Romance without Romeo

Most people know of Verona as the setting for the immensely famous Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet. Naturally, the city has taken the opportunity and ran with it.

Verona never really made a strong appearance on my radar of cities to visit. I studied Romeo and Juliet in high school English literature, naturally supplemented with Leo’s 1996 charming reenactment of the famous character. After high school, I stopped thinking about that play, in fact, I honestly didn’t even think twice about it being set in Italy.

When my company informed me that we were planning spring trips to Verona, of course I was the designated destination writer and I started from scratch studying the famous city. (Hi, Lonely Planet!! Here I am!!)

As is the usual case when you focus on what you read, I learned some really interesting things about the city. Most importantly that Shakespeare himself is believed to have never in his life stepped foot in Verona! He romanticized his idea for the stories based on other accounts and his own fantasies about the city! What a poser, no wonder romance is dead.

Centuries down the road, Verona has made another appearance in the entertainment world, and once again, the city has grabbed the opportunity for tourism.

Letters to Juliet gets mixed reviews across the board and other than an intense desire to slap ‘Viktor’, I enjoyed it in all its chick flick glory. It helps that it came out just before my own venture to Italy to ‘find my Lorenzo’ and that all my friends took it as a sign that Lorenzo was in fact my one true love. Blek. (Okay, I secretly wanted to screech I told you so!! But refrained as I hope they would in any told-you-so moment).

Did you know? Juliet’s Secretaries are real and actually answer the letters that tourists leave, or send, to Juliet. The idea was started by a man called Ettore Solimani who was the guard of Juliet’s tomb. A rather entertaining man, Solimani used to do his best to interact with visitors by training doves to land on them and promising them all their wishes would come true. One day, a visitor left a small note for Juliet and, naturally, Solimani read it. Then he changed history by writing back. The word got around (as it does) and visitors began leaving letters each visit, which in turn were answered by “Juliet’s Secretary”. The fun went on until Solimani was forced to retire and the letter writing was taken over by the Club di Guiletta. These days, the majority of the letters are written by adolescent, female Americans, which somehow doesn’t surprise me. Guess we American girls just want to keep the love alive!

I also read that when Romeo and Juliet came out, the Veronese locals were so excited about the story and embraced it that as it got passed down through generations the locals began to be curious if the story was true and went out in search of the famous landmarks. This is how the tourist attractions such as Juliet’s House, Romeo’s House and the tomb of Juliet came to be “discovered”.

Romeo tends to get left out of most of the story when it comes to the city. In all honestly, the Osteria del Duco set on the bottom floor of Romeo’s House is the most famous part of it. Remember in the movie how Romeo goes into the Capulet tomb to find Juliet seemingly dead and kills himself there? Then of course Juliet wakes up and kills herself all over again right there. Somehow, again, Romeo’s been forgotten along the way, as the tomb is simply known as Juliet’s. You go girl… except it’s hard to have a romantic tale without a Romeo…

Bringing me to my last observation of the day. Taking a trip to the city of love when you live in Italy with your “romantic” Italian boyfriend… again, not as romantic without the boyfriend. My workmates kept poking fun, “ooo dove tuo Romeo?”… stupid men!