Be my Valentine

When I was a young girl no one in Portugal had heard about St. Valentine. Mom, who was living in England at the time, would send us Valentine postcards and tell us about this funny tradition of the British: on February 14 they would send cards, not only to their lovers but to their friends as well. It was a sort of celebration of friendship, as I remember it, and she, being very popular, would receive dozens of them from friends – male and female – but also from anonymous fans, who would declare themselves without revealing their identities. Opening the cards was highly amusing and everyone tried to be imaginative in their Valentine messages.

Then, like Halloween, this tradition crept into our lives. All of a sudden there were huge marketing efforts around Valentine’s Day and it was finally “baptized” as “Lover’s day”, so that every sweetheart who wants to be regarded as such must mark it on his or her agenda and make some sort of celebration with his or her sweetheart. As usual with celebrations (of dating or marriage anniversary dates and such) women are the most addicted to this, feeling let down if their spouses or boyfriends do not invite them to a romantic dinner on that day.

I have celebrated a few Valentines myself, but I must confess I don’t consider it a “mandatory” celebration – as much as I make the most of each excuse to celebrate life in all its facets. But I know some people – even couples who have been married for a long time – who religiously celebrate it and I find it very sweet.

This week Hola Magazine has a piece on Valentine’s day, and among many suggestions of gifts and clothes to wear on this ”most romantic of all nights” (I’m quoting them) suddenly I came across a familiar photo with a subtitle saying: “We cannot think of a more romantic story than that of Meryl Steep and Robert Redford in ‘Out of Africa’”. It made me smile as I totally agree with them. More: “Out of Africa” is probably one of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever seen in my life. I would say it’s almost perfect, if there is such a thing as a perfect movie: the story is very, very romantic (with all the ingredients of the most romantic stories, including an unhappy ending!); the landscapes are amazingly beautiful – and very meaningful to me, being an African; the soundtrack by John Barry is indescribable, taking us flying with the main characters over the plains of Africa, and breaking our hearts as we realize the incredible happiness those two lovers feel cannot possibly last forever.

In addition, this movie is very special to me. Many years ago, when it came out, I saw it twice in a few weeks: the first, with someone I had been in a very intense relationship with for several years, and I cried during the whole movie not only because the story in the movie was sad but because I knew my own story, one that had been very special to me, was ending. In fact, I ended it as we came out of the cinema, breaking the heart of the person who least deserved it – but there was nothing I could do. And I felt terrible. The second time, I saw the movie with my new love, and we felt happy to be together at last, but I also cried – for the story, I thought then, but maybe the universe was telling me this would be a beautiful love story, but a difficult one that would bring me happiness but also much pain. And one that would not have a happy ending – even if the end would not come until several years later.

But life goes on, and this year I am particularly happy because a dear friend will be having the Valentine of her life. Just the other day she was telling me that, ten years after her separation and divorce, this will be the first Valentine she will really celebrate with someone who deeply loves her and whom she loves too. She has brought her new boyfriend a present and she knows he – a true romantic if ever there was one – will be preparing a very special Valentine surprise for her. Her happiness is contagious and I wish her a fantastic Valentine’s Day with all my heart.

So this is how Valentine’s Day and “Out of Africa” come together. Love stories of long ago, the most romantic movie of them all, and the inevitable acknowledgement that love is such a powerful motor in our lives: be it in the past, present or future. Being in love is one of the best sensations in life – so why not celebrate it? On Valentine’s Day or every day of our lives, especially when the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and we are walking down the street in exhilaration because we are going to meet the one we love. At twenty or eighty – it will always feel the same. After all, a heart never grows old.

To all of you who are reading me – Happy Valentine’s Day!