Verona has long been considered “the” city of love based on several literary traditions. It is, after all, the fabled setting of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. There you will find Juliet’s house and tomb. You will also find the famed balcony under which a love-struck boy professed his feelings to a young woman from a rival family.
The city was also home to Dante. When he was exiled from Florence, he ended his days in Verona, writing the Divina Commedia. In his story, the Dante expresses his admiration for Beatrice, the woman who represents his concept of the most desirable woman in the world. To honor the poet, a statue of Dante was placed in Piazza dei Signori, just a few steps away from Juliet’s home.
So, it is no wonder that every Valentine’s day the citizens of Verona celebrate by constructing a large red heart in the middle of the central square – Piazza delle Erbe.
It is also easy to imagine that in a city used to celebrating love you will also find “love” secretaries, or the “secretaries of Juliet.” They are a corp of romantics who in the name of Juliet, as she is the embodiment of romantic love, will respond to letters written by the lovelorn and those seeking relationship advice.
The story of the Juliet Letters started in the 1930’s when Ettore Solimani, the guardian of Juliet’s Tomb, began gathering the first letters people left at the grave and, moved by this phenomenon; he started replying, thus becoming the first “Juliet’s secretary.”
Then in 1972, the responsibility of responding to the letters passed on to Giulio Tamassia and a group of artists and scholars united by a passion for the Shakespearian legend. It was Tamassia’s idea to start the Juliet Club — a group of individuals who collect, read, translate and respond to each letter sent to Juliet from all over the world. Then each letter is preserved in the Club Juliet’s archives along with thousands of other love stories.
Despite our technological age, where emails, tweets, and WhatsApp message are a primary form of communication, Juliet’s secretaries continue to respond through hand written letters. The secretaries seek not to give advice, but rather offer compassion and understanding. It is a sign in the universe that someone is listening.
The mystic of Juliet’s love letters is very moving. It is the powerful stuff of romance and dreams. So much so, Juliet’s secretaries have been the topic for books and even a movie plot. In 2010 “Letter’s to Juliet” starring Amanda Seyfried, Christopher Egan, and Vanessa Redgrave hit the movie theaters. It is a cute, romantic comedy about an English woman who finds love, fifty years after writing a letter to Juliet. I liked this movie, not only for the beautiful shots of Verona and Tuscany, but for the Italian music that was selected to give a touch of authenticity.
More recently I read an article in the papers about Glenn Dixon, a Canadian English professor. It seems Glenn resolved his love issues and found true love after becoming an emissary for Juliet. He penned a memoir working for Juliet called, “Juliet’s Answer: One Man’s Search for Love and the Elusive Cure for Heartbreak.”
I too have become a fan of Juliet and her letters and love that can be found in Verona. I have wandered the streets of the city where Dante walked and where Juliet fell in love with Romeo. I the romance of it all so much, in my new novel about Italy called “Dreaming Sophia,” my character Sophia receives encouragement from Juliet standing in her courtyard, where she learns a new private language of love.
If you would like to write a letter to Juliet, here is the address. You will be answered.
Corso Santa Anastasia 29, 37133