and my mom forced me to put on one of my little sister’s diapers, even though my older cousin called me “Carla Smelly Diaper Pants” because of this for years to come, watching Dirty Dancing for the first time is one of my favorite childhood memories.

The movie is pure nostalgia. A movie about dancing because you want to. Dancing for money. Dancing for love. Dancing all sexy like in front of children and seniors even though the boss man tells you you’re not allowed.

But it’s not just a movie about dancing. It’s also a coming of age love story, and a film that was largely untroubled by Hollywood expectations. A simple, captivating story that no one knew would be a hit when they were making it.

This is why remaking Dirty Dancing 25 years later solely to make money will never work. You can’t recreate movie magic by ripping off a classic. Will you never learn, Hollywood?

I don’t want to see anyone else as Johnny Castle or Baby Houseman or Penny or even grumpy old Max Kellerman.

Children of the 80s, it’s time to stand up and REVOLT!

Today is Eddie Vedder Day!

I have declared today Eddie Vedder day because I like to declare things and because every day should be Eddie Vedder day.

When I was 13, I had a poster on my bedroom wall of Vedder pulling up his shirt while singing. I was a little pervert, I guess.

Look I found it!

But more than a man with killer abs, Ed Ved has been a constant source, or voice, of comfort and inspiration throughout the years. He’s an insanely talented, passionate musician, and he has that silky but towering baritone that can tear you apart one minute and melt you like butta the next.

I took the above picture at Virgin Fest 2009 in Calgary where I got to be up close and personal with the band from the press pit. As I prepare to see Mr. Vedder this evening at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre, where he’s playing the second of two sold-out shows in support of his album Ukulele Songs, I’m telling the 13-year-old girl inside of me to calm down. This concert will be one of contained passion – just Ed and his uke, singing songs, sotto voce.

While the soulful crooner may no longer occupy any scandalous wall space in my bedroom, he’s made an indelible impression on my life. I sincerely thank him for what his music has given to me and I can’t wait to spend tonight singing along with him.

Here’s a video of Eddie singing Elderly Woman Behind a Counter in a Small Town – one of the first songs that started off my lifelong love affair with Pearl Jam.

Ready? 1, 2, 3, 4, 2, 3 . . .

Bad Love

I just watched the film Blue Valentine starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. A terribly stark look at the sun-kissed glow of love at the beginning of a relationship contrasted with the souring stench of a love gone bad in that same relationship years later.

It was a sad, uncomfortable movie to watch, but one that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since it finished. So please excuse me while I get a little philosophical on you. Actually, let’s invite 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche into the conversation.

He was famous for his “God is dead” theory, but Nietzsche also said: “There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.”

We hunger for love, look for it, maybe even need it, and have the ability to feel it so profoundly. To intensely connect with another human on that level might be the most beautiful, fulfilling thing in life, and yet equally as great as our ability to love is our ability to hurt and devastate those same people we loved. No one wants to cause someone they once loved so purely pain (well, usually not), but it happens. We take advantage of each other, we stop appreciating each other, we cheat on each other, we fall out of love with each other, we ruin each other.

Since we do this to each other over and over again knowing what we’re getting into, we’re all a little mad, no? Anyone who has ever had his or her heart broken knows full well the terrifying pain and torment it is to go through that loss, and yet, many of us can hide the scars of past hurt and jump right back in when the opportunity for love presents itself again. To me, this is a brave, courageous thing to do, and one I’m trying to be better at.

Dr. Maya Angelou says: “Have enough courage to trust love one more time. And always one more time.”

In honor of that, and living through love gone bad, here’s Arcade Fire’s Crown of Love: