Right around the corner is Valentine’s Day. From Rudolph Valentino to George Clooney, from Fabio to even Silvio Berlusconi, who knows how to celebrate love and romance better than the Italians.
You may already know that Valentine’s Day is named for St. Valentine, a Roman jailed for being a Christian. He often passed notes to his fellow prisoners to cheer them up. It is interesting to recall the story of how he fell in love with his jailer’s daughter. His final note to her, before he was executed read “From Your Valentine”. He died on February 14, 269.
Of course, the most famous lovers of all time are Romeo and Juliette. If all the world’s a stage, Shakespeare certainly knew how tragic love was played out in Italy. Shakespeare set his tale in Verona. But Romeo and Juliet was a re-telling of the classic theme of ill fated lovers which had been told many times over many centuries. Romeo and Juleit borrows from a tradition of tragic love stories dating back to antiquity. One of the earliest is Pyramus and Thisbe, from Ovid's"Metamorphoses", which contains parallels to Shakespeare's story.
It is worth noting that Ovid was born in what is now Sulmonna, L'Aquila. He was a prolific writer. Among his works are many which feature love and erotic themes. Titles include, "Amores" (The Loves), "Ars Amatoria" or (The Art of Love), "Remedia Amoris" (The Cure for Love) and "Heroides" (the Heroine) which examines the emotions of partners who are separated, and their pleas for their lovers return.
Another ill fated pair was Paolo and Francesca from Dante’s The Divine Comedy. In the Second Circle of Hell, Francesca confesses to adultery with her brother-in-law, Paolo. Italians do not divorce as frequently as Americans do. Instead, Francesca’s husband kills her.
According to Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., the noun Casanova means “Lover; esp: a man who is a promiscuous and unscrupulous lover”. So besides Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, or a bedroom, where would you
have found Casanova? A little further east from Verona to Venice and you’ll be in the neighborhood of one of the world’s greatest lovers, Giacomo Casanova. During the 1700’s, Venice was considered the pleasure capital of
Europe. Famous for its Carnival, gambling and courtesans, Casanova was the master of seduction.
Even today, Italians may not all be seducers, but it seems they all love to flirt. I once read that “Italian men flirt like other men breathe – regularly and naturally.” http://www.italiansrus.com/articles/ourpaesani/italianmen.htm
But perhaps the flirting is an expression of playfulness even if nothing romantic is expected.
So how do the Italians celebrate Valentines Day? It is not common to send cards to family members, friends and classmates as we do. They are not as commercialized as Americans are. Valentines Day is only for lovers. Roses, dinner, perfume are the usual expressions of love. And Baci Perugina, a chocolate and hazelnut candy which comes wrapped in love notes, messages of love, friendship and affection. But let’s not forget diamonds, which are always popular expressions of love. Especially as an engagement rings. Diamonds have been popular engagement rings in Italy since the 1400s.
So on Valentine’s Day, when he tells you COMO SEI BELLA and you answer TI AMO. You tell him TI PENSO SEMPRE. Then he asks for some BACI. Baddabing --that’s Amore – Italian Style.