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  • Duncan Mackay

'SPRING' FEAST OF LUPERCALIA


Hello lovebirds everywhere! The Spring Feast days of Lupercalia are upon us. Indeed if you go outside you will notice perhaps, with eyes and ears, that our feathered friends are getting frisky in the bushes. Nature's delicate propulsion system is propelling new life into being and the birds are pairing up ready for mating; timing their egg laying and incubation for peak grub, caterpillar and fly season when food for tiny, eager, and ever-open, beaks will be plentiful. The Romans recognised this spring sex-fest (as probably did every society attuned to nature) as the Feast of Lupercalia that took place in the month of February (a name derived from februa - Latin for purification) when heavy rains and storms purged the air and soil. In human terms it was also associated with rituals and rites of spring purification including flagellation (middle-aged Roman women threw themselves at bands of naked young men [the Fauno Luperco] in the streets seeking a quick thrash) and sacrifices to ensure fertility in the soil so that food crops could be grown and domesticated animals would be fruitful. Luperco (from which Lupercalia takes its name) is the sacred cave near Rome where the legendary founder foundlings of the Roman state, Romulus and Remus, were found being suckled by their she-wolf 'mother'.


All this nature-connected fun ended in 496 when Pope Gelasio1 put out the fake-news that this was solely a Christian thing devoted to courtly love rather than sex and natural procreation. So Saint Valentine (San Valentino di Termi - a healer of epileptics no less) had his saintly dossier sexed-up, as it were, to be the protector of romantic love. This romance stuff blossomed in the medieval period of courtly knights and knightly deeds and licked into maximum commercial shape by 1850's American marketeers. Valentine's Day is now part of the western hemisphere's Calendar.


So, where better to celebrate this Spring Feast than Skye Gyngell's 'Spring' restaurant in Somerset House, London? What better to do than go see 'Lion King' at The Lyceum to celebrate 'the circle of life'? In between the dawn and the dusk in the wild jungle that is central London there was a welcome trip to the Wellcome Institute at Euston to see items in its medical collection and a very interesting exhibition on play, 'Play Well' with a sub-text of nature v nurture. Play is described as 'an instinct that is not learned, but does require the right conditions to flourish'.Children are viewed as the 'author of their own knowledge and experience, placing play and experimentation at the forefront of learning'. It's on until 8 March so spring into action, go see it and enjoy the fun. This was followed by an impala like leap to Somerset House to visit the exhibition 'Mushrooms: The art, design and future of fungi' with a selection of superbly drawn fungi by Beatrix Potter and lots of wacky psycho-fungi stuff about fun guys and gals. There were some lovely papier-maché mushroom models by Amanda Cobbett. They didn't stock my fine little book Eat Wild (with lots of fungi recipes) in the shop so I thought I'd mention it here.


Then we went to eat. The calming playful nature space that is 'Spring' is lovely and immediately you are aware that something attentively good is about to happen. We were sucked in by the pre-theatre scratch dinner offer but alas alack San Valentino had got there before us and it was off - for one night only. However, booking for 5.30 got us seats with the promise to out by 7 and what a feast to tempt us swam before us like a shoal of red mullet. Oh I'm giving away my main course preceded as it was by three exquisitely tender sweet scallops and a cold glass of Wiston wine from Sussex. The delicious breads and home-made butter kept coming too and chats about wild food and foraging adventures with the totally charming staff punctuated the languid pace of the evening. As I was nibbling, I couldn't help but notice Monique out of the corner of my eye, as she seemingly glid through the serenity of the room, a picture of perfect deportment in her sommelier's black uniform as if gliding on unseen casters. Smooth, like the experience. Hakuna Matata


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