BEIRUT: The idea of true love has changed a lot in the past two generations. One needs look no further than the never-in-a-million-years love tale in the classic 1953 Audrey Hepburn film “Roman Holiday.”
Hepburn plays the runaway princess of ambiguous nationality, Ann, who meets and falls in love with Gregory Peck’s washed-up journalist character Joe Bradley. Anne happens upon Joe, who recognizes her and lets the rogue royal spend the night in his apartment. We watch as she appropriates his bed – to his great displeasure – how they see the sights of the Italian capital, how they slow dance amid a wild commotion and how, inevitably, they fall in love.
In the 21st century, the casual utterance of the words “true love” can often garner a scoff as far as the younger generation is concerned. Casual encounters, a drink at a bar or an exchange of coquettish text messages might be the best the closet romantic can hope for in Beirut’s lovelorn streets; the serendipitous adventures that Ana and Joe shared but a fairy tale and the question of what to do on Valentine’s Day a persistent agony.
A romantic dinner? That’s what we do every year. A romantic dinner at home? We can do that every day. A drive up to the mountains to see the sunset? That’s a bit contrived.
It was the artificial nature with which expressions of love are approached nowadays that inspired the team behind Virgin Megastore to launch over the weekend a Valentine’s Day exhibit and sale called Vintage Fever. The special items – from Hepburn films to antique coffee grinders – hope to inspire nostalgia and channel the starry-eyed romance of another era.
“The idea came to us because Valentine’s Day has become very commercialized, year and after year, and it’s become overrated,” said Maya Saad, Virgin Megastore’s marketing manager. “People have forgotten the meaning of true love.”
The charm of antique items is their ability to take us out of our time for a moment. Making coffee, a staple for most caffeine devotees, is a typical morning chore requiring the switch of an electric propeller grinder. But using an old-fashioned manual burr mill grinder imbues that chore with a sense of history.
“Listening to old music makes you wish that you could have lived in that era, and experienced it for yourself,” Saab said.
And for those looking to surprise their special someone, Saab believes it’s better to harken back to the past than stay stuck in the jaded present: “Vintage [items] touch all generations – they bring nostalgia to adults, and they impress the younger crowd.”
The significance of vintage pieces are heightened, she says, on the occasion of Valentine’s Day because “Love conquers time,” as says the slogan of the two-week event.
On display at the Downtown Virgin store – which itself occupies the nostalgic prewar opera house – are hand-painted sewing machines, mother-of-pearl opera glasses, silver-plated binoculars and pocket-watches; items that rouse the imagination over the individuals who might have owned them, and the glamorous lives they must have led to necessitate a gem-studded flask or gold-plated star gazer.
Rotary dial phones, spanning the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s sit side by side, summoning a time when there were no text messages, when one had to muster the strength to call and ask to speak to their beloved.
Virgin’s vintage corner offers a distinctly Lebanese experience, with 3-D paintings by Shafiq Yazbek depicting the inner sanctum of an old village home.
By the end of “Roman Holiday,” Ann and Joe had to say goodbye, her royal responsibilities proved to override the promise of happiness with Joe. The last time they meet, he hands her a collection of photographs taken of their time together by his photographer friend Irving. Uncannily, a similar model Leica camera used by Irving to snap the photographs of Ann is also part of Virgin’s display – so is its tag of $2,200.
Love might conquer time, as Saab says, but it often comes at too high a price. Luckily, the price range of Vintage Fever varies to suit the needs of young and old alike.