Would you ever write a letter to Juliet, hoping that the tragic Shakespearean heroine would reply back with the key to eternal love and romantic happiness?
Well, we have all seen Letters to Juliet and know that this is exactly what is supposed to happen! And, if for whatever unfathomable reason you haven’t seen the film, oh my gosh, where have you been for the last seven years or so?! It’s a must-see movie for every romantic heart out there in this big, cold, and often love-less world!
The reason the film captures our imaginations stretches beyond the beautiful Italian landscapes and the gorgeous actors it features. The reason we love Letters to Juliet is because this film gives us hope! Hope that time and obstacles don’t matter – sooner or later we will be with the one who is tailor-made specifically for us. The perfect match! The one and only soulmate!
Reared on a diet of fairy-tales and romantic stories, we are suckers for such stuff. The knight on a white horse coming to save us from the humdrum of daily life, followed by the passionate kissing in the rain down to the ‘and they lived happily ever after’ closing line. We want it all!
Well, sorry to break it to you, but it doesn’t always work this way.
Take me on 14th February 2017! I was in Verona – this most romantic Italian city unbreakably connected with the perfect literary image of the tragic lovers Romeo and Juliet.
So, yes, I was in Verona, walking down the glamourous Via Mazzini – the street with all the nice shops and boutiques which is lined up by colourful and atmospheric buildings and is crowned by the hazy outline of the tall Lamberti Tower.
At the end of Via Mazzini I turned right and a few steps later I was in front of the dark tunnel leading to the courtyard of Juliet’s House.
The setting was perfect for St. Valentine’s Day!
All around me people were engaging in little love rituals, like writing their names encased in hearts on the walls…
touching the right breast of Juliet’s statue believing that it would bring them good luck in love…
and initialing red locks…
which then they would place on a special grid which was already groaning under the weight of hundreds of other love locks.
And here comes the bitter truth. In that perfect setting and under the gentle gaze of Juliet…
I was on my own.
Fair enough, you may say. It was Tuesday and my husband was at work. Still, that very morning as I handed him my St. Valentine’s present (a rather unoriginal heart-printed item, I admit), my husband looked at me with a half-panicked, half-pained face, then he thanked me, gave me a kiss and went to work.
‘Where is my present?’
‘Where is the little token of your love and appreciation? Where is that overpriced thing which you bought from the shops that have been falling over each other to sell stuff we don’t really need for the first major gift-giving tradition after the bonanza of Christmas? Hellooo!’
I really wanted to shout all these things after him. But I am classier than that. So, I retreated into a sulk, sent him a sulky email and decided on the spot to catch the train to Verona and spend the morning and the early afternoon sightseeing and thinking through the injustice of it all. After all, Verona is only about 40 minutes away on the train and, for my raging emotions, Vicenza felt a bit small.
This is how I found myself in Juliet’s courtyard.
I looked up at her literarily famous balcony where people would pose for selfies…
or for photographers on the ground next to me.
I gave a sarcastic inner chuckle when I thought that the balcony – added to the medieval Gothic house only in the 20th century – is nothing more and nothing less than an old sarcophagus cut in two and then attached to the wall.
Once I had enough of tourists and couples around me, I left Juliet’s House and I ventured deeper through the historical centre which was in the swing of the four-day festival Verona in Love. Dozens of events dedicated to love were happening left, right and centre: from a heart-shaped market at the Piazza dei Signori to love-themed photo booths at iconic spots around town.
Love conquers all and, I have to admit, seeing all the smiling couples around me slowly started to thaw my heart. I even started to consider a revolutionary thought – my husband had been crazily busy at work and perhaps it wasn’t such a disaster after all that he had not gotten me a present for St. Valentine’s.
In all honesty, I thought, looking back at our romantic history, 14th February has never been a big deal for us. We have never been one of those couples to book a table at a fancy restaurant with hundreds of other couples on the night and I have never expected dozens of roses as I always feel so sorry for cut flowers when they start dying in their vase.
So, it wasn’t such a disaster after all, I kept thinking more and more. What’s important, I reassured myself, is that I gave him a present and I have never been one to give a present just to receive one myself…
Just then I saw her.
Or I heard her name being spoken first.
‘Juliet, Juliet! Look at us…’
Two young Italian men were calling out to a beautiful girl who had just walked past me. Her long cloak was fluttering behind her in the gentle breeze and her hair was put in an intricate do. She didn’t look back at her admirers and just kept walking fast soon disappearing in the crowd on Piazza dei Signori.
That was Juliet, I suddenly realised and led by my dormant journalistic instinct, I walked fast forward trying to see where Juliet went. I walked up a small street and then turned to the right onto Corso Sant’Anastasia where a large Russian tourist group stopped my progress. Their guide was talking excitedly and pointing to the opposite to me side of the street.
I looked and saw a big tall house with a deep porch at the end of which stood a sign reading:
The Juliet Club
I felt my heart skip a beat. The Russian group then moved on led by their guide and I stepped forward towards the club’s entrance door.
I could see through the glass panes that there were people inside, but unsure if the club was actually open for visitors, I pretended to be interested in the vaulted ceiling of the porch and its frescoes for a while.
Finally, I gathered the courage to knock on the door and go in. Seated around a wooden table, there were four girls.
‘So these are the Juliet Secretaries!’, I thought. The amazing volunteers who reply to over 50 000 letters every year sent from all over the world asking for advice in the matters of love.
