Taste of Freedom: St. Valentine's Day - #107

BURT WOLF: Most of our holidays and celebrations were developed to mark the cycles of nature and they have taken place in traditional forms for centuries.

They bind the past to the present and predict the future. They are a basic part of every society that has ever existed.

But when these ceremonies arrived in America, they started to change. No longer controlled by convention these ancient celebrations began to evolve. They had gotten their first Taste of Freedom and they would never be the same.


BURT WOLF: February 14th is designated as St. Valentines Day and on that day Americans turn to thoughts of love—thoughts that are expressed by giving heart shaped boxes of chocolate, red roses, and greeting cards with messages of love.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: But who was this St. Valentine and why is he cleaning out my wallet? Well, in fact, we’re not quite sure who St. Valentine was. We don’t even know how many St. Valentine’s there were.

ANTHONY AVENI ON CAMERA: St. Valentine was a real person.  I think we have maybe a problem figuring out which one he was. But it's fairly well-documented that the idea of St. Valentine's Day goes back to the 3rd century, early 4th century Roman Empire, when a rather militant ruler of Rome by the name of Claudius the Cruel outlawed marriage as a way of evading the draft.  St. Valentine, before he was a saint, was a priest who in defense of the gentleman's right to betroth, secretly performed marriages.  Well, he was caught and thrown in the clink, where his followers, some of them say women, passed notes to him, praising his martyrdom. 

BURT WOLF: By the end of the 1300s, St. Valentine, a heroic and romantic figure, had become one of the most popular saints in England and France. There are even a series of references to the custom of sending love letters and small gifts. Lovers were getting into the habit of selecting each other on February 14th. And part of the selection process was calling one another “My Valentine”.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: But even before St. Valentine’s, there was an ancient Roman festival honoring the goddess Juno. On the night before her feast young Roman men would gather in the grotto of the wolf-god. No relation that I know of. There was a box there filled with the names of young Roman women and each guy would pick out her name and that would form a couple and they would go off to the party together often becoming lovers at or after the party and the date of that festival—February 14th.

BURT WOLF: The early Christian Church wanted to do away with this pagan love-in and substituted the names of saints for maidens. A new but not necessarily improved celebration. What you ended up with was the name of your lucky saint for the year. Nice but not necessarily as interesting as a hot date.


DIANE ACKERMAN ON CAMERA: In the oldest love poems that survive, which were written in Egypt over 3,000 years ago, lovers yearn and obsess exactly the same way that lovers do today and about the same things.  They worry about keeping love a secret from their parents.  They talk about how love transforms them into their best self.  They say that they become sick with love.  They feel that they have to idealize the beloved.  Love has not changed.  Only the fashions have changed.  So, I think that if you took a woman from ancient Egypt and you put her in a city today, she'd be understandably surprised by what she saw.  But if she happened to glance at two people stealing a kiss in a corner, she'd know exactly what they were up to.  Love has not changed at all.

BURT WOLF: But sex has. Originally sex was about having children and that was it. Our societies poured endless energy into getting couples together in marriage with the objective of producing children. The family decided who would marry whom, and the success of the marriage was judged by the number of male children. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Getting married was fine because it was under the total control of society; falling in love however was a real problem because it was beyond anyone’s control especially the people who were falling in love. And if two people could place their own personal desires ahead of the needs of their society, well the whole place could fall apart.

BURT WOLF: During the past hundred years, we have seen an extraordinary decrease in infant mortality. It is now safer to have children than ever before. One result is that couples no longer feel the need to have children in order to prolong the life of the society. Romance, to a great extent, is now free from society’s need to reproduce.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: In the old days, most marriages took place because your parents had chosen your mate in what was basically a preemptive strike on your emotions and every once in awhile somebody would luck out and actually meet and marry someone they loved. And most of those meetings took place in one of three spots.

BURT WOLF: The first was church, an excellent place to check out a future partner. Much of the community was present so the selection would be fairly large. Everyone dressed for the occasion so you could see someone in his or her Sunday best.  You got to see the family too and with a little luck you might get a private moment to express yourself. 

