Romantic deals around town for lovers
■ Dennis Fletcher / Contributed
Last Friday, Feb. 1, I had the opportunity to drop in at the Hemet Public Library on First Friday to hear an entertaining combination of both informative and amusing talks delivered by Penelope Engard, her colleague Dr. Carol Frances, and other highly qualified valley area historians. Engard focuses on U.S. and local history while Frances* explores international and travel topics.
I sat back in the padded wooden armchairs of the first-floor conference room while Engard entertained us with stories about the famous paleoanthropological Leakey Family of explorers in Africa. Then, Frances presented the colorful history of Valentine’s Day, triggering many interesting remarks from the audience characteristic of these First Friday discussions.
Frances sketched out a fascinating set of theories about the origins of this most popular holiday around the world for lovers.
There are earlier Babylonian myths associated with the tradition, but perhaps the most popular story is about one of three martyred early Roman Catholic priests named Valentine during the reign of Emperor Claudius II, Roman emperor from 268–270 AD. It was a time of fierce attacks by Gauls from the north, and Roman soldiers were forbidden to marry because it was feared that marriage might weaken their resolve in battle. Valentine began secretly marrying soldiers in the Christian faith and eventually was caught and executed.
Frances told of the legend when Valentine was in prison just before his execution. He was being judged by Asterius, who had a blind daughter. Valentine prayed for the daughter and she was healed, causing the judge to convert to Christianity. Before his execution in Rome on February 14, 269 AD, the last words Valentine wrote were in a note to the recovered blind girl, signed “from your Valentine.”
Later sainted, the name St. Valentine has come to be known by lovers throughout the world. In fact, he is recognized as a saint by both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches and venerated in the Anglican Communion in England as well as the Lutheran Church. He is the patron saint for engaged couples, happy marriages, love, plague, epilepsy and beekeepers.
Although the history of Valentine’s Day is obscure, the roots appear to be in the popular Roman festival of Lupercalia. Ancient Romans celebrated it every Feb. 13 – 15 to pray for fertility for their crops and their Roman women. As things began to modernize at the end of the 5th century, Pope Saint Gelasius I, the 49th Roman Catholic Pope, who was the last of three North Africa Berber Popes, declared Feb. 14 as “Valentine’s Day” in 496 AD to honor Valentine and the sanctity of marriage in the church and to end the pagan celebration of Lupercalia.
Lupercalia, however, did not die with Pope Gelasius’ edict. Our English language month of February gets its name from the Latin word februare, which means to purify. Lupercalia was during the purification month of ancient Rome … their month for februare.
The Roman Catholic Church has observed St. Valentine’s Day, the Feast of St. Valentine, since 496 AD. His skull and bone fragments are exhibited in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome. Other relics of Saint Valentine were taken to Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland, where they are to this day. Traveler’s tip: it’s but a four-hour drive to the southwest from St. Valentine’s remains in Dublin to the Blarney Stone, Ireland’s most famous monument to love and eloquence.
It took many more centuries before Valentine’s Day would become associated with romantic love. St. Valentine’s Day was created at the end of the 5th Century by Pope Gelasius I. Yet it would not be associated with romantic love until the 15th century, a thousand years later, when the first written valentines messages and letters were penned. With the aid of her PowerPoint slides, Frances led her audience along that fascinating path through history.
Middle ages and later
Little things began happening along the way.
Throughout the Middle Ages, it was believed in England and France that Feb. 14 was the first day of mating season for birds. And birds were associated with love.
In England, the notion of romantic love was explored by Geoffrey Chaucer through his landmark work of 24 short stories called The Canterbury Tales (originally Tales of Caunterbury) written in Middle English between 1387 and 1400. Middle English is much earlier and harder to follow than Shakespearean English. It is thought that some tales were still waiting to be put to paper at the time of Chaucer’s death. Through his The Wife of Bath’s Tale, Chaucer revealed insights into the lives, customs and times of 14th Century England, where love was ripe and budding in all directions.
The next major English literary evolution in the direction of love arrived with William Shakespeare in the middle of the 16th Century. Although The Bard of Avon is perhaps most famous for his tragedies and historical plays, he also published poems and sonnets that focused primarily on the delicate subjects of courtship, love, and marriage.
In 1609, Shakespeare published his Sonnets, a book of 54 poems, all in the form of iambic pentameter (ta-da, ta-da, ta-da, ta-da, ta-da). These sonnets are considered a profound body of work that delves into the nature of love, sexual passion, birth, marriage, and death during the time of Queen Elizabeth I. His 18th is one of his most famous sonnets.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)
During the 18th and 19th centuries, popular sculpture and paintings depicted legendary love scenes like Cupid and Psyche, the original Greek mythological love story. The pair was frequently sculpted during the period, including Antonio Canova’s Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss in 1793. Among the most famous paintings of the young couple was Francois Gerard’s 1798 work titled Cupid and Psyche depicting Psyche receiving the first kiss from Cupid.
