Tuesday, February 14, 2012

♥It's Valentine's Day!♥

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Happy Valentine's Day
Image via Aromaweb
Love Potion No. 9: 
Top 5 Love Chemicals in the Brain

Chilean poet Pablo Neruda could be considered a literary love expert. In 1960, he penned "100 Love Sonnets," describing in fervid detail the multiple angles and manifestations of that deep, romantic attachment both hailed and hated by countless poets and writers like him. Honing in on the core of humans' most-prized emotion, Neruda sweetly refers to love in Sonnet No. 53 as "this endless simplicity of tenderness."                              Above text via Red Room
Not surprisingly, science doesn't handle love so gently. In fact, it doesn't even classify love as an emotion, but rather a goal-orientated motivational state that drives humans toward an array of strange behaviors reminiscent of those associated with drug addiction and psychosis [source: Fisher et al]. And at the risk of stripping love entirely of sentiment, science concludes that those crazy, sometimes stupid behaviors boil down to a cocktail of chemicals buzzing around our brains  not fate or benevolent serendipity, as some believe. On the one hand, those cold, hard facts might kill the mood, while on the other, they offer a kind of comfort: When love overwhelms our actions, attention spans and impulses, we can understand how the following five neurochemical culprits are largely to blame.
Love Potion No. 5: Testosterone
Testosterone makes men do this, and it also stokes women's sexual arousal.
David Trood/Getty Images 
Although it certainly isn't the most romantic hormone pumping through our veins, testosterone  the compound responsible for facial hair and fast driving  is necessary to warm up our internal love engines. And it isn't just for the guys, either; testosterone also exists in the female body to stoke physical attraction and sexual arousal.
recent study from the University of Aberdeen identified how the hormone determines who stands out in the crowd. By measuring participants' blood levels of testosterone over a series of weeks and asking them to rate the attractiveness of photographed faces, the researchers charted a distinct pattern. 
Men with higher levels of testosterone exhibited a stronger preference for more feminine faces, whereas women with higher levels of the stuff were compelled toward more masculine faces [source: Durfee]. Just in case women's testosterone could use a boost, men pass it along in their saliva during passionate kissing [source: Kluger]. That helps explain why men and women spend time kissing as foreplay to sexual intercourse.

Serotonin promotes the calm feeling of togetherness.
DMH Images/Getty Images
Love Potion No. 4: Serotonin
Serotonin is a somewhat counterintuitive hormone to make the list, since it actually promotes feelings of calm and contentedness. But it's possible to chart the lifespan of a romantic relationship by tracing the roller coaster ride of serotonin in the brain. During the early attachment phase of love, serotonin takes a back seat, residing at low levels, while other reward-regulating chemicals take over. As a result of that serotonin dampening, people become borderline obsessed with their beloved, unable to focus or eat whenever apart [source: Lite]. Eventually, once a relationship solidifies, the raphe nucleus in the brain stem begins to cook up more serotonin, eliciting those warm and fuzzy feelings of togetherness that typify longer-term attachment. The only downside of that serotonin upshot is the loss of excitement, also colloquially known as the end of the "honeymoon phase."

Oxytocin bonds parents - and child.
LUC PAURUS/Getty Images
Love Potion No. 3: Oxytocin
What happens in the brain during an orgasm? One word: oxytocin. Sexual intercourse promotes feelings of attachment over time in large part thanks to oxytocin, which is produced in the ventral tegmental area of the brain.
This chemical could aptly be nicknamed the "glue chemical" since it does such a swell job of binding people together. As oxytocin levels crest, it calms and combats the early phase intensity of romantic attachment, easing us into more stable relationships. Research confirms that in women especially, oxytocin fosters trust, happiness and bonding. To that end, this also is the same nonapeptide compound that bathes a new mother's brain, establishing the maternal link between her and child, and what spikes when we look at a picture of a loved one [source: Marazziti].