The local fountain was also a good spot. Before indoor plumbing made wells obsolete, young men and women were constantly going off to the fountain to bring home a bucket’s worth. Fountains are also reminders of the places in nature where vastly different species of animals come together to drink—not unlike many singles bars. In fact, neighborhood taverns are often called “watering holes.”

Another way to meet that “special someone” was to go to a festival. Festivals were the perfect place to start a romance. Lots of men and women of different ages gathered in the same place and at the same time. They were eating and drinking and dressed in their best clothes.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: For thousands of years, we’ve been designing places for romantic meetings. To be a good spot, you need a couple of things. You need to be able to sit down. You should be able to order a drink and some light food but most importantly you need a level of anonymity. You’ve got to look like you are surrounded by people and not give a signal that you are just waiting for one person or trying to meet one person. For centuries, the best spot was a café.

BURT WOLF: Restaurants are also excellent places for romance. Before you really know each other, the public aspect of the restaurant is very reassuring. In a restaurant, you are under the surveillance of the restaurant’s staff and other patrons and simple gestures can take on added meaning in public places.


BURT WOLF: Another constant element in love stories is the sea. Classical mythology associated the sea with creation, sexuality, beauty, fertility and passion. And the deity that symbolized all these elements was Venus, also known as Aphrodite, the goddess of love and the protector of sailors. Her very name means, “born of the foam of the sea”.

So it’s only natural that lovers gravitate to the water. You know, they didn’t call it “the love boat” for nothing. A perfect example of what I mean is a ship called the Millennium—it stands, or should I say floats, in the tradition of the great ocean-going ships, which for over a hundred years have offered lovers an ideal environment. 

It’s almost a thousand feet long, and over a hundred feet wide.  It’s also the first ship with exterior glass elevators that offer a panoramic view of the ocean.  It’s powered by two gas turbines and one steam turbine, which substantially reduces emissions and made the Millennium one of the most environmentally sensitive ships in the industry.  There’s one staff member on board, for every two guests.

The first great ocean liners went to sea in the 1890s and their objective was to make the passengers feel that they were guests in the home of an extraordinarily wealthy nobleman.  By the early 20s, exercise had become an important part of on board services.  There was a Promenade Deck for walks.  A swimming pool.  A fully equipped gym.  Some had squash courts, steam baths and saunas.  One vessel actually had a tennis court, and the game of miniature golf was invented for ocean liners.  The great ocean liners are the largest moving objects on our planet.

But of all the comforts associated with the great ships, the most important were those that dealt with eating and drinking. The first liners had dining rooms with long tables and swivel chairs that were bolted to the floor. By the early 20's there were sumptuous dining salons with freestanding chairs and an extraordinary staircase that gave guests the opportunity to make a grand entrance.

Food has always had the ability to be more than just nourishment for the body. Food can be a source of emotional comfort and a symbol of love.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Good evening.

MAITRE D’ ON CAMERA: Good evening.

BURT WOLF: The Millennium, which belongs to Celebrity Cruises, had its maiden voyage in July of 2000 and it continues the tradition of great ocean liners. One of its restaurants has adopted the culinary customs of the RMS Olympic, which was the sister ship to the Titanic and went to sea in 1914.  The Olympic pioneered the ultimate shipboard service by introducing a first class a la carte restaurant.

The original French walnut paneling from the Olympic has been incorporated into the Millennium’s Olympic restaurant. The dining room features an open galley, which allows guests to watch the preparation of their meals.  There’s also an intimate dine-in wine cellar with a capacity for up to eight guests.  The menu was planned by Michael Roux who for decades has been considered one of the great French chefs.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: For thousands of years, there have been rituals associated with foods that were thought to increase sexual activity. They were called aphrodisiacs after Aphrodite, the goddess of love. And many of those foods were chosen because they came from animals that were thought to have prodigious sexual activity. The theory was that if the animal could get away with it and you ate some of that animal; you might get away with it too. I’m gonna have a little bit of this salmon and I’ll get back to you about this later.

BURT WOLF: Guys would look at a salmon swimming for hundreds of miles from the open sea to the river they called home—fighting rapids, fighting hydroelectric dams, fighting famous chefs, and all in the name of love. Clearly, the salmon had a great sexual drive that might be transferred to the eater.

