“Find Love in What You Read.” What writer or book lover could resist such an invitation? I clicked on the email from my publisher to open it.
What a nice surprise to find my recent book, The Bones and Breath, among five titles promoted for a Valentine’s Day sale. Personally I had never considered any connection between what I write and Valentine’s, but how lovely to be featured alongside Rumi and Kahlil Gibran as a book that “explore[s] eros in profound ways…” (thank you, White Cloud Press).
To the ancient Greeks, Eros was the god of desire, the son of beautiful Aphrodite. As a handsome and alluring divinity, Eros embodied the masculine aspect of love, a powerful deity in his own right. Sometimes regarded as a male fertility icon, the god of desire personified the energies of lust and intercourse, as well as beauty.
“The conquering Romans, in their adoption of the Greek pantheon, diminished mighty Eros into a pint-sized, chubby cherub. The handsome and arousing god devolved into the mischievous Cupid, hiding behind clouds to dart unsuspecting souls with his arrows of desire. In this infantile guise, mischievous but charming, Love fades as an elemental force of the universe, deteriorating from one that can join or break apart the fiery stars to something of mere ego romance.
Further trivialized by our modern culture, Eros turned Cupid is now the stuff of candy valentines, hothouse-grown roses tied with satin ribbon, pop songs, and fluffy Hollywood movies.” (excerpted from The Bones and Breath: A Man’s Guide to Eros, the Sacred Masculine & the Wild Soul)
I wrote most of The Bones and Breath whilst living in England, and on my trips into London’s vibrant West End, I’d often stroll past the famous bronze Eros at Piccadilly Circus, a crowd of tourists clustered at the base of his pedestal. Personally, I appreciate that he was cast as an attractive male divinity rather than a little cherub.
Valentine’s Day stirs mixed feelings in me. In my early twenties, my mom was buried on the day after, and for years the lovers’ date remained clouded by the dark grief of her passing. I have long harbored a somewhat less-than-embracing view of Valentine’s as mostly a commercial tryst when nearly everyone is scrambling to book a table at a nice restaurant, and buying their sweetheart some flowers and chocolate out of obligation (a feeling I hold for most of the “greeting card holidays” like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.).
And then there’s the shadow aspect: with its singular focus on romantic love, Valentine’s Day can be a poignantly lonely time for those who are single or have lost their love (just as the year-end holidays can feel not-so-festive).
Similarly to how I feel about Thanksgiving, that rather than a single calendar day each year, every day ought to be one of giving thanks, I would much rather appreciate my beloved throughout the cyclical seasons with little tokens and gifts of affection. Flowers and presents given as a surprise often mean a great deal more, I think.
All that said, I appreciate Valentine’s better than I used to. Twenty-five years have passed since my mom died, and twenty-four of those have been spent beside the blue-eyed Prince of Hearts, whom I eventually married beneath the flowering Wedding Tree in a Sussex country garden. Together we have roamed far as our painted gypsy caravan rolls ever onward (it occasionally sails across oceans), a pair of English Whippets onboard.
Though I seem to be getting sentimental in my age, you won’t find us at a crowded, romantic restaurant tonight; I am happy to be at home and cooking something nicer than our ordinary weeknight dinner, with a favorite dessert alongside. (His request wasn’t for chocolate but instead for a galette aux pommes parfumée au thym, one of my rustic tarts, the mildly sweet apples fragrant and savory with resinous thyme.)
Circling back to Eros, we don’t have to be in love to celebrate or acknowledge this elemental energy of allurement. I would offer that eros includes yet transcends the sexual, that it is inseparable from the creative and spiritual. In a real sense, eros is the deep longing in the heart for connection to something larger, and a summons of the soul to offer something of beauty and value to the world.
For me, nature — our larger body — is always a significant part of my eros. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I simply cannot live without it. It draws me, comforts, heals, and connects me. Equally so with creativity, the blueprint of the soul. When our senses are expansive (as I’m so often advocating and writing about in this journal), beauty and the natural world reach into us while our innate creativity opens outward to meet that touch.
Eros is a sensual communion with the soul of the world.
This morning when I stepped from the cottage into the cool moist air, the resinous, almost lemony fragrance of cypress immediately greeted me. The scent lasted a mere few moments and then disappeared as my olfactory nerve quickly habituated to it. Simultaneously, I heard the low rumbling voice of the sea, half a mile distant, a sound that usually recedes amid the noise of the day as this little town comes awake with cars, twittering of birds, and general hubbub of life.
