The Italian Almanac

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Happy Valentine

Flowers are still Italy's most popular way to say ''I love you'' on Valentine's Day. ''Some 6.5 million Italians will buy flowers for their loved one this year - far, far more than are purchasing clothing, sweets and particularly chocolate,'' said Italian farmers association CIA. Italians are set to spend 100 million euros on 22 million flowers by Thursday night.

Although lilies and orchids are popular, roses account for 60% of all flowers sold during this period. According to another farming organization, Coldiretti, red roses are the ''classic sign of passion'' while white ones indicate ''pure, spiritual love''. ''Musky pink'' apparently indicates a ''capricious beauty'', a peach colour means secret love and light pink highlights friendship and gratitude. Yellow roses indicate jealousy while red tulips are ''a true declaration of love.''

A survey dubbed Alessandria in Piedmont ''the most romantic city in Italy'', followed by Reggio Emilia and Rome. Last place, oddly, went to the Umbrian town of Terni, the birthplace of St Valentine. Terni draws droves of lovers each year, longing to 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. As well as saintly enterprises, Italy boasts other romantic rites for St Valentine's Day. The small southern town of Vico del Gargano, for instance, has a 300-year-old tradition of garlanding a lovers' lane for couples to cuddle and exchange love's promises.