14 February, Valentine’s Day.
Chris always made me a Valentine card. Unknown to her I kept all the letters and cards she sent me, so this year I’ll recycle one. There’s one decorated with images of Tristan and Isolde, that I particularly love. I think she’d approve of that. I’ll know who it’s from (but then I always did).
Laurence Whistler in The English Festivals published in 1907, reports that the tradition of giving Valentine cards blossomed in Victorian times with the introduction in 1840 of the Universal Penny Post. In grandiloquent Edwardian prose, he describes the increasingly exuberant decoration of these cards as a “rutilant, anaglyptic and nostalgic filament of sensibility draw[ing] a veil, if only of forget-me-knots, over its deplorable ancestry.”
The deplorable ancestry in question is the alleged origin of St Valentine’s Day in the Roman festival of Lupercalia when “the names of willing young ladies were put in a box and shaken up well so that each young blood could draw one out at random; the girl thus won to remain his companion while the gaieties lasted.”
Well, who’d have thought it.
Since Lupercalia hasn’t been celebrated for a couple of millennia, Chris and I always tried to get home for Valentine’s Day instead, to exchange cards and share a bottle of wine over dinner. Once, memorably, it was a rare Californian Orion Syrah (you should try it at least once in your life) that we sipped appreciatively for hours.
The flaming heart image is a Mexican corazon en llamas and I chose it to celebrate the idyllic month Chris and I spent together in 2009 at Leigh Hyam’s studio in San Miguel de Allende. Every morning Chris painted and I wrote; each afternoon we went to the internet café in town, did some window shopping, and scouted around until we found an interesting bar for an early evening marguerita.
Mmm. An early evening Marguerita. Now there’s an idea.