Something about this multi-faceted emotional state makes us all crave to be in it or be the object of it. As young girls on lunch breaks, we used to sit on the grass, pulling out the petals of daisies: ‘does he love me, does he not?’ if we didn’t like the answer we started on the next one! If only the whole business of love were as simple as plucking daisies! If you live in India or the Middle Eastern countries, you will not be celebrating Valentine’s Day, because it has been banned by the authorities for sexual and Christian overtones.
The Scots are a romantic bunch at heart and traditional Valentine’s celebrations were rather grand. An equal number of males and females would attend a party; all names would go into a hat, to be drawn in pairs. The couple chosen together would be each other’s companion for a night of dancing and an exchange of gifts. In Japan, as a boyfriend or husband, you can expect home-made chocolate from the special ladies in your life, showing your appreciation on March 14th when men give women presents. Young Korean singles can be seen gathered together on April 14 Black Day, sharing the black Jajang noodles which give the day it’s name.
On the subject of matrimony, tradition dictates that a woman can ask a man to marry her on February 29th, which occurs every four years. This practice is said to have originated in 5th century Ireland, when St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick about women’s extensive waiting for a man to propose. Once again we find the Scots to be romantic of heart, a law was supposedly passed in 1288 allowing women to propose. It details that if the man should decline, he must pay a fine; ranging between a kiss, a silk dress or a pair of gloves for the heartbroken maiden! Who said the law is devoid of feeling? Or humour for that matter; if you did not show up in the Liverpool courts, you can be expecting a Valentine from the Metropolitan Police: ‘Roses are red, violets are blue, you've got a warrant and we’d love to see you’!
As a girl, Mama always used to write me cards with a little chocolate enclosed. Every Valentine’s Day, whether in a relationship or single, we focus on the concept of universal love. It is too easy for us to be seduced by Americanisms and think that this day actually symbolizes what card companies say – if he didn’t get you flowers then he doesn’t love you’. Come on, there are 365 days in the year when he can buy you flowers, take you for dinner and tell you he loves you! Do not misunderstand me – I am NOT making a case against roses and chocolate! I am simply a girl, afraid that the whole scenario will pass me by as I sit on my ‘worry bench’, wearing my inspirational orange beret and tons of anxiety whilst puffing on my rolled cigarette!
I hear the gate lightly knock as it is pushed back into place. Since the dogs have not stopped the intruder, it must a friend. Hamish soundlessly greets the dogs and sits next to me on my bench. No words are needed to convey my emotional state. “I just don’t see the point of the emotional rollercoaster of relationships, it’s so hard, how do people do it?” I explode. The silence descends as if I had not spoken and when Hamish speaks his voice sounds remote: “The path of true love is long and steep, so you had better get yourself some good shoes my girl.”
I can’t help but laugh at this as my eyes go straight to Hamish’s feet; barely covered by his home-made leather moccasins. So begins my first formal lesson in love: “In our culture people are starved of love. We watch endless films about happy and unhappy love, we listen to hundreds of trashy songs about it – yet hardly anyone thinks that there is anything to be learned about loving. Most people see the problem as one of being loved, rather than of one’s capacity to love. We aim to make ourselves ‘loveable’; by being popular, wealthy and having sex appeal. Just as living is an art, so is loving; we must proceed in the discipline as with any other such as music or carpentry. Despite the deep longing for love we all have, most people fail because almost everything else is considered more important than the art: success and so on. This practice requires discipline, concentration, patience, faith, courage, the ability to take risks and readiness to accept pain and disappointment.”
With an air of authority, Hamish leaves the bench and traverses the hall; pinning some scraps of paper to it – here we go, I thought he’s turning preacher! Completely unfazed by my hostile attitude, Hamish pointed, as if a lecturer in an auditorium; packed to the brim with eager ears; “In the Book of Jonah, God explains that essence of love is labour; the two are inseparable.” The second battered piece of yellowed paper held the words of Saint Exupery’s Fox to the Little Prince: “It is the time you lavished on your rose that makes it so important”; if she doesn’t get the biblical she will get the modern parable – I am sure Hamish thought. Crafty old goat!