Both these sensory impressions were fleeting, just strong enough to register but easily ignored if one wasn’t paying attention. Already my brain was working and ticking like a clock, thinking about what I needed to accomplish today, some inspiration on a chapter I am editing (read: gutting), and an idea or two for the Soul Artist Journal. Yet the soft caress of nature caught me and I stopped, inhaled a deep breath, and dropped my awareness down into my soles on the cool bricks covered thickly in yellow pollen from the pines.
Breath in my belly I stood with chin upturned, savoring the moment as it danced in my nostrils, ears, and on my tongue. Feeling the coastal, morning air on my skin. Two feet away, something glimmered at the edge of my peripheral vision, and my gaze was drawn by the first of the camellias opening in the morning sunlight, a small pink flower incandescent as if lit from within. Could anything be more stunningly perfect or elegant?
What grace to be alive and ensouled in this ordinary moment.
Beneath a soft blue sky my eyes swept the familiar patch of the front garden, noting little blush snowflakes upon the dirt, fallen petals of the ornamental plum blossoms that just last week I wrote of. How short-lived their delicate, perfumed beauty.
How much time do any of us have left? Or what measure of grace? And where is eros in our lives?
There isn’t much time, really. Life is short and precious. Love. Love now. Don’t wait for Valentine’s Day. Or tomorrow. Go kiss your beloved tenderly on the nape of their neck and whisper to them that they are beautiful, how much you truly appreciate them. If you have no human beloved to kiss softly, then give the love to your dear pet instead. And if you have no animal companion, I say go outside and kneel to kiss the earth, praising the unsung goodness that sustains and nourishes us all.
Friend, wherever and whomever you are, here’s hoping you will find, follow and celebrate eros. And whether it leads to the candlelit bedroom, an overgrown garden, a lonely shore or windy mountaintop, may you savor such communion with the sensuous soul of the world.
This rustic tart seasoned with fragrant thyme is hardly traditional Valentine’s Day fare, perhaps better suited to autumn when apples are at their peak, but I’m often an unconventional chap. And then there’s the fact that love, like life, is savory as it is sweet. I prefer an unsweetened crust, and I usually make the filling with a minimal amount of sugar, which makes it delectable for breakfast should there be any left over. Rosemary offers an intriguing substitution for the thyme.
Rustic Apple Tart with Thyme
(Galette aux pommes parfumée au thym)
For the pastry:
200g (1½ cups) unbleached, organic, all-purpose flour (or finely ground spelt flour, but add more water)
Large pinch of sea salt
100g (7 tablespoons; 3 ½ oz unsalted butter) chilled and cut into small pieces
50ml (4 tablespoons) chilled water
1 small egg
For the filling:
4 – 6 baking apples (preferably organic), cored, peeled, and cut into ¼-inch slices
50g (scant ¼ cup) sugar
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (or substitute fresh rosemary, finely chopped)
To make the pastry, place the flour and salt in a food processor and pulse to mix. Add the butter and pulse about 10 times until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Add the water and process just until combined and crumbly. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently press it into a cohesive ball. Flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic cling film, and let rest in the fridge for at least half an hour.
Whisk together the egg and 1 teaspoon of water to make an egg wash. Strip the thyme leaves from their branches, chop if desired. Slice the apples (you can squeeze a bit of lemon on them to keep from discoloring but for a rustic tart, this isn’t really necessary).
Preheat the oven to 425° F (220°C/gas 8).
Remove the pastry from the fridge and allow it to warm slightly. Lightly flour a work surface and roll out the pastry to roughly a 14-inch (35.5 cm) circle. Transfer it onto a baking sheet lined with parchment.
Layer the apple slices on the pastry, slightly overlapping them in an outer circle, then an inner one. Sprinkle with the sugar and the thyme. Bring the edges of the pastry up and over the slices, working your way around the edge by making soft pleats of the pastry. The apples won’t be completely covered.
Brush the pastry with the egg wash. Place the galette to cook in the lower third of the oven until the pastry is golden and the apples are softened and their tips and edges have caramelized, about 45 minutes.
Let the tart cool to lukewarm or room temperature before serving.