Vasopressin in prairie voles' brains drives their monogamous behavior.
Peter Arnold/Getty Images
Love Potion No. 2: Vasopressin
Prairie voles are often regarded as the animal kingdom's mascots of monogamy. As the only mammalian species genetically inclined toward pairing up 'til death do they part, the rodents have been studied extensively to find out what keeps them together in the wild. Along with improved chances for survival, the bonding oxytocin and vasopressin are the key neurological ingredients to the voles' faithfulness. Pair bond-promoting vasopressin in particular, which saturates the nucleus accumbens, a brain structure pivotal in sensing satisfaction, drives vole pairs to lifelong coupling. In one experiment at Emory University, scientists blocked vasopressin receptors in prairie vole brains, resulting in an outbreak of adultery [source: Yong]. Conversely, cranking up the levels of vasopressin in brains of meadow voles  the prairie voles' promiscuous cousins  sparked a monogamy movement.

Dopamine is the key ingredient in Lifetime Love Potion No. 9.
DMH Images/Getty Images
Love Potion No. 1: Dopamine
Once testosterone gets the job done of attracting two people to each other and igniting their sexual energy, pleasure-inducing dopamine is released during sexual intercourse[source: Discovery Channel]. By powering the brain's limbic reward system, this chemical cultivates the addictive satisfaction that comes with euphoria derived from eating a delectable meal or making love or even using cocaine. That neurological treat dopamine doles out in the early stages of romantic attraction is partially responsible for the thrill we get when seeing the object of our affection and the craving to be with him or her in between. Indeed, studies have demonstrated that the brain, thanks to dopamine and its neurochemical cohorts, processes and manifests love much like an addiction, compelling people to settle down and reproduce. [source: Fisher et al].
Though high levels of dopamine are characteristic of early stage romance and obsession, its presence is also a hallmark of satisfying, lasting relationships years later. Functional MRI scans of couples married at least 21 years who reported being madly in love showed above average activity in the brain's dopamine factory, the ventral tegmental area [source: Lite]. So while oxytocin and vasopressin are important for establishing monogamy, dopamine ensures that Pablo Neruda's "endless simplicity of tenderness" remains long after the honeymoon phase fades.
Text and images via How Stuff Works

This Masquerade 

(The Carpenters)

The Lover - L'amant

A Brief History 

of Valentine's Day

Every February 14, around the world, candy, flowers and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of Saint Valentine. But who is this mysterious saint, and where did these traditions come from? 
The history of Valentine's Day — and its patron saint — is shrouded in mystery. But we do know that February has long been a month of romance. St. Valentine's Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. So, who was Saint Valentine and how did he become associated with this ancient rite? Today, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred.
One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men — his crop of potential soldiers. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Image via RGBStock.com
Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured.
According to one legend, Valentine actually sent the first "valentine" greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl — who may have been his jailor's daughter — who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed "From your Valentine," an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories certainly emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly, romantic figure. It's no surprise that by the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France.
While some believe that Valentine's Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine's death or burial — which probably occurred around 270 A.D — others claim that the Christian church may have decided to celebrate Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to "christianize" celebrations of the pagan Lupercalia festival. In ancient Rome, February was the official beginning of spring and was considered a time for purification. Houses were ritually cleansed by sweeping them out and then sprinkling salt and a type of wheat called spelt throughout their interiors. Lupercalia, which began at the ides of February, February 15, was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.
To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at the sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would then sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification.
The boys then sliced the goat's hide into strips, dipped them in the sacrificial blood and took to the streets, gently slapping both women and fields of crops with the goathide strips. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed being touched with the hides because it was believed the strips would make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city's bachelors would then each choose a name out of the urn and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage. 

Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine's Day around 498 A.D. The Roman "lottery" system for romantic pairing was deemed un-Christian and outlawed. Later, during the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds' mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of February — Valentine's Day — should be a day for romance. 
The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. The greeting, which was written in 1415, is part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England. Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.
In Great Britain, Valentine's Day began to be popularly celebrated around the seventeenth century. By the middle of the eighteenth century, it was common for friends and lovers in all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. By the end of the century, printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology. Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one's feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine's Day greetings. Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began to sell the first mass-produced valentines in America.
According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.)
Approximately 85 percent of all valentines are purchased by women. Valentine's Day is celebrated in 
Canadathe United States, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia.
Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages. Written Valentines didn't begin to appear until after 1400, and the oldest known Valentine card is on display at the British Museum. The first commercial Valentine's Day greeting cards produced in the U.S. were created in the 1840s by Esther A. Howland. Howland, known as the Mother of the Valentine, made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as "scrap."
Text via History.com

History's Romantics

From poets and presidents to kings and courtesans, history is filled with great romances and timeless love stories. This Valentine's Day, discover some of history's most famous tales of love and loss. From historic figures like Casanova, whose name has become synonymous with romance, to India's Shah Jahan, who built one of the world's most manificent buildings to honor his wife, to modern love affairs like that of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, history's romantics have long had a place in the popular imagination.


