I have always hated Valentine’s Day. There is just something about the constant flux of commercials advertising Hallmark cards and diamond jewelry that is not exactly enthralling when you know that you will receive neither on February 14th. Adding to the onslaught even worse are the bouquets of red roses and the large boxes of chocolate shaped like hearts; simply thinking about it makes me want to turn the page of my calendar and simply skip ahead.
Considering how romantic a country like Italy is, I expected to be drowned in a sea of pink and red during the month of February. Much to my surprise, however, the holiday receives very little recognition in the preceding weeks. Not once on television have I been stuck watching a sappy commercial selling some type of Valentine’s Day prop or an ad announcing when a particular romantic movie will be shown. Even more astounding, rather than overwhelming their window displays with hearts, roses, and teddy bears, the majority of the stores around Italy are advertising the final days of the Italian i saldi, sales.
Unlike in the United States, il giorno di San Valentino is significantly less commercialized and exaggerated. Although I noticed that many local restaurants were encouraging patrons to make dinner reservations for the special evening, for the most part, I remained unaware of the impendence of February 14th. In fact, it was not until last week when I went to the Fiera del Cioccolato Artigianale, an artisanal chocolate festival in Florence, that I remembered that the holiday was right around the corner. Surrounded by nearly every type of chocolate imaginable-dark, white, truffles, dipped fruits, floral scented, even marijuana- I felt like I was in a delicious heaven. Yet, as I admired the bars of chocolate proclaiming ti amo, ti voglio bene, and Buon S. Valentino, I could not help but feel a sense of disillusionment and sadness knowing that I would be buying my own Valentine’s Day chocolate.
As I woke up this morning, the same feelings of loneliness resurfaced. Many of my female peers at the Villa shared my feelings, and thus we spent the early part of the day trying to forget the date. In Italian class, our professor seemed to pick up on our lack of enthusiasm as we discussed the holiday’s role in the Italian culture. Based on my previous observations, I already had ideas about San Valentino’s subdued celebration in Italy, and my professor confirmed these assumptions. According to her, the day is typically only a celebration for lovers. Whereas students in America exchange cards in the classroom or pass around boxes of conversation hearts, Valentine’s Day in Italy is exclusively a day for those who are in love. There is no need for advertisements or window displays to encourage affection and devotion; Italians simply understand what it means to be romantic.
Well, of course, hearing this only intensified my feelings of loneliness. Yet, I realized that though I might not have an official valentine this year, I am still in one of the most romantic places in the world. Remembering an episode of Sex and the City when Carrie Bradshaw describes New York City as her boyfriend, I am now beginning to think of Florence as my own. Though the city cannot buy me chocolates or woo me with roses, every day it makes me smile. During these past five weeks I have woken up every morning grateful for the opportunity to be surrounded by such warmth and vitality. Its sights, history, passion, and energy never cease to amaze me, and it certainly knows how to treat me with a good meal. So though I woke up ready for the day to be over, I did not spend this Valentine’s Day alone; I spent it in the marvelous company of Florence.