Auguste Rodin sculpted his most famous statue, The Kiss, in 1882. Although one original marble version is now at the recently renovated Rodin Museum in Paris, two other over-life-size marble versions were created in his lifetime as well as over 300 bronze casts. The concept of true unfettered romantic love was upon us.
Technology and business
Although early Valentine’s Day cards were handmade, technology eventually got into the act. Esther A. Howland, artist and businesswoman in Worcester, Massachusetts, was the first producer of commercial Valentine’s Day cards in the U.S. in the 1840s. Hallmark was not far behind. Maybe you didn’t know that 150 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged every year. This makes Valentine’s Day the second most popular day for sending cards after Christmas. About 1.5 billion Christmas cards are purchased and sent annually, more than all other holiday cards combined.
Love and love notes had finally met commerce and it was a match that bankers could celebrate annually.
Confectioners got into the act too. Richard Cadbury released his first decorative heart-shaped Valentine’s Day box of chocolates in 1868. The boxes were true works of art, designed with beautiful illustrations that children could cut out and save.
FTD started as a florist’s cooperative in 1910 because of the arrival of the telegraph. This invention enabled florists to deliver flowers throughout the U.S. overnight! Soon, sending a dozen long-stemmed roses became the gold standard expression of love.
Frances told her audience that Hemet used to be a famous commercial center for growing roses. There was just something about the climate and soil here that resulted in rose stock that would bloom after only one year, unlike the other places that produced roses that took two years to bloom, another tale out of Hemet’s renowned past. These often are explored at the First Friday group that is part of Engard’s and Frances’ adventurous armchair travelling programs that they have been producing at the library for more than six years.
Of great significance in the past, different colors of roses represented different concepts. Red was for love, purple enchantment, white for new beginnings and purity, red and white for unity, red-yellow for delight, and yellow for friendship. God forbid if you received a bouquet of yellow roses while praying for red ones!
The March 1 First Friday program will explore United States natural disasters. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (951) 357-7733. Free programs are presented on the first Friday of every month, 10 a.m.- noon, in the Library Conference Room, 300 E. Latham Ave., Hemet. Online, visit: http://cityofhemet.org/library.
A number of Hemet businesses are preparing to offer something special on the traditional day for lovers. We’ve checked around, and here’s what we’ve found:
Adam’s Arrangements, 420 State St., San Jacinto, will offer one dozen roses for $65 plus a coupon that appears in their ad in The Valley Chronicle on page D1 for $5 off any purchase of $50 or more.
Rodolfo’s Cucina Italiana, 2071 E. Florida in Hemet, will offer a free glass of Champagne with a selected entree. The restaurant will be serving up its Valentine’s Day Champagne special from February 8-16.
El Zarape Mexican Restaurant, 4270 E. Florida, Hemet, will offer couples two romantic 10 oz. Pink Cadillac Margaritas for $14 ($5 off) and Rocky Zharp will be serenading guests with his ever-popular folk songs and 100 percent acoustic music.
Destination, Coffee Bar & Bistro, 100 W. Florida Ave. in Hemet, is offering a free dessert with the purchase of one other to couples on Valentine’s Day.
The Little Pantry Café, 980 N. State St, Hemet, is offering a Valentine’s Day special dinner of ribeye steak and shrimp with free dessert for $14.99 during their regular hours, 7 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Harvard Street Bakery, 140 N. Harvard St., Hemet, will be offering lots of special goodies on Valentine’s Day including raspberry creme brulee, chocolate dipped strawberries, Valentine’s Day cookies, and a strawberry spinach salad.
Boys Burgers, 167 N. Carmalita St. in Hemet, will offer dinner for two of any of their combination dinners with one appetizer and one dessert for $19.99.
Naughty Notions, 2333 S. San Jacinto Ave. in San Jacinto, is offering a wide variety of gift items for lovers including their Naughty Notions Gift Certificate.
Sweet Baby Jane’s Barbeque, 124 S. Harvard St., Hemet, welcomes all couples on Valentine’s Day with its warm intimate seating in back and live music out front. (BTW, it’s planning a big feast later this spring on Mother’s Day, May 12.)
Denny’s Restaurant, 1290 N. State St., San Jacinto, will dim the lighting for a portion of the restaurant for a romantic mood with floral centerpieces, candles, and valentines candy on the tables to create an intimate atmosphere for their guests. Runs from Monday, Feb. 11 through Thursday, Feb. 14.
Who said Hemet and San Jacinto aren’t for lovers ??
* See online: https://www.artfultraveler.us/carol