Top 10 Romantic Movies for Celebrating Valentine’s Day

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Below are my classics–tried and true– for celebrating Valentine’s Day, romantic as much for their settings as for their stories. While living abroad since 2014 I’ve seen most of them broadcast repeatedly in English on television stations in Morocco and the Dominican Republic. Valentine’s Day Movie Marathons are as popular in these two countries—one Catholic, the other Muslim– as they are in the US. It seems Cupid, son of Venus born on Mt. Olympus in Greece, is a global citizen and the universal language is love.

#1 Chocolat 

Nominated for 4 Academy Awards, this movie is hands-down my #1 V Day choice—this year more than ever—with its redemptive message that even the most polarised can unite with grace, real  relationship, and love. The film is adapted from the novel written by Joanne Harris. Interviewing the author, born to a British father and French mother,  who was once an English teacher and who lives in Yorkshire, Bronte country, was a thrill for me.  See it here.
The film is delicious: a dream cast including Judi Dench, Juliette Binoche, and Johnny Depp; sensual cinematography focused on the making of chocolate in a French hillside village in the 1950s; magical realism from Latin American culture; and a challenge to change and choose love over legalism for the sake of family, friends, and community.
Movie lovers and house hunters, for more on the locations where Chocolat and Under the Tuscan Sun (below) were filmed, check out Julia Sweeten’s blog, Hooked on Houses.

#2 Beyond Borders

I wonder, do we all know where we belong? And if we do, in our hearts, why do we so often do nothing about it? There must be more to this life, a purpose for us all, a place to belong. You were my home. I knew from the moment I met you, that night, so many years ago.

Angelina Jolie and Clive Owen star in a romance fueled with chemistry of a couple committed to a cause greater than themselves. It’s the story of a woman who leaves her London home for Ethiopia when made aware of the needs there in a refugee camp. Forever changed by what she sees and who she meets, she supports the ones she loves from home and on trips to Cambodia and Chechnya. The film is dedicated to relief workers and victims of war and persecution—another timely choice. Jolie adopted her son, Maddox, while in Cambodia during filming. She brought to the part experience working as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador.

Inspired by the movie, I tried to rock the heroine’s hat on my trip to Russia.

#3 Slumdog Millionaire

As art, this one ties with Chocolat and Life is Beautiful for my three Favorite Films of All Time. When I first saw it before the Academy Award nominations, I knew it would sweep the Oscars. Here’s why. I long to go to India, but in the meantime, I take trips there in my apartment by dancing to the bonus material at the end.

#4 Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Also starring Dev Patel and Judi Dench, this film made me cry every time I watched it until I moved abroad because it made me long to try on the expat life. Having done so, I’ve quoted it often on this blog because I now know living outside your home country is what Glennon Doyle Melton, author of Love Warrior, calls a “brutifal” (brutal and beautiful experience). I’ll be forever grateful for this movie moving me to live in  Marrakesh for two years.  The plot has more than one love story, but the greatest one is making choices in life and learning to love them.

#5 Under the Tuscan Sun

So anyone who has known me for awhile knows the influence this film had on me and other women who have moved abroad.  The first night after arriving in Morocco,   I unwrapped this DVD (one of 5 in my “survival pack”) and watched it for the twentieth time.   I needed to remember that things probably would not go as I planned but love always prevails even if it comes in a package we never expected.   So if you are lonely–in a relationship or without one–watch this and please go to my Instagram to get inspired  to decorate your own life.

#6-#8 My Favorite Trilogy: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight

Starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, Before Sunrise, filmed in 1995, is the story of a young couple who meet in Vienna the night before she must return home to Paris and he to the US.

Before Sunset, the sequel, was filmed in 2004 when the couple meets in the City of Lights, followed by Before Midnight released in 2013 and set in Greece.   For anyone who has or is open to finding love abroad or cross-cultural relationships; loves character-driven, smart dialogue or backdrops in the most beautiful places on earth; or appreciates soundtracks you’ll want to download and listen to forever…this is binge-worthy.

#9 Out of Africa

I admit that until last week I had never finished this film.  Although the second half moves faster that the first, the whole is an epic love story and worth the time investment. At first Colonial  Kenya sent me to Victoria magazine again—my favorite publication in a past life now online– as I saw the comfort china and crystal brought to the main character so far from home.  But better, it causes us to question anew the values of that period and our own.  I was moved to download the book on Kindle and read the memoir from which it was taken.   I didn’t need more reason to do a safari since it already tops my Bucket List, but examining  the relationship of the characters played by Meryl Streep and Robert Redford is a Cinema Bucket List must-do.

