Sunday, February 13, 2005

Loaves' Labour's Lost

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Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, that special time of year where the whole world surrenders to romance.

I myself relish the snuggly feeling I get every year when I buy special somethings for my beautiful wife -- maybe dropping a few Georges at the local gasoline provider's and steaming home with a smile and a car full of plastic roses as if Captain Stubing piloting the Love Boat to fabulous Puerta Vallarta.

Yes, Valentine's Day warms the cockles of my heart, and nothing warms a good cockle like recalling how the ancients celebrated love.

And celebrate love they did! Particularly in the Dark Ages, when it was harder to see in the ancients' windows. A little while later, bedroom boredom gave way to the kinkier Light Ages.

But there's so much more to the history of love than memorizing dates and eras. There's poetry! Reams of awful love poetry!

For instance, everybody wonders who wrote the Book of Love. This is why we have the Internet: a quick trip to Google reveals that it was Roman poet Ovid (rhymes with Harvard). He wrote several books of love in B.C. times -- books that were sold in small, windowless stores over by the airport.

Contained in his books are some of the most time-tested pickup lines ever. Like this one, from Love Book I, Elegy III: "If I have no long line of famous ancestors to recommend me, if the founder of our family is but a simple knight; if innumerable
ploughs be not required to till my fields; if my father and mother are constrained to husband our resources, at least let Apollo and his choir the nine, and the discoverer of the vine, plead with thee in my behalf and love who gives me unto thee, and faith that shall fail not, irreproachable morals, guileless sincerity and modesty that knows how to blush." Try it the next time you meet a foxy chick at the Regatta and see if she doesn't slip you her number.

Romance in Roman times was just like romance is now. According to Ovid, if you liked a girl, you'd simply beseech her eunuch into sneaking her past the guards for the night. If that went OK, you'd take her over to the Coliseum to see a swell show -- first a comic, then the lions would eat the gladiators, and then the lions would eat the comic. Afterward, the emperor would eat the lions. And you would take the girl out for some dinner -- usually Italian.

During the spaghetti and meatballs, there would be that awkward "getting to know you" phase. You'd say your favorite color is green, and she'd say that as a slave girl her favorite color is whatever her master says it is. You'd say, "Green it is, then!" But that wouldn't go over too well.

You'd make it up to her with some ice cream and a moonlit walk by the Roman ruins (even back then, they had a hard time keeping up). If you hit it off, you might swing by the vomitorium for a late-night puke. If you really hit it off, then making beautiful music together is easy -- you're both already wearing bedsheets.

In summing up the glories of love, the Ovid has this to say in his Love Book IV, Elegy XXVI:

There once was a girl from Venice
Whose skills I admired at tennis
She tripped on her robes
And out fell her globes
Said the girl, "This toga's a menace!"


Another poet whose work often explores the complexities of love is William Shakespeare (rhymes with Lakespeare). His tragic play "Romeo and Juliet" is among the first major works of art to examine one of the unintended byproducts of young love -- crummy in-laws.

Shakespeare is also famous for his sonnets, many of which, according to the Cliff Notes, are about love. It makes my heart flutter just to think about some of them, like Sonnet XVIII:

"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? OK. You're like a summer's day: Hot."

Like many poets, Shakespeare was not fully appreciated in his time. Oh sure -- he scored a sizeable hit with "Henry IV." But then he unwisely followed it up with "Henry IV: Part II," which critics charged was just a thin ploy to rehash the characters from the first one with a bigger budget.

So, having lost the public's favor, Shakespeare began once more to write love sonnets -- and sold them. Like this example from Sonnet CXVI: "Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds. If you need alterations in a hurry, Bernie's Tailoring on Fifth will keep you in stitches."

Or, from Sonnet CXLVII: "My love is as a fever, longing still for that which longer nurseth the disease. But for tough fevers, take Tylenol."

The worst of Bill's shills was Sonnet CLV, "O, how truly do I love thee, [your name could be here -- ask me how]."

In more modern times, the love poem has suffered greatly. The most recent example of any love poetry worth a damn comes from mid-1980s rock group Bon Jovi (rhymes with anchovy): "Your love is like bad medicine. Bad medicine is what I need." Indeed, those sweet lyrics of innocent amour vis-à-vis expired pharmaceuticals captivated suburban girls the nation over.

But since then, there's been nothing of note.

So I suppose it's up to me to keep the tradition of love poetry alive. I dedicate this one to my wife:

When I think of you, dear,
The world becomes clear
And there's really nothing more to be said,
But if love were a food,
On you I would brood--
I'd be a baker and you'd be my bread.

I'd make you all crunchy,
Just perfect for lunchy,
And bake you up warm in my oven
I'd sweep up your crumbs
And ogle your buns
And together we'd make 12-grain lovin'.

I knead you, O sweetie,
So be my whole-wheatie,
Give in to my hearth-baked rye lust
Just gimme a slice,
I swear I'll be nice,
'Cause I can't loaf without your sweet crust.

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