One of the most beautiful, yet sad experiences of my life took place in one of the most well known and romantic places in the world. Imagine this – an elaborate Italian balcony, an empty piazza dazzling in the Mediterranean sun, and a young lonely girl gazing wistfully underneath a long trailing flowering ivy. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
The place is Verona, Italy, and the house is known as the Capulet place, and more often as ‘La Casa di Giulietta’ (Juliet’s House). It was there that, single and looking, I found myself around five years ago, yearning to meet someone special, yet knowing that the place itself only referred to a fictional tragic heroine, brought to life by that most maddening of playwrights, Shakespeare.
Even though the story is fantasy, Romeo and Juliet is the most well-known and loved tragic love story of all time, and Verona itself makes full use of this fact. The house, which serves as a museum for most of the props belonging to Franco Zeffirelli’s version of the movie (1968), as well as other famous versions of the story, was originally owned by the Dell Cappello family (which may or may not have been an inspiration for Shakespeare’s play). It was built in the 13th century, and restored on a grand scale in the 1930’s, perhaps to be in a better position to give the illusion that Juliet really did live there once and as a means to attract more tourists. The balcony is the perfect rendition of the one described in the eponymous story too, and another more recent addition, Juliet’s own statue, stands in the courtyard.
I remember I entered the house/museum alone, and even though I knew that in all probability the house itself was just a tourist gimmick, I was overwhelmed all the same. Apart from the various 13th – 17th century artefacts inside, as well as props used in various movies, the house also contains hundreds, maybe thousands of letters, notes, prayers and post-its stuck to walls and ceilings of two particular rooms, downstairs. These, the plaque in front states, are only some of the multitudes of missives sent to Juliet, in the name of love, by those who desire to make a wish, share a dream, or ask for advice, to a girl who was famous for the passion and strength of her love. These letters are actually read by members of the so-called ‘Club di Julietta’ (Juliet’s Club), who try to answer most of them, in some way or another. These love gurus are the ones referred to and mentioned in the well-known movie, ‘Letters to Juliet’ (2010), which shed some light on this phenomenon.
Again, I guess all those who send letters to Juliet know that in the end, she was only a fictional character, yet people seem to find a strange sort of comfort, not to mention hope, when they remember Romeo and Juliet’s love, and many can’t help but wish for an emotion which could consume them and give such a beautiful meaning to their lives.
If one thinks about it rationally, the two lovers in the story were nothing more than adolescents (Juliet, we are told in the play, is 15, while Romeo is around 17); and actually they were rash, young and silly fools. If only they had had the patience to wait, or the wit to go to the Prince, mayor or someone of authority for help, they could well have avoided dying altogether and lived long and happy lives. Yet, they wilfully killed, married, made love, and died, all in the space of a couple of days. One hears of mad caps and morons nowadays of course, but I must say, these two have, and will continue to take the cake.
That is what my rational mind tells me over and over again, each time I watch or read a new rendition of the much re-told story, HOWEVER, I am also a hopeless romantic at heart. Notwithstanding what my cold clinical mind thinks, I must confess that when I was in Juliet’s house in Verona, I did write a note to Juliet myself. I just could not help it. Sometimes, I still remember and almost feel the emotions churning inside me while I was writing it, and wonder what Juliet herself would have thought of me, had she read it. But then again, Juliet never did, because she does not exist, and so no one, thankfully, will ever know what I wrote, except for those dedicated few whose life-work it is to read all the love-lorn notes written in lieu of Juliet… a job which, I admit, I do not envy.