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Valentine's Gifts Even Academics Can Love
February 11, 2008 - 2:21pm


You know me. I’m a hardnosed intellectual, critic, and person of science, just like you. But Valentine’s Day is tricky—hard to stomach but harder to ignore, even for grizzled relationship veterans festooned with campaign medals.

Love is never easy and often has regrets: Why didn’t we meet sooner? Will it last? Why the hell don’t you sweep the kitchen floor if dog hair and toast crumbs offend you so much? What adults need is a Valentine’s that’s not for children, so I thought I’d give you all your gift early, in case you wanted to pass it along as if you thought of it, Rory.

Here’s a perfect Valentine’s Day song, sung of course in French and performed on banjo ukuleles. It’s unbearably lovely but has lines as crusty as a baguette: “And in spite of myself I want to believe your words.” This cover is by the Hot Rabbits, and if I lived anywhere near New York City, I’d take my love to see them on the 18th.

The original was sung by the incomparable Lucienne Boyer. It’s all the more haunting for the hisses and pops on the 1930 recording, as if you’re hearing a music box echo down through time.

Boyer’s version was re-mastered for the soundtrack of the 1988 film The Moderns, which would make another great gift that isn’t a sticky confection. (It got two thumbs up from Siskel and Ebert, but Canby at the Times hated it for self-referential tendencies I liked.) It’s one of our favorite romantic comedies, about expatriates in Paris, and stars the undervalued Keith Carradine as Nick Hart, painter and caricaturist. His estranged wife (Linda Fiorentino, long before Men in Black) has married an Indochinese Houdini (the great John Lone), who made a fortune in prophylactics and is trying to buy his way into culture. The ensemble includes Wallace Shawn, Genevieve Bujold, Geraldine Chaplin, and Kevin J. O’Connor as a morose and hilarious young Hemingway.


“Hemingway!” the imperious Gertrude Stein shouts across her crowded salon. “Remember: The sun also sets!”

“Yeah, right on your big…” Hem mutters into his eau de vie.

For a primary source of drinking fruit brandies in Gertrude and Alice’s salon, pick up Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, his memoirs about being a young writer in Paris in the ‘20s, still in love with Hadley, his first wife. I’ve read it dozens of times, including aloud, rather badly, to Mrs. Churm. She in turn loved it so much she asked me to pack it in our maternity bag so I could read it to her in the birthing suite when she was in labor with our first child. As it turned out, she didn’t have romance or lovely imagistic prose on her mind then. Isn’t that the way of love?

Your authorized Oronte Churm Valentine’s Day buying guide:

Les Chauds Lapins’ album, Parlez-moi D’amour.

The film The Moderns, directed by Alan Rudolph.

Soundtrack album to The Moderns, with music by Charlelie Couture and Mark Isham.

Hem’s A Moveable Feast: “All of the sadness of the city came suddenly with the first cold rains of winter, and there were no more tops to the high white houses as you walked but only the wet blackness of the street and the closed doors of the small shops, the herb sellers, the stationery and the newspaper shops, the midwife—second class—and the hotel where Verlaine had died where I had a room on the top floor where I worked…. Now that the bad weather had come, we could leave Paris for a while for a place where this rain would be snow coming down through the pines and covering the road and the high hillsides and at an altitude where we would hear it creak as we walked home at night. Below Les Avants there was a chalet where the pension was wonderful and where we would be together and have our books and at night be warm in bed together with the windows open and the stars bright.”

A world-class eau de vie, “like an orchard in a bottle.”

By the way, Rory, stick with the YouTube video. It’s free, and anyway, you guys have a child every time your pants hit the bedpost, so let’s tone down the romance a little.


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