All you need is love
Valentine’s Day was originally a pagan feast day for the advent of the mating season. Conquering armies knew better than to try and change tradition so the Romans kept the date and made it a fertility celebration, much the same thing really and introducing their own gods to the British. With the arrival of Christianity, it was hi-jacked again and re-named after a third century Christian martyr called Saint Valentine who had been clubbed to death for helping persecuted Christians.
As it falls conveniently six weeks after the birth of Christ and six before the date of his demise when people are ready to celebrate something after a miserable start to the year, one could be forgiven for thinking it was a celebration, like Mother’s Day, dreamed up by a commercially minded American but the public love it as everyone likes to celebrate love.
Love has become an overused word these days. We use it without thought. We say ‘love you’ when saying goodbye and profess to love things from new shoes, a TV programme or even Marmite. Words lose their power when overused. People who pepper their speech with swear words never shock anyone, but a well-placed expletive can have a very powerful effect.
Those clever Greeks knew a thing or two; they had over six words for describing love having worked out that not all love is the same. Ludus was used to describe the playful affection of children; pragma for the mature love of long relationships, storge to describe the love of siblings and comrades and eros for sexual passion.
The feelings of attraction and love are a potent mix of emotions. Centuries of time and countless words have tried to explain these things. Writers, poets, painters, and scientists have all failed to unravel its inexplicable effect on us – thank goodness. Mystery is part of its appeal and its power. Love can change the world; it can bring down governments (and walls).
If the word love is overused the symbol of a heart is equally overdone. Teens sketch it on their schoolbooks, people mimic the shape with their hands when being photographed and no Valentine’s card is complete without it. Billions of cards are sold in February as well as red roses, flowers in general, jewellery and soft toys. Restaurants also want their slice of the pie and start advertising early to beat the competition.
To be fair Valentine’s night means they turn away a lot of bookings once all the tables are taken but end up only being half full because every booking is for two. To make sure their establishment appeals to the potential customer restaurateurs pull out all the stops. Menus will feature anything that can include the words ‘love’ or ‘heart’ though for obvious reasons not ‘braised ox heart’. The sound system will include every sickly crooning about ‘lurve’ and boy there are plenty of them. There will be red roses for the ladies, pink prosecco on tap and heart shaped balloons everywhere.
Everything that can be cut or formed into a heart shape will find its way onto your plate – croutons, potatoes, and desserts, strawberries are an obvious choice being naturally heart shaped and dishes will have special names such as ‘Parfait d’amour’, Tower of Hearts’, ‘Passion Fruit Delight’ and ‘Casanova’s Kisses’ (alright, I made that one up.)
I don’t want you to think I am in any way cynical about love; the commercialisation of it yes, but not love itself. I lived my impressionable teenage years during the cultural revolution that was the sixties. Before that men were men and women were grateful. Love was an embarrassing word until it became the currency of the hippie era so peace and love to all and happy Valentine’s Day.
Written & photographed by Chef and Author, Ian Dowding