8th Century mosaic of the Adoration of the Magi, Altar of Hercules, Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday, Claudius the Second, Clinton and blue dress, Died holding hands, Gruet Winery, Hugh Grant in Notting Hill, Marcus Aurelius Valerius Claudius Augustus, Mimi’s death scene Finale of La Boheme, Monica Lewinski and blue dress, Norma and Dennis Yeager and holding hands, Roman Empire’s 42nd Emperor, St. Valentine and Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin Rome, Valentine's skull
Valentine’s Day, or, more properly, St. Valentine’s Day, has always struck me as an oddity.
Having defeated The Goths in 268 AD “Marcus Aurelius Valerius Claudius Augustus” became the Roman Empire’s 42nd Emperor [or, better known to his pals as Claudius II)].
During Claudius’ reign, Valentine was, literally, a poor Roman priest who, in hindsight, rather unwisely befriended those who were later martyred by Claudius.
Claudius was ignorant to any ‘balanced approach’, or so it seems. He ordered his thugs (read: his finest soldiers) to enlist Val as a target in their practice regimen.
Forecasting daily life centuries later, even back then, one’s grip on one’s club, one’s stance, one’s swing – all these were very much works in progress. Practice was and remains critically important to one’s ‘sporting’ success.
Miraculously, Our Pal Val survived that episode! No doubt grumbling in his beard about “not being able to get good help these days!”, humorless perfectionist that he was, Claudius then ordered Val to be executed.
As directed, he lost his head, literally, on 14 February 270 AD.
[St. Valentine’s skull on the altar]
Dating to the 6th Century, this is one of Rome’s most perfect treasures. A very rare 8th Century mosaic sits in front of the high altar. Today, another 8th Century mosaic of the Adoration of the Magi is displayed in the Sacristy.
For those who remember or who are, like me, old movie buffs, this wonderfully beautiful church featured prominently in the 1953 film Roman Holiday, which made this church even more recognizable.
As an aside, Roman Holiday is indeed the perfect Valentine’s Day picture. Audrey Hepburn plays a princess who’s “finding herself”, or in modern, common parlance.
The love interest? Gregory Peck.
Roman Holiday is no Notting Hill. Even if Gregory Peck were ever as sick-as-the-proverbial-parrot, he could never be as weak and indecisive, ‘wimp-ish’ indeed as Hugh Grant. Men in 1950s-era films were Real Men, not ‘metro-sexuals’.
The film’s ending is almost shocking. We in the audience know before the lovebirds themselves do that these two can never be together. It is touching, moving and even slightly disappointing when the sugar-laden ‘romantic ending’ never emerges. But on reflection, it’s this boldness that makes Roman Holiday so perfect.
Gregory Peck creates, indeed oozes “the look” of total, heart-wrenching but still dignified adoration. Set against that poor, bedeviled heart-in-hand chap is the utterly vulnerable, sublimely regal La Hepburn. Her tears glisten in those huge cow-eyes of hers.
Ladies, if ‘he’ hasn’t proposed yet, this is the sure ticket for that.
For the fellows, one feels a total cad for not having bought three dozen Valentine’s roses, not just a paltry one dozen!
Fast forward to Mr. Gree Ting Card, and when global society naturally concluded: Righty Ho! Valentine’s Day is all about Hallmark Cards! Dozens of roses! Godiva Chockies, at barest minimum!
Champers? Of course! Yes, there are the ‘normals’ (Bollinger, Dom Pérignon, Krug et al.) or for a very special Valentine’s, just the pair of you, do consider the multi-awards-winning Gruet stable of range of sparkling wines. These are Frenchmen who migrated to… New Mexico! in the early 19th Century.
Nowadays, they produce The Nectar of the Gods. Their product was the blind-taste-test winner against the best of the French, and was also served as ‘the’ champagne-of-choice’ in the Clinton White House.
(One is assured it finds high favor amongst all ladies and even younger women in blue dresses. Sorry; couldn’t resist.)
In any case, yes, Romance! That’s how Old Val would like us to remember him!
Those who have long since stopped worrying about their ‘spots’ or pimples realize that genuine love affairs are sacred. Sometimes, perhaps too often, these are all too rare.
Male fanatics frenetically maintaining their 1960s Morris Minor or Corvette or quirky 1956 Isetta (remember those?), but who then become divorced demonstrate by their deeds that they have utterly lost the plot.
