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.

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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.

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:

Mean Girls and Widowers

Back when I was in high school, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and before digital cameras took over the world, I worked in a photo shop. I worked mostly at the front, helping customers who dropped off their film and then collected their pictures.

Sometimes, though, my developing room coworkers would let me help them develop the photos, and I got to use all of the cool machinery, and touch the film and be in the dark room. It’s a process I’ve always found fascinating and romantic, so I was in heaven every time I would do it.

Anyway, one day I was working at the front counter, and a girl I went to school with came in to pick up a some pictures she had dropped off the week before. It was a batch I had personally helped develop, so I knew they had turned out and I flitted off happily to get them for her.

Only . . . I couldn’t find them.

I looked everywhere. In the back, in the black and white bin, in the special orders bin, in the developing room. They were nowhere to be found.

I sheepishly came back to the front counter and told her that I couldn’t find her pictures.

“I can’t believe this Carla, where are they? You lost them?” she said sternly – like she was scolding a child.

“Well, I didn’t lose them,” I said. “A lot of people work here, not just me. I don’t know where they are. I’m so sorry. I’ll keep looking!”

“You better find them. I’ll be back later,” she said.

I understood her frustration and spent my lunch break looking for her photos in a fit of panicked guilt. I even took to moving the large photo machinery, interviewing the other staff at length about where on earth the pictures could have gone, and crawling into a small cupboard to see if they had fallen behind a loose slat at the back of it. I never found them, and my coworkers thought I had gone insane.

After lunch, I nervously waited for the girl to come back. I was in a pathetic state. I looked around skittishly, paced the store, rearranged things that didn’t need to be rearranged. Confrontation is not my strong suit.

As I tried to calm myself by alphabetizing the pictures in the ready for pick-up bin, an older man walked up to the counter.

He had white hair, clear, kind blue eyes, and he wore a poppy on the left lapel of his grey jacket, even though it was June. (In Canada, we usually wear poppies in November in celebration of Remembrance Day, which honors our soldiers).

“Excuse me, my dear,” the older gentleman said.

“Hello, how can I help you? Do you have film to drop off?” I replied, rapid-fire.

“No, no,” he said, “I just wanted to give you this.”

He reached into a little white box he was holding and produced a beautiful pink and orange hibiscus flower, and placed it in my hands.

“My wife died five years ago,” he said. “She was the loveliest, most wonderful woman I’ve ever known. She laughed a lot, and she had an energy made people feel warm and happy.”

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” I said as I delicately held the flower in my palms of my hands.

He nodded.

“That there was her favorite flower. Every year, on her birthday, I buy one and give it to a woman who reminds me of her.”

I smiled at him.

“You’re not a woman yet, but you will be soon,” he said.

I nodded.

“Put it in water, ok?” he said as he squeezed my hand. “My dear, I hope that one day you will be loved and adored as much as my wife was.”

And with that, he let go, turned around and walked out of the store.

I watched him leave and then looked down at the flower in my hand. It seemed to be radiating happiness.

I felt like I had just witnessed some sort of miracle. That nervousness that had eaten at me all day was replaced by a light, still calm. Like I was on a beach in Maui, where these flowers grow so freely, on a perfect, sunny day. Tranquil.

When the girl came back later that day, I decided that if she had calmed down about the situation, I’d give her the gorgeous hibiscus flower the old man gave me and maybe it would brighten her day, too. Pay it forward, so to speak.

As she walked up, I told her that I had looked everywhere I could have looked and that I was very sorry, but her pictures weren’t here.

“You threw my pictures out on purpose, didn’t you?” she said.

“What? No, of course not!” I said. “This happens sometimes, it was just a mistake.”

“I’m going to come back when you’re not here and talk to you manager,” she said.

“Ok, fine, whatever you want,” I said.

“”You’re a bitch!” she snapped.

I looked down at the lovely flower under the counter, and then looked into her eyes.

“I’m very sorry for your loss,” I said as she shot daggers at me with her eyes.

Later that day, I gave the flower to the loveliest woman I know – and one I’m sure the gentleman would approve of – my mom.