Image via Mystic Medusa
Much uncertainty surrounds the life story of the celebrated Greek lyric poet Sappho, a woman Plato called "the tenth Muse." Born around 610 B.C. on the island of Lesbos, now part of Greece, she was said to have been married to Cercylas, a wealthy man. Many legends have long existed about Sappho's life, including a prevalent one — now believed to be untrue — that she leaped into the sea to her death because of her unrequited love of a younger man, the sailor Phaon. It is not known how much work she published during her lifetime, but by the 8th or 9th century Sappho's known work was limited to quotations made by other authors. In the majority of her poems, Sappho wrote about love — and the accompanying emotions of hatred, anger and jealousy — among the members of her largely young and female circle. Sappho gave her female acolytes educational and religious instruction as part of the preparation for marriage; the group was dedicated to and inspired by Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. Her focus on the relationships between women and girls has led many to assume that Sappho was a lesbian — a word derived from the island and the communities of women that lived there — but it is also true that the existence of strong emotions and attractions between members of the same sex was considered far more common and less taboo than in later years.

Vatsyayana, author of the Kama Sutra

The Complete Illustrated Kama Sutra
This ascetic, probably celibate scholar who lived in classical India (around the 5th century A.D.) is an unlikely candidate to have written history's best known book on erotic love. Little is known about Vatsyayana's life, but in his famous book — actually a collection of notes on hundreds of years of spiritual wisdom passed down by the ancient sages — he wrote that he intended the Kama Sutra as the ultimate love manual and a tribute to Kama, the Indian god of love. Though it has become famous for its sections on sexual instruction, the book actually deals much more with the pursuit of fulfilling relationships, and provided a blueprint for courtship and marriage in upper-class Indian society at the time. In addition to his classic work on love, Vatsyayana also transcribed the Nyaya Sutras, an ancient philosophical text composed by Gautama in the 2nd century B.C. that examined questions of logic and epistemology. The Kama Sutra has been translated into hundreds of languages and has won millions of devotees around the world.

Shah Jahan

Image via Hub Pages
Emperor of India from 1628 to 1658, Shah Jahan has gone down in history for commissioning one of history's most spectacular buildings, the Taj Mahal, in honor of his much beloved wife. Born Prince Khurram, the fifth son of the Emperor Jahangir of India, he became his father's favored son after leading several successful military campaigns to consolidate his family's empire. As a special honor, Jahangir gave him the title of Shah Jahan, or "King of the World." After his father's death in 1627, Shah Jahan won power after a struggle with his brothers, crowning himself emperor at Agra in 1628. At his side was Mumtaz Mahal, or "Chosen One of the Palace," Shah Jahan's wife since 1612 and the favorite of his three queens. In 1631, Mumtaz died after giving birth to the couple's 14th child. Legend has it that with her dying breaths, she asked her husband to promise to build the world's most beautiful mausoleum for her. Six months after her death, the deeply grieving emperor ordered construction to begin. Set across the Jamuna River from the royal palace in Agra, the white marble fade of the Taj Mahal reflects differing hues of light throughout the day, glowing pink at sunrise and pearly white in the moonlight. At its center, surrounded by delicate screens filtering light, lies the cenotaph, or coffin, containing the remains of the Shah's beloved queen.