Matters of the heart must also be those of the soul. They require not only love but also ‘maintenance’. In contrast, that old Isetta needs only grease and the care of even greasier mechanics.
Reflecting the true measure of St. Valentine’s Day, I humbly submit this as The Love Story for the Ages:
An Iowa couple who was married for 72 years died one hour apart last week in the hospital as they held hands
On the day she graduated from high school, Norma Stock promised to spend forever with Gordon Yeager. The couple got married on May 26, 1939 in State Center.
“They’re very old-fashioned. They believed in marriage til death do you part,” said son Dennis Yeager.
Dennis Yeager was the youngest of four children born to the couple. His sister Donna was first born.
“Staying together for 72 years is good, I’d say that’s exceptional,” said daughter Donna Sheets.
The way the kids tell it, dad was the life of the party while mom kept everything together.
“Anybody come over — she was the hostess with the mostest. She just seriously — the more she did — the more she smiled,” said Dennis Yeager. “Dad would be the center of attention, like, ‘Weee look at me,’ and mom was like ‘get him away from me!’ You know we even got a picture like that.”
Norma didn’t really want the distance, and family said she hardly left Gordon’s side for 72 years.
“They just loved being together. Everybody argues once in awhile, but they still, he said ‘I have to stick around. I can’t go until she does because I have to stay here for her and she would say the same thing,’” said Dennis Yeager.
Dennis Yeager said the couple left home last Wednesday to go into town, but they didn’t make it.
At the intersection of Highway 30 and Jessup Avenue just west of Marshalltown, state troopers said Gordon pulled in front of an oncoming car. The Iowa State Patrol crash report said the other driver attempted to avoid the crash but was unable to stop in time.
“I rushed from Des Moines where I was working and saw them in the hospital,” said Dennis Yeager.
In the intensive care unit of Marshalltown’s hospital, nurses knew not to separate Gordon and Norma.
“They brought them in the same room in intensive care and put them together — and they were holding hands in Intensive Care Unit (ICU). They were not really responsive,” said Dennis Yeager.
Gordon died at 3:38 p.m. holding hands with his wife as the family they built surrounded them.
“It was really strange, they were holding hands, and dad stopped breathing but I couldn’t figure out what was going on because the heart monitor was still going,” said Dennis Yeager. “But we were like, he isn’t breathing. How does he still have a heart beat? The nurse checked and said that’s because they were holding hands and it’s going through them. Her heart was beating through him and picking it up.”
“They were still getting her heartbeat through him,” said Donna Sheets.
At 4:38 p.m., exactly one hour after Gordon died, Norma passed too.
“Neither one of them would’ve wanted to be without each other. I couldn’t figure out how it was going to work,” said Donna Sheets. “We were very blessed, honestly, that they went this way.”
“They just loved being together,” said Dennis Yeager.
At their funeral on Monday, Norma and Gordon held hands in their casket. Family said they will be cremated and their ashes mixed together.
If that doesn’t indeed prove that there is a union of spirits, or at very least bring a lump to your throat, at minimum, you’ve wasted your time reading this.
Utterly operatic, in every way! Even more so than the űber-emotional last five minutes of the Finale of La Boheme!
Off you go, back to that fascinating text on “Particle Physics” lying on your bedside table!
After so many years, the flowers, the sweeties, the folderol of the 14th February perhaps becomes a bit stale or even trite.
Perhaps just keeping on keeping on is the very best Valentine’s Day present one can ever offer the only person who make’s one’s entire world.
May the Cherubs of St. Valentine surround you and The One you love for All Eternity.
To all of you, my toast for a Very Happy Valentine’s Day: L’Chaim! To Life! To Love!
(If this does not play, my apologies. Please click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IrCeP5slxw)
Hat tips to:
KCCI-TV Channel 8, Des Moines, Iowa. Twitter: @KCCINews ‘Couple Married 72 years dies holding hands’ http://www.kcci.com/news/29528191/detail.html#ixzz1l5622Xjj
If this has put you in the mood to enjoy Roman Holiday for yourselves, it is available to you here, in full: Roman Holiday – the film full length
Gruet Winery, Twitter: @GruetWinery, Gruet website
[Ed. Note: Dear Reader, this posting is an updated version of a similar one last year, and to honor one very special lady indeed on Valentine’s Day.]