Tag Archives: love

Love Is

What is love? It is an English word. A very old, Old English word. So how is French the language of love? These are things I have thinking about lately thanks to some of my favourite podcasts and a bit of reality TV.

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The TV show I’ve become addicted to is First Dates, where people with similar interests meet for the first time on a discretely filmed dinner-date. It makes me smile and feel good about life. These people often have very certain ideas about what love is. They just haven’t found it yet.

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So what is love? That is a question that can be answered in any number of ways, in film, story, song or life. But what it wasn’t when love (lufu) was used in Old English was romantic. It was a feeling of wanting, lusting for food or hunting. It wasn’t applied to romance in English until Eleanor of Aquitaine married the English king Henry II in the 1100s, bringing her favoured troubadours over to entertain her court with songs of devotion and unrequited love (themes that define our idea of love to this day).

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But where did Eleanor’s entertainers get this new-fangled idea of love? From her grandfather, William IX of Aquitaine, who loved to pursue women, married or not, and wrote verse about it (his most famous love was Dangereuse… pronounced “Danger-Rosa”!)Dangerosa

Aquitaine, being in the warm south of France, was free of constant fighting so they had time to contemplate love while the cold war-like north (like England) favoured heroic tales of battle and sacrifice.

Romantic literature was around before this, of course, just not in Western Europe. The Ancient Greeks wrote extensively about erotic love, as did the Roman poet Ovid (Shakespeare’s favourite), but it was banned by the time of Caesar c.60BC as people feared it promoted adultery and loose morals. So for 1000 years it was absent from Western culture.

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The south of France was also close to Muslim Andalusia where the great princess and poet, Wallada, held poetry salons in the early 11th century. gran_wallada2ce3She had a long, famously tortured romance with Spanish poet-philosopher Ibn Zaydun. After they met she wrote, “Wait for darkness, then visit me, for I believe that night is the best keeper of secrets”. From rival families, the Muslim Romeo and Juliet exchanged long love letters written in verse, where the gallant suitor humbled himself before his superior lover. Their poems were loved in Aquitaine influencing the idea of ‘courtly love’.

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This is the concept of love we inherited from Eleanor. An instant attraction. The fear of rejection. Longing. Unrequited lust. Devotion.

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These ideas permeate pop songs, rock songs, country music, opera, movies, television, books, blogs, our minds and hearts to this day. It’s certainly what the would-be suitors talk of in First Dates. How they decide if they want to see each other again. But what are they looking for? Big shoulders, nice teeth, blonde hair, a bald head? These are merely initial visual preferences based on what they have liked before. But what drives what they are feeling?

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We are visual creatures with huge visual cortices. When you see someone and go “wow, who’s that?” your brain has a massive hit of oxytocin, the drug of attraction. If you then talk to them you are rewarded with a blast of dopamine, which makes you feel pretty darn good. If you kiss technique is involved, but you are also tasting their MHC (major histocompatibility complex) which indicates if their genetic make-up is the same, or different, to yours. The more different the genes, the better they taste, indicating any ensuing offspring will be stronger with better immunity than if your genes are similar.

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But oxytocin degrades fast and those first hours/days/months of “wow!” do not last. At its max you have 18 months, probably less, to step up to beta endorphins, the natural opiates that take over in long-term relationships where you miss each other when apart and feel better in one another’s company.

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So which of these things is love? The wow of lust or comfort of companionship? The blind-daters, young and old, gay and straight, all seem to be looking for the later while gauging it by the former. They seem beholden to ideas of love born 1,000 years ago that make wonderful entertainment but often lead to poor choices.

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I’m no expert. But watching First Dates (while listening to podcasts about attraction and the history of love) has made me suspect that I have employed medieval ideas of love while holding tight to the original Old English idea of love as lust/desire, loving the thrill and excitement of a successful hunt.

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Once, in my 20s and working in television, a well-known TV presenter asked me if I was in love. We were alone in a rose garden, shooting a segment for Valentine’s Day. It was a sharp question. I had been in a relationship for 6 months but that thought had never occurred to me. I realised the answer was no. She then told me that her friends talked about “boing” (that moment of wow), and how it is not really love. It’s taken me decades to understand what that meant, to realise that entertainment may reflect life but it should not lead it.

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Finally I can recognise, and find, true love.

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So, what is love?

It is for you to decide.

Enamorados

 

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Affairs of the Heart

I’ve never been a big fan of Valentine’s Day. It just seemed so fake, driven more by commercial incentives to conform and spend $$, rather than love. I don’t say this as a bitter long-term-single; it has always been my opinion, even when in a committed relationship or in the throes of new love.

It just seems to fall into an ickily-commercial herding imperative that leaves so many feeling empty except for longing or discontent (and a good chunk of those in relationships can fit into this category).

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Love is apparently an act of violence

The day always spoke to me of secret yearning, offering a chance to send a card or gift to someone you were unable to confess your feelings for, be it because of shyness or social barriers. And that is how I have participated in the past, one or two times, very self-consciously.