#10 The English Patient

This one would have been farther up the list a few years ago (I kept the DVD close and watched it often) based on the fiery passion between the characters played by Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas. Maybe actually riding a camel across the Sahara Desert in scorching heat and not looking like Katherine whose scarves always blew  beautifully behind her in the breeze did it.  Maybe  I’m just getting older, wiser, and suspicious of that much intensity because in real life it too often turns to burn (no pun intended). Still, I love the film—especially the backdrops of the desert, Cairo, and Italy where Juliette Binoche teamed again with Fiennes years after they played Catherine and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, based on my favorite romantic novel of all time. My fav stop on my trip to Tuscany last year was seeing the church below featured in the film.  In this case, reality was as beautiful as fiction.

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What are your go-to romantic movies?  Please tell us in the comments below.  Happy Valentine’s Day!
You might also want to check out my  Weekend Escape series to inspire travel and connection.
 

Call for Favorite Love Poems–Valentine’s Day Survival Guide Pt. 4

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Yesterday I posted 3 of my favorite love poems.  I invited guys to use them or write their own for their girls for Valentine’s Day.  My friend, Jesse, posted a comment that included one of his favorite poems.  I like it so much I want to share it with you here.  Please send your favorite love poem (penned by you or by a favorite author)  by way of a Comment on this blog.  If you include your permission, I may post it here.  Thanks again, Jesse, for this poem by Frank O’Hara!
Having a Coke with You
is even more fun than going to San Sebastain, Irun, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluoresent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasently definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles
and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them I look
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the “Polish Rider” occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the “Nude Descending a Staircase” or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michaelangleo that used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully
as the horse
it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I am telling you about it
And another added by me from e. e. cummings:
since feeling is first
since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world
my blood approves,
and kisses are a far better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry
–the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which says
we are for eachother: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph
And death i think is no parenthesis

Valentine’s Day Survival Guide–Pt 2

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As I said in Part One yesterday, 2007 I had a new plan and a new attitude for surviving Valentine’s Day.
When I was married, it never occurred to me how much I needed women in my life.   I was too buried beneath diapers to change, birthday parties to plan, coupons to clip, papers to grade, and a house to clean.  My husband and children were my center.  Anyway, all my girlfriends had also been body snatched, living for the men and kids in their orbits as well.
But when my world was thrown off course by the end of my sixteen-year marriage, my worldview was shaken.  Despite –-no, because of—a lot of pain, I learned to reorganize my priorities.  With the help of some wise, older women who helped me start over, I began to take care of myself so I could better care for my children.
I freed myself from the “shoulds”that said before I could play with my children, exercise, or see friends, I “should”… have a straight house, an organized desk, and an empty briefcase.  But the one should I couldn’t shake was that to be totally happy I needed to be loved by the right man.  While I’d refused to settle for dating just for dating’s sake and while I enjoyed time alone, I still believed a significant other was required to navigate Valentine’s Day.
Christmas can be filled with family gatherings, office parties, even Rudolph and Bing, but Valentine’s Day is for couples.  And while kissing is part of New Year’s Eve, friends celebrate in droves whether at parties, bars, or Times Square.  There’s something painfully exclusive about Valentine’s– tables for two.  Having a soulmate is the sole focus.
Previously, if a friend had told me there’s anything better than romance and chocolate on Valentine’s Day, I would have thought her to be lying, denying, or just sadly settling.  If she then really pressed her luck and told me there’s something better than spending Valentine’s Day with The One, I’d have told her to stop worrying.  Though I am pathetically passionate which makes the weeks leading up to mid February painfully poignant, I really didn’t need her to go on Suicide Watch.
Then again, Homicide Watch might have been a good idea. Waiting on Cupid had become Waiting for Godot..  I really wanted to take a hit out on the little sucker for directing my dating life as absurdist comedy as I watched and waited for a leading man over a decade.   He knew I wanted nothing more than to be  Heathcliff’s Catherine…Johnny’s June…McDreamy’s Merdith… or Harry’s Sally.  In fact, for the girl who fell in love with Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights as a high school senior, anything short of finding my soulmate who would proclaim, “I am Cindy!” seemed to be settling.  But not settling meant I had to be patient.  And again, instead of focusing on what I lacked, it was time to focus on what I had.
And that’s when I thought of Chocolat—not just because I love Juliette Binoche and all things chocolate. Not just because I adore Johnny Depp as Roux more than any other part he has ever played.  And not just because I, too, have a pair of red shoes and my child asks me why I can’t be like “all the other mothers.”  Like Vianne, I wanted to reach out to others—particularly the women in my life—because I think goodness is defined by what we do, not what we don’t do, by who we include, not who we exclude.    Rather than invite only close friends from this group or that, I decided to bring together the amazing and unique women I knew.  It would be a chance for them to network, to make new friends.
So I abandoned the usual ritual on V Day of taking an annual inventory of guys I’d dated over the past 12 month.  Rather than analyzing why each love connection short circuited or never even had enough electricity to fizzle at all—I had dated guys ranging in age from their twenties to their fifties and in occupations from songwriters to businessmen to blue collar workers.    Most had been the usual One-Date-Wonders.  Turning my attention instead to my guest list, I found my women friends were even more diverse…and interesting.
Sports nuts and Art lovers.  Nurses and teachers.  A publicist, a coach,  counselors.  Never marrieds, remarrieds, forever marrieds.  Moms and Grandmothers.    Dog lovers, vegetarians, democrats, republicans.  Horsewomen, runners, farm girls.  Californians, New Orleanians, Yankee Italians.   A band leader.  A band leader’s wife.  It could have been a disaster.  But something told me to chance it anyway.  I was worried no one would come. Valentine’s Eve fell on a weeknight and everyone is so busy.  But shortly after the invitations were sent, the replies began rolling in.  Everyone was excited.
Thus commenced the “Valentine’s Eve Hopeful Romantic Party.”  Those with sweethearts could still celebrate with their guys and those without would be too tired from the party to care.  Either way we’d all usher in the Big Day together.
So….make your guest list and get going!  Whether you use Facebook,  send an Evite or an invitation by mail—store bought or created by you—do it now.  Just one week till V Day.  And this year it’s on a weekend—a real bonus.  If you’re inviting women who have sweethearts, then make it next Friday, on Valentine’s Eve.  That way you can still see your honey, and if you don’t have one, you’ll be too tired to care.
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Valentine’s Day Survival Guide–Part 1