Giacomo Casanova

Image via Paola Pasquali
The name "Casanova" has long since come to conjure up the romantic image of the prototypical libertine and seducer, thanks to the success of Giacomo Casanova's posthumously published 12-volume autobiography, Histoire de ma vie. This tome chronicled with vivid detail — as well as some exaggeration — his many sexual and romantic exploits in 18th-century Europe. 
Born in Venice in 1725 to actor parents, Casanova was expelled from a seminary for scandalous conduct and embarked on a varied career, including a stint working for a cardinal in Rome, as a violinist, and as a magician, while traveling all around the continent. Fleeing from creditors, he changed his name to Chevalier de Seingalt, under which he published a number of literary works, most importantly his autobiography. Casanova's celebration of pleasure seeking and much-professed love of women — he maintained that a woman's conversation was at least as captivating as her body — made him the leading champion of a movement towards sexual freedom, and the model for the famous Don Juan of literature. After working as a diplomat in Berlin, Russia, and Poland and a spy for the Venetian inquisitors, Casanova spent the final years of his life working on his autobiography in the library of a Bohemian count. He died in 1798.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Image via Dark Romance
The only child of the famous feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and the philosopher and novelist William Godwin, both influential voices in Romantic-Era England, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin fell in love with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley when she was only 16; he was 21 and unhappily married. In the summer of 1816, the couple was living with Shelley's friend and fellow poet, the dashing and scandalous Lord Byron, in Byron's villa in Switzerland when Mary came up with the idea for what would become her masterpiece — and one of the most famous novels in history — Frankenstein (1818). After Shelley's wife committed suicide, he and Mary were married, but public hostility to the match forced them to move to Italy. When Mary was only 24, Percy Shelley was caught in a storm while at sea and drowned, leaving her alone with a two-year-old son (three previous children had died young). Alongside her husband, Byron, and John Keats, Mary was one of the principal members of the second generation of Romanticism; unlike the three poets, who all died during the 1820s, she lived long enough to see the dawn of a new era, the Victorian Age. Still somewhat of a social outcast for her liaison with Shelley, she worked as a writer to support her father and son, and maintained connections to the artistic, literary and political circles of London until her death in 1851.

Richard Wagner

 Image via MP3.com
One of history's most revered composers, Richard Wagner set his work on the famous Ring cycle aside in 1858 to work on his most romantic opera, Tristan and Isolde. He was inspired to do so partially because of his thwarted passion for Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of a wealthy silk merchant and patron of Wagner's. While at work on the opera, the unhappily married Wagner met Cosima von Bulow, daughter of the celebrated pianist and composer Franz Liszt and wife of Hans von Bulow, one of Liszt's disciples. They later became lovers, and their relationship was an open secret in the music world for several years. Wagner's wife died in 1866, but Cosima was still married and the mother of two children with von Bulow, who knew of the relationship and worshiped Wagner's music (he even conducted the premiere of Tristan and Isolde). After having two daughters, Isolde and Eva, by Wagner, Cosima finally left her husband; she and Wagner married and settled into an idyllic villa in Switzerland, near Lucerne. On Cosima's 33rd birthday, Christmas Day 1870, Wagner brought an orchestra in to play a symphony he had written for her, named the Triebschen Idyll after their villa. Though the music was later renamed the Siegfried Idyll after the couple's son, the supremely romantic gesture was a powerful symbol of the strength of Wagner and Cosima's marriage, which lasted until the composer's death in 1883.

King Edward VIII

Edward, then Prince of Wales, was introduced to Wallis Simpson in 1931, when she was married to her second husband. They soon began a relationship that would rock Britain's most prominent institutions — Parliament, the monarchy and the Church of England — to their cores. Edward called Simpson, whom others criticized as a financially unstable social climber, "the perfect woman." 
Just months after being crowned king in January 1936, after the death of his father, George V, Edward proposed to Simpson, precipitating a huge scandal and prompting Britain's prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, to say he would resign if the marriage went ahead. Not wanting to push his country into an electoral crisis, but unwilling to give Simpson up, Edward made the decision to abdicate the throne. 
In a public radio address, he told the world of his love for Simpson, saying that "I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love." Married and given the titles of Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the couple lived in exile in France, where they became fixtures of cafe society.