21st Century Bad Boys (& Girls)

Lets take a minute to talk about bad boys, shall we?

How do you define a bad boy? He might cheat on you, he might make false promises, he might break plans regularly with lame excuses or none at all, he probably dates multiple women at once because he can. He is often scared of relationships and so seeks out meaningless encounters with easy women. He is tall, dark and handsome – or not. He probably smells nice and likes leather -or not. He’s cocky. He’s charming. Or not. He could just be the most unassuming, innocent seeming man out there. Are you picking up on a problem here?

The 1950s image of James Dean straddling a motorcycle, leather jacket unzipped and cigarette hanging out of his mouth with a face that says “I don’t give a damn, but I’m a damn good kisser,” no longer defines the bad boy. Parts of him, sure, but the game has changed since then.

The bad boy has grown up, or, more accurately, mutated into various species of men. This poses a problem because most of the time you can’t even recognise the badness until you get involved with him, and then it’s almost always too late.

Since this is a blog about my life in Italy, I admit that I haven’t done much dating in Rome. I hate dating. I hate it even more in a foreign country where the rules are a little different and I am even more clueless than I am normally.

This isn’t to say that I wont date, I just don’t seek it out.

Anyway, in my own experiences with Italian men, and in hearing the dating stories of my Roman and American friends here, I have to say that the bad boy is very much alive and well in Italy. He smells good, he looks good, his shoes are nicer than yours and he will probably either cheat on you or cheat on his girlfriend with you.

Cheating is common here.

Not that cheating doesn’t happen everywhere, but it seems to be a bit more out in the open, and maybe even a bit more socially accepted, in Rome. When cheaters (and to be fair – they’re not only men) hit on their accomplices here, they often do so by alluding to the fact that they have a girlfriend right away. They try to justify the cheating by being honest about it upfront. It’s an interesting angle.

“Bella, yes I have a girlfriend, but she’s not here. Right now, it’s just you and me”

Can’t blame a guy for trying, right? They do it with such charm and conviction that it’s not as easy as you would think to scoff in their faces and walk away.

The Italian lover with his sexy accent, Roman god-like face and smooth moves is your stereotypical latin bad boy type – but as I said before, they’re not all so obvious. In fact my friend Chris – a smooth talking, guitar playing ladies man in his own right – recently divulged to me that almost every man is “bad” until they meet the girl they’re willing to be good for. And even then, he says, the good usually doesn’t last forever.

Now I’d like to believe that this is bullshit. Call me Disney, but if experience and Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Paulo Coelho novels have taught me anything it’s that love is a world unoccupied by reason or science or bad boy theories. Love just is. It’s a lawless battlefield – and we can’t really place blame when things go wrong in love, because we enter into it knowing that there are no guarantees.

I have been bad in the past. I’ve unintentionally hurt people in love and I don’t feel good about it – but I think most of us have been on both sides of heartbreak.

We couple up, we ride waves together, we fall off, we get back up, we paddle out alone and look for another set to come in. We all try to find that person we can ride with, and even when we find them, part of the thrill is knowing that the wave won’t last forever.

I don’t know why I just used a surfing metaphor there, but it gets the point across.

I started this post wanting to give bad boys a piece of my mind, but I ended up changing my mind along the way. No one’s really bad unless we let them be. We can only control how we react to what happens to us.

Sometimes when I walk around Rome, I could swear that I feel the mighty pulse of the ancient Eternal City protecting and feeding my soul – but I know enough to know that even all the power of Rome can’t protect my heart. Nothing can protect the heart. And when you start trying to protect it, you miss out on life. That’s the beauty and the calamity of love.

Having said that, there are some men and women that are just bad. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of getting involved with more than one of them in my years on the dating market. It’s not fun.

These types should really come with doctor’s warnings à la cigarette packages. “Warning: this man is emotionally unavailable, makes false promises and snores.” “Warning: this girl is manipulative, controlling and yells a lot.” Or something along those lines.

In the end, aren’t bad boys and girls just missing out on love? Maybe we should all feel sorry for them and their unused, little, shriveled up black hearts.