The picture of Saint Valentine, patron of lovers, depicts him with birds at his feet and roses at his side. Geoffrey Chaucer is responsible for the birds. People in the Middle Ages believed that birds chose their mates in the middle of February. In his Parliament of Foules, Chaucer wrote: “For this was on seynt Valentynes day/ Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make” (309/310). The spelling looks remarkably like that found in modern text messages and e-mails. To comfort myself at night, I tell myself that young people are not bad spellers, they are merely returning to Middle English, the language of Chaucer.
We can hold the Greeks and Romans responsible for the roses at Saint Valentine’s side because like Chaucer they are not here to defend themselves. Many of their stories about the god of love, Eros to the Greeks, Cupid to the Romans, included roses.
If I could embellish the saint’s picture, I would have him hold a box of dark chocolates in his right hand and next to the roses plant some stinking roses, an affectionate name for garlic. For me, love isn’t love if it doesn’t smell of garlic.
Part of the attraction between my husband and me is the love of garlic. For our anniversary a few years ago, we bought one another garlic presses. He was traveling and had to spend several months living on his own. How could I send him out into the world without a garlic press? The one we had at the time was old, so we went to a kitchen specialty store and shopped together. He looked over the presses and chose a conventional one that crushes the garlic, while I dithered over the deluxe model that could crush or slice, even at the same time! In spite of the high cost, he bought it for me. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.
Over the years we have met people who do not or cannot eat garlic. We understand those who cannot eat garlic, but not those who choose not to. We will still love you if you don’t eat garlic, but we will probably talk about you behind your back.
“Gert is coming over for dinner, honey, so we can’t use any garlic.”
Look of consternation. “Does she have a doctor’s note?”
Look of surprise. “You know I forgot to ask. She looks so honest, and she said it upsets her stomach.”
Later that day on the phone. “Hi, Gert. About your allergy to garlic. My husband and I were wondering, do you have any kind of documentation? It’s not necessary, of course, but if you have some, we would really like you to bring it with you tonight when you come over for dinner.”
Tonight, in honor of St. Valentine and his name, which comes from the Latin valens meaning strong, powerful, and healthy, I plan to make something strong, powerful, and healthy: Death by Garlic pasta. You can find a number of recipes online, but go here to find a simple one that uses 10 cloves of garlic. If that sounds too wimpy, or you have a fear of vampires, or you are feeling particularly romantic, you can double the amount of garlic and fall in love twice as hard. Otherwise, just cut a clove of garlic and rub it behind your ears and on your pulse points. If your husband is anything like mine, he will do anything you say.
If you are still wondering what to buy your loved one for this special day, remember that while flowers and chocolates are always welcome, nothing says Valentine’s Day like the fine bouquet of the stinking rose.