By Dave Wischnowsky
The WISCH LIST
What is love?
According to Chicago’s Newberry Library, that was the question Googled most frequently in 2014, while “how to kiss” topped the list of how-to queries. So, if you’re among those pondering that elusive question – or kissing – as we approach Valentine’s Day (that’s in two weeks, fellas), you should take comfort in knowing that you’re far from alone.
In fact, you have history on your side.
At the Newberry (60 W. Walton Street), located in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood, a new “Love on Paper” exhibit shows that love indeed does come in all shapes and sizes, spanning the centuries and the globe – especially when it’s expressed on paper.
Displaying the likes of heart-shaped maps from the early days of printed cartography, elaborately constructed Valentine’s Day cards, and even 13th century missives from Dante swooning over his Beatrice, “Love on Paper” features an eclectic array of items ranging from proclamations and pictures to cynical put-downs and comical send-ups of love.
“We knew we had this fabulous collection of historical valentines,” Diane Dillon, interim vice president for research and academic programs at the Newberry, recently told the Chicago Tribune. “That seemed like a natural thing to show around Valentine’s Day. But we wanted to contextualize them.”
Inside the library’s cozy exhibit room, you’ll find details about the origins of the kiss, which was first recorded in Sanskrit texts from India some 3,500 years ago, as well as an old-timey “vinegar valentine” that harshly warns lovers their displays of public affection are “In Disgustingly Bad Taste!” and states, “About spooning in private I’ve nothing to say, but to do it in public proclaims you a jay.”
On display is an Italian songbook for the lute dating from 1509, and an arcane law from 1786 France that prohibits newlyweds from being forced to jump over a hole filled with water, an apparently dated tradition in one parish. There are pages of sheet music as well as elaborately illustrated covers for songs such as “Send Me a Night Letter, Dearie,” Irving Berlin’s “When You Kiss an Italian Girl” and an amusing little ditty called “There’s a Wireless Station Down in My Heart.”
It refers to developing radio technology, not WiFi.
The exhibit is also chock full of other curiosities, including a German book that portrays love as a journey through “Exasperation Heath” and “Bachelor Country” to the “Forest of Love” and an defunct Chicago newspaper from 1877 called The Matrimonial News and Special Advertiser that promised “Marriage Made Easy,” while noting a “superabundance of men in the West, and a corresponding ratio of women in the Eastern States” and vowing to connect the two via personal ads.
Not least of all, there’s an article giving advice on kissing with a mustache and entire book on the “Art of Kissing, in all its varieties.”
It dates from 1723. So, take that Google.
Free and open to the public, “Love on Paper,” runs through April 4. For more information, visit newberry.org.
Need Valentine’s Day Plans?
If you’re looking for Valentine’s Day ideas outside of the (chocolate) box, I have a couple of Chicago suggestions.
For $45 per ticket, the Feb. 14 Chocolate and Wine Tasting Party at City Winery (1200 W. Randolph St.) creates a rich experience of sweets and sips. Tip: Book early dinner reservations at one of Randolph’s many great restaurants and enjoy the tasting, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., afterward. More information is at citywinery.com.
Also, reservations remain open for some Feb. 14 seatings at Geja’s Café (340 W. Armitage Avenue), the 50-year-old fondue destination billed as Chicago’s “most romantic” restaurant. Visit gejascafe.com for details.