Monday, February 14, 2011


Before a new week of work begins—work so heavy I’m developing a pain in my elbow and another one down in my wrist—I feel obliged to salute one of the great holidays. Obliged by whom, or by what? By the blogger’s imperative, I guess, to send forth remarks into the mute and unresponsive universe. It’s a love impulse, I assure you.

However, Valentine’s day is essentially a private occasion. An occasion for couples to indulge themselves however they think best. To splurge on that rib-eye streak, open that bottle of Glen Carlou chardonnay (South Africa) or some strange and long-forgotten red from the cellar such as the Capitel de’ Roari Amarone della Valpolicella 2003 that I’m looking at right now. The word Amarone sounds romantic, though the wine itself is the result of a late-harvest process known as appassimento or rasinate (Italian for “to dry and shrivel”) which concentrates the remaining sugars and flavors, making the wine “raisin-like.”

Asparagus is also likely to be on the menu.

This combination of privacy and shared indulgence can be delightful, of course, whatever form it takes, and its sanctification in a holiday may help us shake off the ever-present feeling that all pleasures are guilty pleasures until we make an effort to extend them as widely as possible to those less fortunate than we are.

There are times for extending our concern, and times for focusing our affection near-at-hand—concern and affection being two different things in any case.

These two impulses came together, I guess, back in grade school, when we were all required to exchange valentines with everyone else in the class, stuffing them into cardboard boxes we'd decorated with construction paper and snippets of red and white paper doilies. Most of these cards had some form of "I Love You" as the message on the inside. For some reason, I found the ones that had "not really" hand-written in parentheses on the bottom strangely disquieting.

On Saturday we went to hear a wise man from West Africa, Malidoma Somé, speak at Augsburg College. The gist of the presentation was familiar enough. Each of us has a mission. Each of us wants to be recognized for who we are—though “who we are” remains a mystery. Everything we experience is an initiation…and a homecoming. Grandparents and grandchildren get along well together because the one just came from where the other will soon be going.

Much of it sounded to me like Platonism, distilled and purified by village experience. The idea of making an effort to "recognize" others might be part of the Valentine message.

This morning the very earth has a big smile on its face, with melt-water trickling down the gutter-pipes and vast puddles giving a marvelous sheen to streets and sidewalks everywhere. At such a time I’m not much inclined to reexamine the theories of Rene de Rougemont (Love in the Western World) or Octavio Paz (The Double Flame: Love and Eroticism). Rather, I open a book of poems called What I Love, by the Greek poet Odysseas Elytis, and read:

Emotion. The leaves tremble living together and living apart on the poplars sharing the wind.

Then I open the door to the deck, and breath in a few lungs-full of moist 40-degree air. The wind’s no longer howling like it was last night, but for the first time in months, it carries hints that are strangely, pleasantly reminiscent of California.

More time for that later. Right now I've got some grocery shopping to do.

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