Edith Piaf



edith piaf     1947
foto: raymond voinquel
Though her life was marked by illness, tragedy and other hardships from beginning to end, the famous French chanteuse with the throaty voice became the epitome of classic Parisian-style romance for her legions of fans. Born Edith Giovanna Gassion in 1915, she was abandoned by her mother and reared by her grandmother; while traveling with her father, a circus acrobat, she began singing for pennies on the street. Discovered by a cabaret promoter who renamed her Piaf, or "sparrow," 
Piaf enjoyed a meteoric rise to stardom and by 1935 was singing in the grandest concert halls in Paris. Piaf was married twice, but her great love was the boxer Marcel Cerdan, a world middleweight champion who was killed in a plane crash en route from Europe to New York in 1949. It was for Cerdan that Piaf sang the achingly romantic "Hymne a l'amour," celebrated all over the world as one of her best loved ballads. After a near lifelong struggle with drug and alcohol addictions, Piaf died of liver cancer on the French Riviera in 1963. Her grave is one of the most visited in Paris's world famous Pere Lachaise cemetery.

Kathleen Woodiwiss

Born in 1939 in Alexandria, Louisiana, Kathleen Woodiwiss was a young wife and mother when she began writing romantic fiction as a response to her dissatisfaction with the existing "women's fiction" of the time. In 1972, she published her first novel, The Flame and the Flower, set on a Southern plantation in the late 18th century. Its historical setting and theme, florid prose style and steamy sex scenes inspired a legion of imitators, and its smashing commercial success sparked a new boom in romance fiction. 
Woodiwiss was given credit for inventing the modern romance novel in its current form: thick period melodramas packed with an array of dashing and dangerous men and bosomy women in low-cut dresses. She herself wrote 13 of these so-called "bodice-rippers," including "Shanna" (1977), "A Rose in Winter" (1982), "Come Love a Stranger" (1984) and "The Reluctant Suitor" (2003). In an interview with Publisher's Weekly, Woodiwiss firmly denied the characterization of her books as erotic, maintaining that she wrote only "love stories, — with a little spice." By the time of her death in 2006, Woodiwiss's spicy love stories had sold more than 36 million copies in 13 countries.

Elizabeth Taylor

An actress since early childhood, the dark haired, violet-eyed Elizabeth Taylor has won two Best Actress Oscars (for "Butterfield 8" in 1960 and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" in 1966) but is perhaps best known for her rare beauty — and her epic love life. She was married a total of eight times — twice to the same man, the actor Richard Burton, whom she has called "one of the two great loves of my life." The first was the film producer Mike Todd, who died in a plane crash in 1958. 
Taylor and Burton met on the set of "Cleopatra," when both were married to other people. Their affair soon made headlines around the world and earned a public rebuke from no lesser authority than the Vatican. Their own married life together was a study in extremes, soaked in alcohol and characterized by a passion that was no less intense when they were fighting than when they were getting along. 
After divorcing in 1973, they found it impossible to stay apart and remarried in 1975, only to break up four months later. Barred from Burton's funeral in 1984 by his last wife, Taylor still received legions of condolences, honoring her and Burton's place in the pantheon of history's most celebrated love stories.
Text via History.com

You Can't Hurry Love


Valentine's Day 

Superstitions and Traditions

Traditionally, spring begins on St Valentine's Day (February 14th), the day on which birds chose their mates. In parts of Sussex Valentines Day was called 'the Birds' Wedding Day'.
There are many other traditions and superstitions associated with romance activities on Valentine's day such as:
The first man an unmarried woman saw on 14th February would be her future husband.
If the names of all a girl's suitors were written on paper and wrapped in clay and the clay put into water, the piece that rose to the surface first would contain the name of her husband-to-be.
If a woman saw a robin flying overhead on Valentine’s Day, it meant she would marry a sailor. If she saw a sparrow, she would marry a poor man and be very happy. If she saw a goldfinch, she would marry a rich person.
In the Middle Ages, young men and women drew names from a bowl to see who their valentines would be. They would wear these names on their sleeves for one week.
In Wales wooden love spoons were carved and given as gifts on February 14th. Hearts, keys and keyholes were favourite decorations on the spoons. The decoration meant, "You unlock my heart!"

Text via Woodlands 

Spoooky Reading 

What lies beneath

Image via Tales of the Sissy

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