Verona, Italy: city of love!
Love appears to be everywhere in Verona. During the Valentine’s holiday, there is even a celebration called “Verona In Love.” The streets are filled with locals and tourists from every country imaginable, all celebrating amore!
As I walked the streets of Verona, bundled up to keep warm from the frigid temperatures, a thought repeated in my mind: If I were to ask ten strangers on the streets of Verona this question, “What is love,” I would likely receive ten different responses. It seems amore is as elusive now as it was during William Shakespeare’s time.
Love can be hard to define.
Defining love, capturing its essence, is why I believe so many people from around the world travel to Verona. The city is, after all, the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet (the universal tale of love).
This is, in all honesty, one reason that I have come to Verona. In addition, I have come to spend time with Juliet Club (Club di Giulietta). In 2010, the Club was made uber-famous by the American film, Letters To Juliet. For me, as a lover of William Shakespeare, to be in this place is particularly special. The opportunity to spend time with Juliet Club is an honor and thrill. The fact that I am here during the city’s annual celebration of love, well, is icing on my red velvet, heart-shaped cake!
Indeed, I landed in Verona with glittering eyes, an eager spirit, and a willingness to learn all that love (and Juliet) had to teach me. My first stop was the house of Juliet (Casa Di Giulietta) and the famous balcony where, as myth goes, Juliet spoke her well-known Shakespeare-inspired words, “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” The balcony is, as said by one tour guide, the first site requested by visitors when they step off of their plane.
Entering Juliet’s courtyard, I passed walls decorated with graffiti and chewing gum affixed in the shape of hearts! The bitter cold did not stop a large international crowd from gathering to gaze up at Juliet’s balcony and take photos with her statue. I was fascinated by the wedding locks on walls and trees, placed there to secure eternal love for those who leave them.
Passing through the door of the house, I climbed up the stairs to a room where Juliet Club was holding its annual “Cara Giulietta” (Dear Juliet) award ceremony for the most beautiful letters written to Juliet, over the past year.
Listening to the three top letters being read, I was captivated by the emotion all around me. Writers opening their hearts to this fictional character:
“Dear Juliet, I miss him breathless, He who has filled my heart and my days…”
“Dear Juliet, Is there a true love or is it just an illusion?…”
“Dear Juliet, Do you believe two people who love each other can overcome the difficulties of a physical handicap? I am afraid, and always will be, of losing him…”
The ceremony was deeply moving and I became even more curious:
How did these letters to Juliet begin to arrive in Verona? What drives people from every walk of life, young and old, to write them?
I learned that the first letters to Juliet made their way to Verona in 1937, after the release of the 1936 film, Romeo And Juliet. It is said that the keeper of Juliet’s grave, and museum, began to collect and reply to letters left at the tomb, signing them “Juliet’s Secretary.” Yes, a man began the tradition! It continued and in 1972 the official Juliet Club was founded. Today, a total of fifteen women respond to thousands of letters, each year. I met with two of these angelic volunteers, Manuela and Giovanna, at the Juliet Club’s main office.
Q: Do you see yourselves as experts in the matter of love?
Manuela: “People seem to think that we are the experts of love. We are not. We are simple women who receive so much through reading and responding to these letters. We learn from this process: no matter the nationality, people share similar fears of losing love, never finding love, or not knowing if they even believe that love is real.”
Giovanna: “Writers open their hearts and share intimate details of their lives. We respect that. They know that Juliet will not judge and I believe that this allows them to express fears or worries that they, otherwise, might not share. Often, the action of writing (like journaling) offers some catharsis on its own. Knowing that Juliet has taken time to read a letter means more to the writer than any advice that might be given. In most instances, the writer is looking for support, someone to say I understand.”
Q: You have both been Secretaries of Juliet for many years, together spanning some 35-years answering letters. What keeps you coming back?
Manuela: “When you start, you never want to stop! I feel so involved and I appreciate how enriching the experience is. We help others and, in turn, they help us.”
Giovanna: “Letters keep arriving and people keep asking for help. It would be hard to walk away and not continue to contribute in this effort. We also love to write and we love the character of Juliet and the work of Shakespeare.”
Q: You say that some 5,000 letters reach you every year. Half of those letters come from teenagers (girls and boys). Is this simply because the characters of Romeo and Juliet were teenagers themselves?
Giovanna: “I believe that the youngest writers want to see if love is real, they see so many things today: divorce or separation, and they want to believe that love does exist, that it is more than illusion.”
Manuela: “Yes, they want to believe that love can last forever.”
It was, at this moment, when two other volunteers offered insight. The first, a young woman from Uzbekistan who is in Verona studying opera, said: “Juliet enchants and offers people the idea that she is the protector of love. And, that because she exists the idea of love remains above all. This gives people hope. For me, responding to letters is like sharing music, it offers a smile and touches a person’s soul.”
Nicole, a young Italian volunteer, added: “I believe that it is important to express yourself in relationships, in life. Moving past fear of expression is important and for those who reach out to Juliet, writing these letters can be their first effort in moving through that fear. I am happy to be a part of this growth.”
We went on to discuss life as women, the challenges of loving ourselves and affirming ourselves. Challenges that are not new ones, we guessed that they have been around since before the time of Juliet.
The magic that struck me was this: We, as human beings, desire many things in life; material and otherwise. It is Love (real, pure, eternal) that remains our central and deepest desire.
Seems though, to me, that looking for a real, pure, eternal love must first start within. Loving ourselves is an art that many have forgotten. It is an essential element to a life of happiness, completeness, and yes, greatness!
As Giovanna so beautifully stated, “It is hard, as women, to find time to love ourselves, know ourselves. So many things pull us away from this. Life is busy and we can become disconnected to who we are.”
I responded: “Yes, loving ourselves is the key to releasing magic in our lives, going within where secret treasure of grand proportion is hidden and waiting. Perhaps the greatest tragedy, far more than that of Romeo & Juliet, is living a life where this inner treasure is never discovered.”
Which brings me to this thought: To be able to define love, for ourselves, perhaps we must first ask this question of ourselves: “Wherefore art thou?”
It was the moment when I looked in the mirror and asked, “Wherefore art thou Michelle,” that I made the commitment to realizing this journey of self-love and self-discovery.
I want to love me, unconditionally. Love that lasts because no human being can take it away. Eternal love that is soulful and rich. Love that expands and uplifts.
We may never all agree on what love is, that’s okay! We can, though, define it for ourselves, as individuals.
I did not write Juliet a letter, however, here in her city I believe she has given me an answer:
The world can love you today and turn its back on you tomorrow. Romeos can leave…
When we love ourselves, we are better able to stand strong no matter the changes life may bring.
That, my friend, is amore eterno!
Think about asking yourself the “Wherefore art thou” question. You never know where the answer may lead you…
Today, I ask the question that leads me to the desires of my heart. I love me. It’s okay to do! I unlock my treasure chest of potential and, with glittering eyes, I delight in the promise it holds. Today, I see the magic and I believe in love!
P.S. If you would like to write a letter to Juliet, she’s waiting!
The address is:
Club Di Giulietta – The Juliet Club
via Galilei 3 – 37100 Verona, Italy