My Funny Valentine?
"Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward in the same direction…" ~Antoine de Ste Exupery
Valentine’s Day is nigh upon us, and I know I should be shopping for bon bons or composing protestations of undying love. But I never have understood the traditional point of this holiday, nor had any clue who St. Valentine was, and in this I am apparently not alone. Historians can only tell us that Valentine may have been a 3rd-century A.D. priest in Rome who was jailed for doing something un-Roman, and was martyred around 270. He may have taken a fancy to a jailer’s daughter or another maiden, and may have sent a note to her signed “From your Valentine.” This would at least account for the Hallmark windfall, but where the chocolate truffles and long-stemmed roses come from is anybody’s guess.
According to the History Channel, approximately one billion Valentine cards are sent each year, with 85 percent being purchased by women. I find this surprising. Not the total amount—which is only a fraction of a bailout package in dollar value—but the gender composition. I would have guessed it was the other way around. I’m not sure how to explain this, but would guess that men love women, but are reluctant to count the ways. I know I spend too much time each year looking for the right card for my beloved (pictured above, incidentally), trying to find one that strikes a balance between mushy blather on the one hand and inappropriate comedy on the other. I’m usually drawn to inappropriate comedy, but am old enough to perform a cost/benefit analysis before deciding. Some years I come up empty, as apparently do some 850 million other men.
The worst card I saw this year comes from Hallmark, naturally. The card has a stylized rose on the front, is graphically undistinguished, and contains the lines “This is more than just a Valentine’s Day card…It’s the first time you placed your hand in mine, it’s a kiss under a moonlit sky…It’s that place, that time with you—your skin next to mine…Yes, this is more than just a Valentine’s Day card…It’s everything you are to me…and then some.”
Trust me on this, it is just a card.
The best card, pictured here, is by Dan Reynolds. No comment needed, except that I hear that some relationships are like this.
The one I’m giving is a Shoebox card from Hallmark. On the front is a photo of a boy and a girl touching noses and holding hands. Inside, it says: “You’re all that I want, and more than I deserve. I love you, Valentine.” To this I added “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Pretty good, but I think I still better get some bon bons.
Final note, in passing: Saturday marks the 40-year anniversary of the Valentine portable typewriter. Designed by the Italian genius Ettore Sottsass and produced by Olivetti, it was presented to the world on Valentine’s Day, 1969. Now a design icon, the Valentine featured a sanguinary-red plastic housing, and was a visual delight and a very chic object. But come on—a typewriter for Valentine’s Day? I thought Italian men understood women better than this. Quali sono state pensando, Ettore?
Photo by Davide Casali.