Other foods were considered aphrodisiacs because they had a texture that seemed sexual—oysters, mushrooms, figs and passion fruit fall into this category. Others get on the list because of their shape. Bananas, eggplants, carrots, asparagus, cucumbers have all, from time to time, been classified as aphrodisiacs. The ancient Romans included arugula in their collection of love inducing foods and planted it near statues of the Greek god of male sexual power.

Tortellini is the noodle of love. There is legend that tells of a handsome young man who fell in love with a beautiful maiden who lived in the forest. But a niece of a powerful Duke wanted that young man for herself and proceeded to force the maiden back into the forest. Just before she returned to the forest as a symbol of her love, she gave the young man a handkerchief tied in a love knot. Tortellini is made in the same shape as her knot. Which is not as important as her dough.

Chef Agostino Clama starts his recipe by heating a little oil in a sauté pan.  As soon as the oil is hot, in goes some sliced mushrooms and a little salt.  While the mushrooms are cooking, the stems are removed from two tomatoes, after which they are blanched for ten seconds in boiling water.  The boiling water loosens the skin, and then they are peeled.  For me, peeling tomatoes is always an optional process; I kinda like the skins.  The tomatoes are sliced, seeded, chopped and added to the mushrooms.  A touch of dried hot pepper flakes are added.  A sprinkling of salt goes in.  A little more olive oil.  Then a teaspoon of minced parsley.  Four quarts of water are brought to a boil and a pound of freshly made cheese tortellini goes in and cooks for about 45 seconds.  Then the tortellini are drained from the water and added to the sauce.  Everything heats for a minute, and the pasta of love is ready to serve.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Believe it or not, there is a magazine called The Aphrodisiac Growers Quarterly and the editors of that magazine analyzed 500 seduction scenes in literature and concluded that 98% of them were preceded by a sumptuous meal. And very often the place where that meal takes place becomes saturated with memory and romance and becomes “our place”.


BURT WOLF: In the western world, the food with the most elaborate history as an aphrodisiac is chocolate. Chocolate was being drunk in Central America and Mexico for hundreds of years before the Europeans showed up. Columbus was the first European to see the cacao bean, which is used to make chocolate, but the conquistador Cortez may have been the first European to taste it when he was offered a cup by Montezuma, ruler of the Aztecs. Montezuma considered chocolate to be the ideal beverage for an amorous evening.

Chocolate is especially important on St. Valentines Day because it contains a chemical that has been called “the love molecule”. The physical changes in a body’s chemistry that are associated with being in love are caused by the release of this chemical into the brain.

DIANE ACKERMAN ON CAMERA: Throughout the ages, people have believed in aphrodisiacs of all sorts.  But of course, the truth is that whatever you think is going to be an aphrodisiac will be one.  Most of the time, people have chosen foods that have certain kinds of chemicals and nutrition that were missing from their everyday life, and so, the healthier they felt, well the sexier they felt too.  A key exception to this, of course, is chocolate.  Chocolate is a serious mind-altering drug. It contains over 300 different chemical compounds, all sorts of nervous system stimulants, caffeine, phenyl ethylamine, which is a chemical that we feel when we fall in love and it's been used as a prelude to lovemaking and also something to soothe us if we've been jilted.  Also a kind of bribe that a suitor arrives with.  Throughout the ages, chocolate has been part of the love exchange. The best chocolate is dark chocolate, and it's best to get it with a very high cacao content, around 70 percent or so, because then it contains all sorts of anti-oxidants in it and stimulants, all the good stuff in chocolate without the fat and bad stuff.

BURT WOLF: Bright colors, especially red, are considered to be important for lovers. Red is alive and vibrant—it is the color of passion. We color our hearts red. We give red roses. Women wear red lipstick and powder on rouge. Red looks warm—it attracts the viewer. But it is also a signal of danger. Stop signs are in red. As a result, red can send a mixed signal—not unlike May West’s invitation to “come up and see me some time”—enticing but dangerous. Nevertheless we always include red foods in romantic menus: a double threat is a red strawberry dipped in chocolate.


