Zany lovers and steamy love
As the “rosy fingers of dawn,” sketch their pink light over an icy landscape, I found myself waking one recent morning to images of long summer days in the Treehouse and of traipsing barefoot on the beach.
(The latter happens to be a particularly ludicrous fantasy at the moment since one of my legs is encased in what appears to be a bionic boot and in which I lope along a bit more awkwardly than usual, as He-Who kicks the tires and shares my abode will attest.]
Nevertheless, as one easily beset with obsessions, I cannot stop thinking about the charmed individual who captured all our imaginations by plunking down a day devoted to hearts and poetry in the midst of February. Who was it that brought blossoms and chocolates into winter’s mix of icy madness? Who was that person? I wish to know to whom I may express my gratitude for this quirky throw-back to simpler times.
I’m sure it was a marketing person, out to ply us with Whitman’s candies and Hallmark cards and hook us on other brands of the kind. Still, I don’t care! I applaud all efforts to raise February off its frosted knees, to disassociate it from its mythological roots — named for Februus or, variation on a theme, for Febris, the Etruscan goddess of fever and malaria.
Think about it: for a month whose only other highlight is a ground hog, Valentine’s Day is pretty transcendent; contrived as it is with the delirium of zany lovers. It is amazing how a big heart-shaped box of chocolates brings with it an extended reach into memory and nostalgia — especially for musicals.
For no reason at all, I suddenly find myself singing, “Meet me in St. Louis, Louis/Meet me at the fair.” After all it is only there, “the lights are shining” and “We will dance the hootchy-koochy/I will be your tootsie-wootsie.”
And I am once again up there on the silver screen with Judy Garland as she sings “Clang, clang, clang goes the trolley/Ding, ding, ding goes the bell/Zing, zing, zing go my heartstrings/ From the moment I saw him I fell.”
Caught up in make-believe
And I did, it was not just Judy but me: I danced the hootchy-koochie and I fell in love, again and again, caught up in the spell of the music and the make-believe, and so I continue to do each time I see "Meet Me In St. Louis" on Turner Classic Movies. (He-who is about to offer an observation, but I say: "No comment!")
And here we are, as the big V-day rushes upon us with its jingles and rhymes this very weekend. It tests our patience for expressions of corny but enduring love, even as it opens doors to feverish longings and steamy embraces.
Love as fever
Notice I said “feverish,” reminiscent of our old friend Febris again. But who would consider falling in love a disease, except Peggy Lee? Remember “Fever” — which she belts out in her own inimitable sultry style, half sung, half spoken—to drum beats pulsing with heat:
"Never know how much I love you/never know how much I care/When you put your arms around me,/I get a fever that’s so hard to bear/
You give me fever when you kiss me/fever when you hold me tight/Fever in the morning/Fever all through the night... "
Lee’s agitated musical plaint draws to our attention to the plight of classic lovers as she swings into a refrain of:
“Romeo loves Juliet/ Juliet she felt the same/ When he put his arms around her/He said Julie Baby you’re my flame/ You give me fever.”
Next, Lee brings in “Captain Smith and Pocahantas/had a very mad affair/When her daddy tried to kill him/She said Daddy oh, don’t you dare!He give me fever!”
And lest we think the notion of those who are sick with love begins with pop music, we have only to look at Virgil’s Aeneid — literature’s less familiar tale of star-crossed lovers: the Trojan hero Aeneas and the Carthaginian Queen Dido.
Virgil describes Aeneas sweeping Dido off her feet: “The queen… all that evening ached/With longing that her heart’s blood fed, a wound/Or inward fire carrying her away.”
Love is here depicted as an all-consuming flame, as Dido tells her sister:
“This man has wrought upon me so/And moved my soul to yield. I recognize/The signs of the old flame, of old desire …”
Romance develops during a hunt as the lovers take shelter in a cave, where they consummate their love. Thereafter, though they never marry formally, Dido assumes the rights of a wife.
However, the gods play fast and loose with these lovers, as they remind Aeneas of his duties to found a new homeland for his followers who had been displaced from Troy. As he prepares to leave her, the Queen confronts him saying he is leaving her to death only.
And he — larger-than-life-cad that he is, leaves her to her funeral pyre as he says, “I never held the torches of a bridegroom/Never entered upon the pact of marriage.”
Lest we rush to conclude Aeneas truly values the proprieties of marriage, we should remember that this is the man who in his eagerness to leave the burning Troy, moves so quickly that his wife cannot keep up and dies. OK, so a little later, he does meet her shadow and he apologizes, and she reassures him "no worries." After all she’s dead already, so it’s a little late to complain. In the context of Valentine’s Day, we’re meant to understand this as the power of blind love.
The light of the silvery moon
When I was growing up, most love songs were punctuated by rhyming words such as moon, spoon and June, of which symbols our popular singers would croon. At the time, our favorite films ended with lovers walking hand-in-hand into the sunset.
Of course, this began to change in the film version of Margaret Mitchell’s novel, “Gone with the Wind,” the sizzling hot romance between Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler — a tale of love, betrayal and jealousy — that is not tied up in bows and ribbons. Instead, the David O. Selznik-produced movie defies traditional endings.
After Rhett is about to leave her for good, Scarlet cries out piteously, “Oh, Rhett, what am I to do?” By now we’re all familiar with his famous response: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!” This break-through of “expressive language” was a first for American movies, as was its dramatic turn from happy endings.
In fact, we are led to the discovery that Scarlett has never really truly loved Rhett or any other man — though she’s had several husbands and a lover married to her best friend. Rather, we learn, Scarlet is more complex than we might have imagined: she has all along been wed to the land and her identity is tied to her home, her beloved plantation Tara.
Still we are swept up by the grandeur of Max Steiner’s “Tara’s Theme” and the viewer anticipates Scarlet’s return to her land, and to future lovers—currently unimagined.
Recently, as He-Who and I watched a TCM replay of “Gone with the Wind,” he observed, “You know, this is really corny!” I can tell you, Reader, for I’m sure you won’t spoil my surprise: it’s not half as corny as the “Funny Valentine” he’s about to find leaning against his coffee cup! Long live corny. Long live love!
Happy Valentine’s Day!