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My best friend Kim always inadvertently refers to Valentine’s Day as Halloween. Some sort of brain switch she says. Given the terrifying nature of February 14th for many singles, I get it. Just when a girl survives New Year’s Eve, she is stalked by that little hood, Cupid. At least Father Time, a gentleman, plays fair. He confines his Love Fest to one night and even designates the stroke of twelve as the official time for couples across the globe to make out. This gives a single woman the chance to make-like-Cinderella and head home.
Eros, however, doesn’t give a girl a break. No sooner than she finishes her black-eyed peas and cabbage in front of the football game and changes ESPN to the Food Network, the Barefoot Contessa starts dipping strawberries for Jeffrey, and Paula Deen commences  frying up some love for Michael. The rapid fire of V Day reminders—candy, hearts, flowers, and getaway package deals—leaves singles shell shocked—especially since we know we’ll get sweet nothings…literally. Six weeks of all-inclusive hype leading up to a day that bars singletons from participating. Not cool.
Cupid is especially hard on the Hopeless Romantics like a never-married-forty-something friend I haven’t seen in years. She used to say, “Valentine’s Day shines a spotlight on all who haven’t been chosen.” I wonder if she still grins and bear it, then the next day drags her bruised heart back to the gym–business as usual–carb counting and cardio classes.
And to be fair, 2/14 isn’t always easy on guys either—and I’m not talking about the Commitment-Phobic (aka Friends with Benefits). These guys fall off the radar, following the groundhog into his hole on February 2nd to ask if they can crash with him for awhile until, say, February 15.
No, I’m talking about the few, the proud, The Good Guys who are truly in love. Some of my guy friends confess that they get performance anxiety when faced with the pressure of planning the perfect Valentine’s Day for their sweethearts.  I’ve got some ideas for you, too.
So to the shell shocked and the somewhat confused, relief is on the way…
In the next few posts I’ll tell singles how to not only survive but thrive in V Day’s wake. I’ll explain how a couple of years ago I learned to embrace the power of love for one night, launching a more passionate affair with life. Valentine’s Day looks different than what I imagined…maybe better. Rather than being a hopeless Romantic, I’m now a hopeful one.
So whether you’re solo or in a couple, I’ll offer ideas for making the Big Night more special. I’ll start with the singles because you have to get busy planning. You’re throwing a party, and here’s why…
I’ve been called a Hopeless Romantic all my life. I’ve lived so much in a Dream World I could instruct members of the Witness Protection Program on how to vanish from Reality. At the age of 4 rather than having just any imaginary friend, I had Ringo Starr–my very own boyfriend. Only in a child’s fantasy would I drop a drummer (always been attracted to the band boys), but I traded up for a Pretty Boy lead singer—in fact, solo act, the King himself. Christening my Maiden Voyage toward netting the ideal Catch—the tall, the dark, the handsome—I began fancying the father of my dolls to be Elvis. He had left his love interests in  Blue Hawaii and Viva Las Vegas to settle down with me. We were very happy.
Contrary to popular belief, my incorporating fantasy males into my childhood play did not make me Boy Crazy. I’ve always been monogamous. I’ve always wanted to cut to the chase and live happily ever after with THE ONE. So as a preteen, I’d lie on our den couch reading Going Steady, imagining what it would feel like to snag a guy’s class ring and my first kiss. Desperate to find a boyfriend, I began contemplating the upside of a sprained ankle. It would be worth the pain because I imagined the cutest boy in the school carrying me to every class.
