Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day: Myths, Martyrs and Massacres

When I was eight-years-old, on Valentine's Day 1971, my father brought home gold heart-shaped pins with rubies and diamonds across the front like a sash across Cupid for my sister and me.  Of course, the jewelry was costume, the gold was paint, and the gems were red and white glass.  However, because the gift was from the most important man in my life, I only saw, and still see, the love which this personal treasure represents.  

By and large, alas, Valentine's Day usually is a personally disappointing holiday.  I'm single and, while I know it's hard for some people to grasp, that is by choice.  Why?  I received quite a few marriage proposals when I was young.  My last and most serious one occurred ten years ago when I was forty-one.  However, I never received a proposal from a man who was right for me.  I'm very sentimental, yet, because I do not have a partner with whom I spend my life and adore, I don't glamorize Valentine's Day.

I was raised as a Roman Catholic, and was fascinated by the Church's Calendar of Saints.  Perhaps because I always have had a predilection for the dark and the horrifying, I especially enjoyed tales of the Martyrs, those saints who submitted to all types of grotesque tortures and macabre deaths rather than renounce their faith.  There were a baker's dozen of saints named Valentine, and all of them met with horrible fates.    When we commemorate St. Valentine's Day, we are remembering not one but two Valentines who were buried on the Via Flaminia, a road in the north of Rome. As with many Christian holidays, St. Valentine's Day may have been created in order to incorporate the pagan holiday of Lupercalia, an ancient Roman festival in honor of Lupercus, god of fertility and husbandry, as well as crops and wolves.  In the most specific sense, as a saint's day, St. Valentine's Day is yet another disappointment.

As a movie and television buff, I cannot even count how many depictions of The St. Valentine's Day Massacre I have seen.  On Valentine's Day in 1929, Al Capone's gang used machine guns to mow down seven members of Bugs Moran's gang in the constant war for criminal control of Chicago.  This certainly was not in any way, shape or form about love.  I think my favorite version of this incident is in the film "Some Like It Hot," a film in which two men portray women and, so, another dissemblance.   In this screwball comedy, two musicians Joe (played by Tony Curtis) and Jerry (the divine Jack Lemmon) witness the massacre and, in fear for their lives, dress up as women to join an all-girl band.  The plan goes well until Joe meets Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe at her finest).  Joe has to decide whether his love for Sugar is worth endangering his life by "coming out" as a straight man.  What is so adorable is how Jerry embraces his new role as a woman, to the point that he allows the millionaire Osgood (the inestimable Joe E. Brown) to woo him.

I guess when it comes to St. Valentine's Day, it's best to remember the last line of this film:  "Well, nobody's perfect."