He finished his lecture and disappeared; it worked for the Little Prince, but how am I going to translate that into the fast and often thoughtless pace of everyday life? I am thrown into thinking about the writings of Khalil Gibran; ‘even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you’; ‘Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning’. Is love synonymous with pain? The beautiful rose, our symbol of affection was born of Aphrodite’s woe when her tears mingled with blood from her lover’s wound.
Gone is the old University ethos: the ‘anti-Valentine’ party, which was all about friends and nothing to do with couples or singles. We reasoned that on Valentine’s, you are likely to end up sitting at a tiny table in between two other couples, having to listen to their conversations while paying double for your dinner because it’s Valentine’s Day!
I caught the end of an old Sex and the City episode the other night and found myself completely disillusioned – Samantha went from outrageous to pathetic and the pursuit of love through sex could be dismissed by nursery school children nowadays; “It’s not gonna work, even if you are decked out in Jimmy Choos or Manolo Blahniks!” Was it a fanciful escape into such frivolities that made the show appealing, or do we simply live in a grittier reality now with forensic shows like ‘Crime Scene Investigation’ as the champions of the channels?
Hamish returns and plucks me from my maelstrom of thoughts, by presenting me with a bunch of twigs and mossy grasses, “Burn these in the house, they protect well against damp, you’ve some in the house,” I am distracted but he regains my attention with the second bundle; a leaf with something inside, tied in a ball with long strands of grass. “Now this is for your muffins, simmer them in water and then add them into the mix.” Our relationship with Hamish has mutual benefits, he gets fed and I am taught old knowledge. Whenever I am distressed, I bake my way through it, often the fruits of my nerves are so numerous that I take them along to the local pub where my friend and compatriot Marta works. The dogs sit patiently, waiting for the chance to lick up the ends of the mix and a warm fragrant muffin each, for keeping an eye on them so vigilantly!
The milieu of the evening cannot but arrest my attention; the dogs are particularly sweet with each other, nuzzling ears, licking noses and singing little whiney numbers to one another, occasionally looking up to gaze at us adoringly.
I notice that Ross is especially attentive, amorous and expressive. Ladyholm is a picture of calm and domestic harmony – perhaps the fragrant grasses and herbs burning in the front hall have created the ambience? Has Hamish initiated me into witchcraft?!
I stop into to see a lonely Marta. There are enough muffins to go round and I offer them to everyone present, even the ‘let’s not mention the chickens’ neighbour. “You know you have this image in your head of the perfect man?” I notice her English has become Scottish, “Yeah, I never thought my Braveheart wouldn’t have olive skin and curly black hair!” I reply. “Well exactly, I think it’s so funny because you can find yourself suddenly drawn to someone so different”; it occurs to me that she is running her finger around the edge of a glass suspended between the washer and the shelf whilst gazing across the room at a farmer of bear-like proportions. “Oh”, I giggle, “shot by Cupid are we?!” she knows I will tease her and turns red, silently resuming her work.
It has to be said, ‘love is in the air’ in our hamlet! Hamish, the old devil has staged his own version of the film ‘Chocolat’ with Juliette Binoche seducing a whole town in her chocolaterie in the time of lent; changing the lives of people with an old aphrodisiac: chocolate. She works her magic and finds love with Johnny Depp – no girl in her right mind would say no to his gypsy charm! We are not quite as beautiful a cast, but the effect is the same; even the bully neighbour with a shotgun made an offering of some eggs by the front gate. The funny thing is, there is no way Hamish could have seen the film, he doesn’t own a television; perhaps the old devil is secretly working on a book ‘Eat your way to true love’ and we are the test subjects!
For those of you out there who are looking for love, do not despair, say it with a bunch of herbs! Open your hearts and eat any muffins which find their way to you! Happy Valentine’s Day!