I asked if I could have a look around and they said ‘Yes!’
Everywhere I looked there were references to the story of Romeo and Juliet. Most notably a framed poster on the wall had the full text of the play in Italian written in a tiny font. Piles of letters to Juliet written on paper with flowers and hearts had been prettily placed in boxes and baskets all over the place. Even though it was small, the room felt light and airy as the girls chatted between themselves.
Just then Juliet, whom I had glimpsed at Piazza dei Signori, came up a small corridor and walked into the room. She spoke in rapid Italian with one of the girls and then quickly left.
‘I found you following this lady!’, I told the Juliet secretaries. They explained that the club was taking active part in the events of Verona in Love.
I was so curious! I wanted to know where the volunteers were from, how did they find out about the Juliet Club and did they find it easy writing back to people looking for answers to their questions related to love.
Two of the girls were from the US and told me how they had really wanted to volunteer for the Juliet Club. They showed me the big pile of letters in a wooden box on the table in front of them, the branded writing paper and envelopes with a print of Juliet which they used and they explained to me how every letter is signed with ‘Love, Juliet‘.
Apparently, the story of Juliet letters started in the 30’s of the past century, when Ettore Solimani – the guardian of Juliet’s Tomb – started collecting the love letters people would leave at the grave and, moved by what was written in them, he began to write back. The Juliet Club as such was founded in 1972 by a group of artists and scholars led by Mr. Giulio Tamassia.
To this day the club, which is a non-profit organisation, has replied to hundreds of thousands of letters to Juliet, all of which are kept in a special archive. In addition, the Juliet Club organises a number of events, like ‘Dear Juliet’ which is a prize given to the most beautiful love letters, and ‘Writing for Love’ – a literary award for love novels. Each year the club also celebrates Juliet’s birthday helping to reinforce Verona’s title as Capital of Love.
‘Do you want to write a reply from Juliet yourself?’, asked me the third of the girls, who was Italian.
I stammered a bit, but such a chance comes once in a lifetime, so I grabbed it with both hands.
‘Yes, of course’, I heard myself saying. ‘But, obviously, if you don’t like my reply, feel free to throw it away’.
I was given some writing paper and a pen and told to choose a letter from the wooden box. Suffering from a serious case of the imposter syndrome, my fingers forwent the letters in beautiful envelopes (‘I am not worthy of them’, I thought) and picked a simple white envelope. Inside it there were two printed pages.
To my surprise the letter was very detailed and beautifully written. Someone at the other end of the world had taken the time to describe their feelings and their emotions and to ask for advice about an issue which they felt they couldn’t find an answer to.
The legend was true! People were really writing to Juliet. It was not just a film, it was not just a book, it was not just a beautiful story. Here there were real people in need of advice which only Juliet – young yet having been trough so much – could provide.
Suddenly inspired, I grabbed my pen and started to write. I can’t give you too many details as to what I wrote back, as this, I feel, would shatter the privacy of the sender and Juliet.
The letter left me thinking for a long time afterwards and it strengthened my thoughts on love. Namely, that we mustn’t sit and wait for love to happen to us like it does in the books and the films. That no-one is perfect and there is not one perfect person specifically made for us. That we can’t change people we love, unless they want to change themselves and for themselves.
And that instead of waiting, we need to go out there, do our thing, expand our horizons and in the course of it all, perhaps, we will meet someone not to complete us, not to make us feel whole, but someone who we’ll love talking to, spending time and sharing things with. Someone who understands that we have bad moments, too and can plough through them with us, but in all honesty cannot cure us magically.
Lastly, someone who, once the initial spark of infatuation has gone off, we’ll still love, appreciate and want to be with.
Writing my reply was punctuated by the little chats the Juliet secretaries were having as a group. Once or twice one of them would come across a letter she wanted to share with the others, too. Or they would tell me about the bunches of missives they customarily receive from school children in the US, where teachers would encourage the students to write to the Juliet Club while they were studying Romeo and Juliet in class.
Soon it was time for me to go. It was now early in the afternoon and I had a train to catch.
On my way back to the train station, I made a pit stop to buy myself some sweets called Romeo’s and Juliet’s kisses. Called in Italian Baci di Romeo and Baci di Giulietta, they tasted divine.
Romeo’s version was made of almond paste and buttercream and Juliet’s was made of hazelnut paste and chocolate cream.
I returned to Vicenza in significantly higher spirits.
In the evening, my husband cooked us Chinese noodles and served sushi. It felt really special, as we eat so much Italian food, often we completely forget there are other ways to eat. He gave me a St. Valentine’s present, too! Something very thoughtful that he had gone to a lot of hassle to get for me.
‘Thank you!’, I said.
‘Next time that you forget a holiday or an anniversary, remind me to tell you: ‘If it meant something to you, it wouldn’t have mattered how busy you were. You would have found the time!’, my husband said cheekily, quoting to the dot a line I had thrown at him in my email earlier in the day.
All in all, it wasn’t the worst St. Valentine’s.
What are your thoughts on love? Do you believe in soulmates? Or do you think that we need to learn to love ourselves first before finding someone to love? Share your thoughts with me!
Click here to learn more about Juliet Club in Verona and to find out how you can send a letter to Juliet or, if you are in Verona, how you can visit the club. Click here if you want to see the video I took in the Juliet Club on my Facebook page.
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