I hadn’t heard of the film, Letters to Juliet, before visiting Verona. It’s inspired by thousands of people from around the world who write letters to Shakespeare’s doomed heroine, Juliet, seeking romantic advice. Yes, you read that correctly. How to explain the phenomenon of writing to a fictional character, supposedly alive in medieval Europe, for advice on affairs of the heart in the 21st century? I mean, Juliet’s love affair did not end well. More importantly, how do you justify employing people to reply to those letters?
No surprise then that there was a long queue for the Casa di Giulietta, the fake home of an imaginary person. The house is real enough, and dates back to the 14th century. A family even lived there that had a surname similar to the one Shakespeare gave to fictional Juliet. The famous balcony was added in the 1930s, a cynical ploy to attract more tourists – and their disposable income – and now lends its name to a modern architectural horror.
It’s €10 to visit the interior of the house. For some that’s a price worth paying to have their photo taken on a 1930s replica of a 15th century balcony. In the courtyard below, the authorities have erected a bronze sculpture to represent Juliet. People rub its right breast hoping to find eternal love, because nothing says ‘romance’ more than gropping a stranger’s breast.
We studied a lot of Shakespeare at school, and I’ve long suspected he was responsible for many of the ills of the modern world. Finally, here in Verona, I had proof. I don’t want to appear po-faced (too late?), but we didn’t join the queue to crowd into the courtyard and gaze upwards at the fake 20th century balcony. Instead, we walked off the long trip from Berlin by exploring some of the atmospheric streets of non-fictional Verona.
Our trip across the Alps was made miserable by thunderstorms and torrential rain while dodging HGVs. It was only as we came out of the mountains and onto the plain near Verona that the sun emerged from behind the clouds. It brought to mind Romeo’s awestruck description of the effect Juliet had upon him, “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.”
Arriving in the early afternoon, we got our first sight of the historic centre while crossing the fast flowing River Adige. Italian drivers give no quarter and there is nothing pleasant about driving through the narrow streets of an ancient Italian town. Verona is no exception. It was a relief to park and not have to negotiate streets designed for medieval donkeys and carts – Verona and donkeys have a complicated relationship it turns out.
Verona is renowned for its culinary ‘delights’ as much as its long and storied history, and it was lunchtime. We found a table outside a fabulous deli in Piazza delle Erbe, the historic old market square. A selection of meats, cheeses and bread arrived and we settled down with a glass of local Soave to do some serious people watching. The sun was hot and after eating we strolled, taking in the sights and sounds.
We were still on the buzzing streets as the sun set and aperitivo hour was upon us. This is an Italian tradition I can wholeheartedly embrace. It had been a long day, and we headed back to the former Palazzo where we were staying. First though, we popped into a nearby osteria to try some local delicacies. One of which was stracotto d’asino. Bigoli pasta served with donkey ragù, washed down with Valpolicella. Donkeys and Verona, complicated. Sorry Eeyore.