Rodolfo Pietro Filiberto Raffaello Guglielmi.
Stage name…Rudolf Valentino. If you remember him at all, it’s probably as “The Sheik”, head-wrapped and in embrace with a swooning Agnes Ayers.
Valentino was the Italian-born star who was idolized as the “Great Lover” of the 1920’s. Like all great lovers he started out as a dishwasher and became bedtime legend when cast in his first role in “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”.
He died at age thirty-one, causing worldwide hysteria. Suicides and riots accompanied his lying in state. A viewing crowd queued for eleven blocks. To this day, on the anniversary of his death, a mysterious woman in black appears at his tomb.
Valentino was what we call a heart throb.
Gooey little organ, the heart. How it got to be the organ of romantic choice, no one is quite sure. Particularly with so many other solid choices…spleen, liver, pituitary.
And that cookie cutter shape…with the two perfect sides? Please. Who came up with that anyway? Some Jim Dine throwback?
Could have been Vesalius, the surgery professor at the University of Padua. In the mid-sixteenth century, he got into dissecting cadavers and told all about it in “On the Structure of the Human Body”. Legend has it he suffered premature job failure after dissecting a nobleman’s heart that was still beating. Vesalius’ timing coincides with the first valentine pictorials featuring the “winged heart.” Pulsating heart? Could be.
But Vesalius didn’t know that the heart was the traffic cop of the body. It was a hundred years later when a Brit finally put it all together and announced that the heart actually controls circulation. That blood flows away from the heart in arteries and back to the heart through veins. Probably one of the most significant medical discoveries of the millennium. But having nothing to do with the heart as a lovemaking icon.
My search goes on.
Messieurs St. Valentines had nothing to do with the heart or the day. Two martyrs that lived in the third century and got mixed up with a bunch of religious hoo-ha. Now the history books aren’t even sure if there was one saint or two. But we do know that hearts and cupids were not their thing. Or his thing. Whatever.
Which brings me to a good friend of mine with renewed respect for the biologic side of this organ kingpin. A barely forty-year old poster guy for good nutrition and daily exercise, found himself under the knife in a life-saving operation just forty-eight hours after continuous top to bottoms on his favorite ski mountain. Talk about achey-breaky.
How can this tough cop organ that yeas and nays life, be the same softie that pillows are based on and pre-schoolers adorn with doilies and glitter? Where did all this get started?
Maybe with the rest of life’s vast unexplained. With just a feeling.
Maybe when we were ten and sitting in our first spin the bottle circle and the bottle ever so slowly came to its final resting point in the corner of our poodle skirt. We looked up slowly to see Bobby Newhouse close his eyes and point his pre-pubescent lips forward. Our collective ten-year-old hearts… raced.
But that was then.
If you get that racing feeling today, disregard romantic notions. Take a Bayer, hop in the flat bed and head for the ER.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
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