One of the bonuses of being a writer is that you hear from readers, and find out how our people do things all over the world. Yesterday I got a neat Valentine email from Italy. Italian LGBT activist Mariagrazia Leone told me that her LGBT rights organization, Eos Arcigay Calabria, plans to celebrate February 14 by holding a public reading of my novel The Front Runner. I say "Avanti!" to that. Especially since the book's Italian edition is published by Fazi Editore in Rome, right under the Pope's nose.
But that isn't the first time that The Front Runner was turned into a gay European valentine.
A few years ago, when Editorial Egales published The Front Runner in Spanish, they took it to the streets of Barcelona on Sant Jordi's day. In Barcelona, people do the valentine thing on La Diada de Sant Jordi, which is April 23. Saint George is the patron saint of Catalonia, that distinctive non-Spanish part of Spain of which Barcelona is the capital. Barcelona is the capital of book publishing in Spain. So traditionally booksellers put up stalls on the Ramblas and sell books and roses for lovers to exchange on that day. With the LGBT community so big in Barcelona, you can imagine our level of participation in this fiesta. Egales reported that they sold a lot of TFRs to gay guys.
The origins of Valentine's Day are lost in the mists of time. Nobody knows for sure how a mythical early martyr named Saint Valentine became associated with February 14, or with lovers and the Roman god of love, Cupid. One of the legendary stories is that Valentine was a priest who secretly married lovers and got punished for this. But by the Renaissance, some Europeans had established a charming lottery custom where unmarried girls put messages in an urn on the public square, and each young man got to pull out one message in hopes that he could luck into a romance or marriage.
This "lottery" idea came to the New World and was still going strong even in Montana when I was a kid in grade school there. Our teachers always organized a Valentine lottery where each student pulled a Valentine at random out of a boxful of them. This way, even the unpopular kids didn't get left out!
Globalization has spread our commercialized American idea of Valentine's Day to many other countries, complete with mega-sales of flowers and chocolates. But many countries have their own traditional day of love. In China, they celebrate Qi Qiao Jie on the seventh day of the seventh month in their year, which falls on August 26 this year. In the Chinese story, the daughter of the Goddess of Heaven fell in love with a cowherd and married him. The Goddess wanted her daughter back, but in a moment of mercy, she agreed to let the girl return to Earth one day a year, to be with her husband.
The latest post-tech wrinkle to this ancient custom is sending e-Valentines. They're just as good as those things we used to glue together in grade school, with paper lace and ribbon and such. My favorite place to go for gorgeous free e-cards is a lesbian-owned website, Amazing Dreams Publishing.
Naturally LGBT people all over the world don't have any difficulty putting our own spin on Valentine's Day. After all, as the Italians say, L'amore domina senza regole -- love rules without rules.