Don’t get me wrong, I love social rituals, but when a New Zealand friend (resident in L.A.) posted a photo of all the ‘Valentine’s candy’ his young children received at school I just saw the ugly hand of the sugar industry hungrily grasping for more $$… as if their rapacious conquest of Halloween (and Easter to come, the eggs have been in the shops for weeks) isn’t enough.

But my heart isn’t made of stone, I actually see myself as a true romantic. I don’t give my heart easily, it is precious (as are all), so I refuse to hand out cards and chocolate because it is expected/demanded.

Of course, my soon-to-be 7 year-old knows about today and drew a wee love heart on the calendar. She even made hints about making me a card. So when I was at the shops yesterday, I bought her a little teddy bear with a chocolate in a cardboard love heart. She was very happy when I gave it to her this morning, saying ‘Yay, I love chocolate’. Clever wee thing knows what it’s about as much as the retailers (the supermarket where I got my daughter’s treat has raised the price of the giant 1.25 kg boxes of chocolates leftover from Christmas they are struggling to get rid of from $15 to $20 for the day…they were $40 at Christmas).

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As for me, my most memorable Valentine’s was 22 years ago when I awoke covered in flowers beside a former girlfriend. It was, on the surface, a very romantic scene. But I was panicked and perplexed as the night before I had gone to sleep after a passionate encounter with a secret lover in the very same bed. I could not work out what had happened. Yes, we had drunk some wine but I am not one to drink too much or ever lose track of what is happening. How had my former lover got into the house (and my bed)? Did she know about the secret lover? Had they conspired? Was there a hand-over?! As my unexpected bed-mate slept I was left with plenty of time to consider the various scenarios that had played out in the early hours of Valentine’s Day.

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(As a side note, this took place right across the road from where a notorious and passionate encounter unfolded a few weeks ago unknowingly in full view of a bar full of eager observers/voyeurs who posted pictures and videos online making the secret passion ‘news’ around the world. I doubt they are having a good day today).

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A lovely, private romantic moment in the process of becoming less private

After my would-be par amour awoke I found out she had climbed the fire escape outside my bed room window while carrying the flowers in her teeth. I showed my appreciation for her stunning gesture in an appropriate manner, but my heart lay elsewhere.

While I have been happily single for the last few years (too battle-scarred? too long-in-the-tooth? too old to bother? contentedly free of yearning? still swimming in grief?… take your pick, I can’t work it out), over the last week I have begun to yearn for someone to turn to in bed, to enjoy and be near as the day ends (and begins). It has made the moments when I close my eyes and seek sleep a little panicky.

Maybe I am ready to love. I know it is around. But it won’t come out of a chocolate box or a bunch of flowers. At least, not today.

Later that day…

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Couldn’t resist 🙂

The Means of Escape

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It is never a good idea to open with a declaration of love. Never. But, wow, Penelope Fitzgerald. She so good… I go goo-goo eyes reading her.

I first heard of her in a Julian Barnes collection of essays about writers called Through the Window. She sounded very cool.

She didn’t start writing till she was 63 (very appealing to someone starting writing later in life), and seemed quite the eccentric character given his anecdote about being on a writers’ panel and riding the Tube with her.

And she wasn’t short of ideas or limited in scope. All the novels he talked about were interesting and diverse, ranging across the world and time. She won the Booker Prize in 1979 for Offshore, and The Blue Flower, set in 18th century Prussia, was ‘the most-loved novel of 1995’. I so wanted to read it.

But, somehow, she was absent from my local library. How could this be? She seemed great. Indeed, The Times had her in the top 50 British novelists since 1945 and The Observer placed The Blue Flower in the top 10 historical novels of all time.

There was, however, her posthumous collection of short stories The Means of Escape available. I hadn’t read a collection of short stories in quite a number of years (a bit shameful, but I’m clearly not alone given the poor sales of collections).

But I wanted a taste.

And, wow.

It’s such a lovely, slim object crafted with care (the books and the stories). Like her novels, they take place all over the world (including New Zealand!) and go back as far as the 1600s.

The start of the story set in ye olde New Zealand.

The start of the story set in ye olde New Zealand.

I must say that I finished most of the stories going ‘what happened just then?’ but it wasn’t due to obscurity…she’s just so good she lulls you into a complacency where the real story can slip by. I read several stories more than once.

I want this book. I want to hold it and look at it, to re-engage and delve deeper into her world. I want to read these stories again and again.

To underscore how smitten I am, I read a couple of Julian Barnes short stories after I finished Fitzgerald’s collection and boy were they unsatisfying, which is significant because I’m a HUGE fan of his novels and essays.

So…what to do? TradeMe has the books new (but The Means of Escape ships from Oz). Amazon has them much cheaper, but it seems nuts getting them from across the Pacific.

Sigh.

It’s hard to be patient when you’re in love. But a hasty heart is always disappointed.

If I get through the day without buying these two books I’ll be surprised.

This love will not wait.