- The Washington Times - Monday, February 14, 2000

Stand back. Amour is amok.

Everyone wants a little piece of the heart today. The world's romance culture, it seems, has gone right off the scale.

Maybe it has to do with Pfizer's Valentine's Day edition of Viagra, which features Cupid cradling the little blue pill, which treats erectile dysfunction.

Perhaps it is the commercial underpinnings of mankind's most sentimental 24 hours.

Americans will spend $2.6 billion on sweets and jewelry, exchange 35 million heart-shaped boxes of candy and a billion mushy cards, along with 103 million roses, according to the National Retail Federation.

But wait. Everyone wants in on the act.

This year, the Wilderness Society named the top-10 most romantic sites in the middle of nowhere.

One can bill and coo at Owl's Roost Tower in Georgia's Okefenokee preserve, or hubba-hubba on the Hulahula River in Alaska.

If such treks produce "no romantic spark," noted society president William Meadows, "the problem is timing or chemistry."

Manhattan's Empire State Building, meanwhile, is hosting 14 weddings and one vow-renewal today on the 80th floor in the very spot where King Kong once pitched woo to Fay Wray at least on the silver screen, anyway.

The building, says a spokesman, "just naturally attracts love."

Perugina chocolates thinks it's all in the cocoa. The company invited Italian candy aficionados to pen love poetry for Valentine's Day and more than 12,000 responded.

Judges voted the phrases, "Close your eyes and look at me," "Better a good slap in the face than a bad kiss" and "A kiss is like a drink from your heart," in the top 10.

Perhaps they make more sense in Italian.

Then there are the Valentine's polls, meant to tally the giddy romantic notions of one and all.

Manhattan-based marketers at Ad Outlet, for example, determined that 37 percent of men think of women more than 20 times a day, while 32 percent of women think of men only 10 times a day.

Cleaning the house, the survey found, "turned on" 39 percent of men, while drinking a cocktail "put 56 percent of women in the mood for love."

The on-line Valentine Poll (www.valentinepoll.com) revealed that folks don't want candy from their sweethearts. They want wine. Two-thirds of the respondents opted for a bottle of vino best served by a fireplace.

Another poll says we really don't care what the heck we get. The retail federation found that 52 percent of women felt "any gesture from a significant other to commemorate Valentine's Day will do just fine."

Men were pickier, though. Only 37 percent said that any old thing was OK for Valentine's.

The American Savings Education Council thinks men should give women stocks, bonds and mutual funds because females outlive males and, therefore, need a good retirement account.

"Thinking about finances may not seem very romantic," the council's president, Don Blandin, said, "but there's no better way to show someone your love."

Gourmets argue the merits of fancy foodstuffs as aphrodisiacs. Oysters, caviar, strawberries and chocolate lead the pack.

Others argue that chili peppers, figs, asparagus, avocados, artichokes, garlic and pine nuts inspire the hot-cha-cha.

Not so, advises Rudolf Sodamin, who extols the merits of the mundane in his red velvet-bound book, "Seduction and Spice, 130 Recipes for Romance."

Why, a simple salad with toasted walnuts will do the trick, he says, because nuts are "seductive."

"I find that many foods thought to arouse desire are readily available and affordable," Mr. Sodamin says.

For real Valentine's Day prowess, forget books, polls, fancy chocolates and flowers. Look to the titi monkey, anthropologists say.

Along with the prairie vole and the dunnock bird, the titi monkey which lives in South America is the most monogamous creature on Earth. More so than man, which scientists consider "slightly polygamous."

Titi monkeys spend hours flirting with their respective spouses, complete with elaborate "fawning rituals." At night, the titis sleep with their tails entwined.

"They have romance wired," noted one anthropologist in Indiana. "But even in the scientific community we argue about monkey love. Maybe they have to work at it just like we do."

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