There used to be a jazz venue in New Orleans – not a bar or a club, a venue - called Preservation Hall. There were precious few seats, no tables, no waiters, no food and no booze. In a city where you can buy it in plastic glasses from stalls in the streets that’s pretty unusual. It was dedicated to the preservation of traditional jazz, and most of the players were over 80 and wore suits. The average age of the audience was under 30 and they wore shorts and XXXL T-shirts.
A sign on the wall reads ‘Requests $1, Saints $5’ – which says a lot about the level of jazz sophistication of the audience. They didn’t get many requests for Livery Stable Blues or Strange Fruit.
I used to wonder who the saints were, and why they were marching in, but then decided that there weren’t any saints – just as there was no ‘Aintree iron’ in ‘Thank you very much’. Those guys were just looking for four iambic syllables with the accents on the odd – instead of the Shakespearean even – feet.
And that’s where, after considerable research and reflection, I stand on St. Valentine. There wasn’t one. Have you ever seen him in an ancient work of art, like the endless sequence of skewered Sebastians? Is there a statue of him, like the plethora of petrified Peters? A church named after him – alliteratively or not?
Until the shopkeepers realised that they had found a way of keeping the cash registers ringing after the Xmas rush and the January sales, the patron saints for Feb 14 were the Greek brothers Cyril and Methodius. Methodius gave us a word and Cyril, not to be outdone, a whole alphabet – hence Cyrillic. Not nearly as romantic or profitable as Valentine: he has only just made it onto some catholic websites. (I realise that tills don’t ring any more – it was a deliberate anachronism to make the point.)
But I’ll admit that ‘Don’t miss our special St. Methodius menu, £9.95’ doesn’t have quite the same ring. So I guess we’d better preserve Valentine – the economy needs him.