Free Hugs and Lots of Valentine’s Day Love in the Galleria…

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Hugging Robot, Human Feeling…

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Saturday was the 14th February, so Saturday was Valentine’s Day. You’re probably aware of this and know that the day commemorates the martyrdom of poor San Valentino (a.k.a. St. Valentine, Vizzy Heartdust, Sweet Val the Virile) stabbed to death by rose thorn-brandishing heathen eunuchs employed by a devastated Roman senator whose wife had run off with a Christian leathermaker. And then Al Capone shot some people, Captain Cook was skewered on Patrick Swayze’s surfboard, Richard II died after starving himself because no one invited him out for a candlelit dinner and Benedict Cumberbatch got married.

All of those are reasons to note the 14th February, but really I’d just like to think of it as a timely moment to say, “Awww, yeah! Love is great!” Love is always great, in whatever form or flavour. I could go on quoting all kinds of pop songs, pop aphorisms and suchlike but I’ll spare you because Valentine’s Day has passed us by and you could get all that by watching Moulin Rouge (and I haven’t a hope in hell of making this blogpost as entertaining as Moulin Rouge). Still, I want to reflect on it a little though and write down a short account of my lovin’ Saturday experience because I feel it has some significance.

In brief, I’m a lover but I’m not a lover. As a single man on Valentine’s Day there is nothing to do and no one to do it with, but I don’t see any point in being bitter, sad or antagonistic. Also, if you show me a calendar, I’ll seize any opportunity to do something timely related to a milestone day, even if it’s just a doodle. When February 14th rolled around I figured, “Hey! I’ve got to celebrate Valentine’s Day! I’ve got to do something to celebrate love and spread loving feeling!” I would have declared my affection to someone I love and showered them with bad poetry if I didn’t have the problem that I only fall in love with film characters (some of them robots) and women who sit opposite me on trains and then vanish out of my life after just three stops.

Still, I’m in love with the idea of love like Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge. And maybe in a couple of months I’m going to move to Paris and write a hit musical that’ll spark a fresh Bohemian Revolution. For now though, I’m in Milano in Italy and I was also in Milano in Italy on Saturday. “How romantic it is just being here in this romantic place surrounded by all these beautiful people on Valentine’s Day!” I thought. “I’m going to see if any of my friends want to come with me to the Duomo on Valentine’s Day morning and share ‘Free Hugs’ with strangers!

I did that – actually we did that, because some friends joined me – and it was wonderful. Sadly, the weather was lousy and it was too wet to stand outside next to the grand cathedral so instead we stood under the cover of the grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (the great shopping arcade, home to high fashion outlets and a floor mural of a bull on whose testicles you stand and spin around if you want some extra good luck). I made a sign to advertise that I was offering free hugs and a number of passers-by embraced me and my colleagues.

We shared some really nice cuddles with an array of random people from both Italy and various international destinations. We got into nice conversations and made a lot of people smile. It even followed a couple of us home as we ended up hugging and talking with a mixed group of Anglo-American tourists to the bemusement of everyone else in the train carriage. I repeat again: it was wonderful, and the main reason it was wonderful was because it was a sweet moment of human connection and human sharing.

What I learned – or re-learned, or was potently reminded of – was this fundamental fact which I very often forget: human beings are social creatures and they need to retain a link to other people, to be open-hearted and to live with compassion and empathy. ‘Free Hugs’ is a way of consciously forcing oneself to knock down the barriers and make yourself open to others as opposed to distancing yourself. As a loner prone to self-isolation (not always a good thing) and as someone who wants to make people happy (“And, by Aphrodite, I will make you happy, damn you!” *smites them all with a double-rainbow*) ‘Free Hugs’ is a win-win scenario.

I loved the experience, and I’m going to do it again (and again and again, if possible) not for attention, but because I believe that ‘Free Hugs’ is a beautiful thing. It spreads positive energy, encourages human connection and brings human beings together, even if it just for a fleeting moment. It’s a moment of love and love is something worth celebrating, on Valentine’s Day and everyday.

I’m going to go and write a Bohemian musical about love. And I’m going to try and find more people to hug, which is easy in Italy where hugs are conventional everyday greetings. I hope you all had a nice Valentine’s Day and urge you to hug more often. Embrace it, and embrace each other…

Hey! Let's hug!

Hey! Let’s hug!