BURT WOLF: It’s been said that the meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemicals and if there is any reaction, both are transformed. There have, however, been a number of scientific studies that do shed light on the chemistry of love.

DIANE ACKERMAN ON CAMERA: The body rewards us when we fall in love with beautiful chemicals.  First of all, in infatuation, we rush with an amphetamine-like chemical called phenyl ethylamine, and that is like being on a roller coaster.  It gives us all the energy we need to stay up late talking with someone or making love. If we want to get cuddly, then oxytocin takes over, and that rushes through the system, and all we want to do is just nuzzle and snuggle.  There's more of it in women than in men, which may be why women like to lie around after lovemaking and just spend some time cuddling.  And then, after that takes place, if we really want to stay with someone, the attachment system takes over, and that's like being on a kind of opiate.  It's a mental comfort food. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Recently, scientists have concluded that the most reliable aphrodisiac is just being in good shape and feeling good about your body, which is easily addressed on the Millennium. They have the world’s largest floating spa. 

BURT WOLF: In the fitness area, they have the most sophisticated equipment available. Their programs have been designed to suit all levels of fitness, with mine as the possible exception.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Lot of people don’t realize it but it’s the rowing machines that make the boat go. Wow. What year is it?

VOICE OFF CAMERA: It’s the Millennium, Burt.


BURT WOLF: They also have a hydro pool with waters that contain salts and minerals. The ancient Romans added salts to their baths because it helped them float and made them feel lighter. The aqua spa offers forty different therapies to relax the mind and body. They last from ninety minutes to five hours.  Heading up the romantic category is the Well-Being Friendship Massage in a Sensory Cabana.  Partners lie side-by-side in their own private retreat, while two therapists massage them with warm oils.


BURT WOLF: On Valentine’s Day, Americans exchange almost 90 million roses.  And for good reason.  Plants use flowers as part of their mating ritual and their perfume is a form of liquid memory, reminding us of the excitement we associate with romance. The rose is a symbol of the Virgin Mary, and originally a rosary was 165 dried rose petals wound up tight and made into a chain.  In medieval times, roses were used to make medicine and perfume, and love potions.  They were dried and used to stuff pillows and make carpets and hats, and even umbrellas.  Roses were a basic part of cooking, especially in Middle Eastern cuisine.  In Europe and the United States, rose-flavored waters were utilized in recipes until the middle of the 20th century. 


ANTHONY AVENI ON CAMERA: The actual marketing of Valentine's in America is credited to a bright young woman by the name of Esther Holland who was a student at Mount Holyoke College.  She had a very wonderful capacity for designing little works of art.  And she made lace valentine cards with beautiful, romantic verses.

In the 1880s and 90s, that rather staunch Victorian period, insult valentines were rather common.  And ... and some of them were pretty rude.  Of course now we have the electronic valentine's card of which the primary consumer is the male in his 30s, interestingly enough.  Maybe the working man who doesn't have time to go, and get a card at the drugstore.  So we get more and more electronic valentines.  I think one out of six American males purchased one in the last year.  The Japanese, interestingly enough, have their own version of Valentine's Day, March the 14th, one month later.  At which time, women are instructed to give gifts to men.

BURT WOLF: Throughout the second half of the 1800s, the Valentine’s card became more and more popular, eventually ending up as a mass-market item. Near the end of the century, chocolate manufacturers entered the business with heart shaped boxes and heart shaped

candies.  Hearts are associated with romance because when we feel love, our hearts beat faster.  People started putting wedding rings on the finger that they believed had a nerve leading directly to the heart. 

Americans of all ages take part in Valentine’s Day even though it is not an official government holiday. Elementary age school children often make Valentine cards as part of a class project and put them into a decorated mailbox. On Valentine’s Day the box is opened and the cards distributed to each student. 

These days, Valentine’s Day produces more spending than any other holiday, with the exception of Christmas. Most of the money is spent by men between the ages of 30 and 50 and they spend it primarily on cosmetics, perfumes and jewelry.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: And sometimes they even buy something for their girlfriends.  For Taste of Freedom, I’m Burt Wolf.