As I grew older, I became bored with my Davy Jones Fan Club and even more impatient to find true love. I sympathized with Pinocchio who longed to be a real boy; I longed to date one. When I finally did, although the feat didn’t require swooning or breaking bones, I became such a pain to others they conspired to drown me in the Gulf of Mexico. It was Spring Break 1977 and I was one of six girls who piled out of my mom’s Buick Electra onto Panama City Beach. Though once inspired by a coming-of-age classic to experience firsthand Where the Boys Are, I no longer cared to find them. I was hooked on one boy, maybe even The One, and not interested in a spring fling. So while the other girls hit the waves with a group of Alabama guys staying at our hotel, I never left my lounge chair. Eyes closed tightly for a solid week, I mouthed Leo Sayer’s words: “When I need you, I just close my eyes and I’m with you.” I visualized seeing my boyfriend, counted off the days, and finally returned home. The only thing I had to show for my vacation-turned-vigil was a strange tan line in the shape of the portable 8-track tape player I had clutched tightly to my chest.
I didn’t think much then about ditching the girls… and not just because my focus on The Guy seemed to pay off when we married three years later. Ditching girls for guys was what teenaged girls did. It wasn’t until twenty years with The Guy morphed into ten years without him that I realized grown up women do the same thing. Once they find the One, they are too often bodysnatched, leaving their friends to talk to them via Facebook or the occasional phone call.
Meanwhile, trying to prove my patience as I optimistically waited on love, I bravely went solo to Valentine’s Day openings of radically romantic (and critically bad) movies like Bed of Roses. Though I sowed faith in love, I reaped only thorns (scary dates I didn’t like OR guys I liked but who didn’t like me.) More often the primrose path I had hoped for was a desert—a No Man’s Land of dry spells that stretched out before me for months…and years.
Trying Plan B, I traded one kind of Magical Thinking for another. Rather than believe my prince was Map Questing the way to my front door, I traded my romanticism for stoicism, pretending I didn’t want a man anyway. Though this approach seemed like a textbook case of Sour Grapes, it was really just another form of Magical Thinking. Secretly I hoped the adage was true that if I’d just forget about love, Cupid would find me. He didn’t.
Moving onto Plan C, I tweaked Dinner and a Movie. My version was Champagne and Cable. If I couldn’t do a night on the town with a date, at least I could do a romantic movie marathon home alone.
In 2006 Plan D, my most creative coping device for surviving the Big Day, was buying a $100 ticket to see  Bon Jovi and pretending Jon was singing just to me.
2007 required something really radical. For all my crying that I hadn’t found The One, I finally realized I’d found instead The Many–girl friends who had been there for me where males feared to tread.    The very reason I love Sex and the City–the soul mates the girls found in each other–was what I, too, had grown to cherish.  I’m convinced that  only when we’re single again, or single-all-along do we fully realize what our girlfriends mean.
I decided in 2007 I’d celebrate what I had—not mourn what I didn’t.  The invitation is self-explanatory and follows. More on the guest list, activities, food and fun tomorrow. If you’re a single female reader, get ready. Tomorrow I’ll tell you how to plan your First Annual Girls’ Night In…Celebrating the Many while waiting on The One!  If you’re a guy who needs to plan the big day for your girl, stay tuned.  We all know most of you won’t sweat it till the 11th or 12th hour anyway.
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