Italy gears up for Valentine's day

Sat, 02/14/2009 - 03:12

Gay and lesbian couples in Italy will be puckering up at traffic lights Saturday in one of many initiatives as the country celebrates St Valentine's Day.

Gay rights group Arcigay has called on same-sex couples to kiss while waiting for the lights to change in a bid to ''give visibilty to all kinds of love''.

The Crossing Kisses campaign is also aimed at drawing attention to the lack of legal recognition for civil unions in Italy, where such couples have no shared rights to social benefits, property and inheritance.

''As far as the Italian state is concerned, a gay or lesbian couple who have shared love and daily life for years is composed of two perfect strangers,'' said Arcigay President Aurelio Mancuso.

In addition to the red-light kiss-in, local Arcigay branches across the country are organising their own Valentine's initiatives, including a singles party in a supermarket in Bari, a 'Lovers Without Rights' torchlit procession in Perugia, and a mass kiss-in in Rome under the shadow of the Colosseum.

Animal protection society ENPA meanwhile seized the occasion to appeal for people to help save love-sick toads.

Italy's toads came out of hibernation at the end of January and are now heading for pools to find a mate, but many end up squashed under the wheels of cars as their search for love leads them across busy roads.

''It's a phenomenon that happens every year around this time. Fortunately there are nets along many roadsides that allow us to collect the toads and carry them across the asphalt unharmed, but there aren't very many of us and we need more volunteers,'' said Adriano De Stefani of ENPA's Treviso branch.

As Italians continued to feel the repercussions of the economic crisis, more than half of lovers expecting a gift on Valentine's Day were in for a disappointment on Saturday, according to a poll by the Coldiretti farmer's group.

Some 52% of people said they had no intention of digging into their pockets for a romantic present this year - an increase of 7% on Valentine deserters in 2008.

The number of people planning to fork out for jewellery fell to just 3%, a 6% drop on last year, while only 9% said they would buy chocolates or sweets, down 5% on 2008 figures.

But 25% of Italians said they were still planning to say it with flowers.

Coldiretti said florists expected to sell 20 million flowers this year, including 14 million roses, at a cost of 75 million euros.

Romantic evenings at restaurants are also being sidelined for home-cooked meals, according to consumer rights association Adoc, who said 65% of Italians will stay in this year.

VALENTINE'S 'GETS ON EVERYONE'S NERVES'.

The president of another consumer rights group, Codacons, meanwhile started an official campaign to cancel St Valentine's from the calendar as a form of protest, ''not against those in love, but against a pointless recurrence of unrestrained consumerism''.

''Let's be honest, St Valentine's Day gets on everyone's nerves,'' Carlo Rienzi said.

''Singles feel lonely and a bit sad, while couples feel obliged to give something because of social convention. People who are really in love shouldn't feel pressured by this symbol of consumerism but should celebrate their love every day,'' he added.

Not everyone was shying away from grand romantic gestures, however.

A Genoa bus driver has forked out 400 euros for advertising space on three city buses, one of which he drives, and which now bear the message ''Federica, I live for you only'' as a Valentine's present to his wife.

''It was simply a way of showing my love and affection for my wife. We've been married for 12 years and I love her to distraction,'' the doting driver said.

Consumer moans are also unlikely to stop lovers from turning out in droves at St Valentine's birthplace at Terni in Umbria.

Each year couples swear undying passion in the cathedral that houses the saint's head.

Couples also flock each year to the small Sardinian town of Sadali near Nuoro to ask the saint to look kindly on them and bless engagements.

The ritual has been going on for centuries in the town's 15th-century church, only the second in Italy to be devoted to St Valentine.