Big Gifts or Small -- Love 'Em All
On Valentine's Day, love is a many-splendored thing if you show up with the right stuff.
Romance must be recession-proof. A U.S. National Retail Federation survey reports that average Valentine spending will be down only slightly, from $122.98 (per couple) to $102.50, which buys a lot more than a card and a box of chocolates.
If you need a reality check, turn to history, not Hallmark. National Geographic writes that this lovers' celebration began in ancient Rome, where during a similar festival men stripped naked and spanked young women with whips to increase their fertility. The Christian church squelched these X-rated games by re-imaging the festival around St. Valentine, who was executed on Feb. 14 for performing marriages between soldiers and their sweethearts -- previously outlawed by an emperor who believed single warriors fought harder.
Americans know a kinder, gentler, costlier holiday. Still, options exist to thrill a princess or pauper.
Diamonds remain a girl's best friend. At Heavenly Pines Jewelers in Pinehurst, diamond heart pendants start at $183 and halt at $1,400. In between is a selection of newly popular naturally colored diamonds, including pink.
Or select original heart-shaped jewelry designs by Christy Clark at Artist Alley in Southern Pines, starting at $15.
Indulge in a voluptuous eight-course, eight-wine Valentine repast at Elliott's on Linden in Pinehurst. The courses include soups, mushroom ravioli, rack of lamb, salmon, braised beef, chocolate-orange mousse, Stilton fondue and all the private dining-room atmosphere you can absorb, for $120 per person.
Or dine casually at Aberdeen's new fun spot, Fried Green Tomatoes, where country-style pork loin with cherry sauce and an intriguing baklava cheesecake (but no firewater, as yet) adds up to about $15.
"We do the cooking, we let the customers do the romance," says jovial chef/owner Philippe Brainos.
Music is the language of love tonight (Friday) and Saturday at Pinehurst Valentine Heart 'n Soul Weekend in the resort's Cardinal Ballroom. Tickets start at $65.
Or dance Valentine night away to the Willie Painter Band at The Rooster's Wife in Aberdeen, for $20.
Brain candy is for sale at The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines where, strangely enough, customers buy histories and ordinary novels for their lovers. Take it to the next level with staff recommendations: "Open Hearts," by Jane Seymour; "Six-Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak," by Writer Famous Obscure; "Secrets" (a bodice-ripper), by Jude Deveraux; "The Random House Treasury of Best-Loved Poems"; and "The Joy of Sex" by Alex Comfort, who died -- presumably happy -- in 2000.
Or rent a flick that made the American Film Institute's (and others') "most romantic" list: "Love Story," "Casablanca," "The Way We Were," "Sleepless in Seattle," "Bridges of Madison County," "9 1/2 Weeks."
Stop and smell the roses, then make your honey a bouquet of asparagus and celery stalks, rhubarb, red-veined Swiss chard leaves, ferny dill, iris and daffodils arranged in a pretty vase.
Or do the same with strawberries, melon balls, kiwi and orange slices on long wooden skewers.
Embarrass your guy with cupid-emblazoned boxers and silly pink ties (everywhere).
Or spring for a silk ascot ($95), cashmere socks ($65), alligator belt (don't ask) and fine cigars at Gentlemen's Corner in Pinehurst.
Eat your hearts out -- with takeout: Papa John's heart-shaped pizza (priced according to toppings) and/or Dairy Queen's heart-shaped ice cream cakes ($17-$19).
Give the tender touch from FirstSpa at the FirstHealth Center for Fitness and Health: A Perfect Pair massage -- two one-hour massages, one for each of you, for $110.
Or FirstSpa's manicure with chocolate paraffin wax dip for one ($40).
Whatever you buy, remember -- on Valentine's Day and forever -- it's the thought that counts.
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