Love Letters to Juliet: Italian Secretaries Carry on Verona Letter Tradition

Featured, Italy, Love on the Road, Travel Philosophy — By on July 12, 2010 at 10:00 am

Screw mathematics. As corny as it sounds, love is the universal language. Women (and men) fall in love and have their hearts broken all over the world, every day. It doesn’t matter if you live in Asia, Africa, America or Antarctica, that punched-in-the-stomach, gray-tinged, floaty feeling will indefinitely happen to you at some point (if not already). It’s a normal thing to encounter on the bumpy road of dating. But, if you’ve recently had your heart broken, or if you’re looking for the courage to tell someone you love them, consider sending a love letter. Buried deep in Italy, in a little town called Verona (sound familiar?) there is a voluntary group of love-letter answering secretaries that promote the legend of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet by responding to thousands of letters pouring in from every country. They offer advice, support, and a listening ear for anyone who needs to talk about love. Lost Girl Michele Herrmann talked to some of the secretaries herself to find out more…sometimes putting pen to paper is the best way to say how you really feel.

By Michele Herrmann

In the film “Letters To Juliet,” actress Amanda Seyfried stumbles upon a 50-year-old love letter at Juliet’s House in Verona, Italy, among many left behind for the legendary girl. Inspired to write back, she sits in with volunteers that personally answers letters pouring in by the thousands.

In real life, these “secretaries” belong to the Club di Giulietta (Juliet’s Club), the organization that has carried on this tradition since the late 1980s.

What it’s All About: A Legendary Tale
The city where Romeo first met Juliet has strong ties to the legendary tale, a significant part of Verona’s culture and tourism. Before William Shakespeare’s famous play, the archetypal tale of two ill-fated young lovers from feuding families has been penned since ancient times. Similar Italian versions date back to the 15th and 16th centuries.

Juliet’s House (Casa di Giulietta) has been recognized by locals as early as the mid-1800s, according to Lise Friedman and Ceil Friedman’s book “Letters to Juliet: Celebrating Shakespeare’s Greatest Heroine, the Magical City of Verona, and the Power of Love”. A dal Cappello family had owned the building and the supposed family crest is carved in the courtyard’s vault keystone.

Restoration in the1940′s added a rose window, a gothic-style, doorway and a balcony to the facade. A bronze statue of Juliet stands in the courtyard. Due to visitors adhering their notes to the home’s walls with chewing gum, white plasterboard was placed over the walls after they got a vigorous cleaning in 2005.

A building said to be Romeo’s home is a short walk from hers. Juliet’s tomb, located at a monastery, is also nearby.

Answering Letters Sent from Countries Worldwide

Then:
Ettore Solimani, a custodian for Juliet’s tomb, started the practice of answering notes left behind by visitors at the tomb in the thirties. He became the first”secretary” by replying as the voice of Juliet. Then letters from overseas began coming in following the release of George Cukor’s 1936 film version of Romeo and Juliet.

When Solimani retired, a Veronese professor named Gino Beltramini continued the practice. Club di Giulietta originated from a group of artists and friends who gathered to discuss Verona’s culture in the seventies. The city’s mayor asked its founder Guilio Tamassia, a retired bakery manager who still serves as club’s president, to take care of and reply to the letters. The town pays for postage bills.

Now:

Presently, the club consists of 15 secretaries and two of them are male, according to Secretary Elena Marchi. Membership is open to anyone interested in becoming a secretary. There is a “testing period” in which the elder secretaries check on and advise newer ones.

There are no term limits. “I have been doing this for seven years,” says Marchi. “Some secretaries have been here even for fifteen or twenty years.”

Who are the Secretaries:

The secretaries span in age from 20 to 55 with a mix of marital statuses: married, divorced, single, and engaged. Their individual occupations range from tour guide to translator to ballet dancer. “Some [secretaries] come to the club once or twice a week,” says Marchi, “some every day; some once in a while and reply to the letters at home, but we all do it for free.”

Bilingual skills are helpful. Club members are capable of translating letters written not just in English and Italian, but also in German, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese. “If we receive a letter in some other language, we always look for someone who can help us translate it,” explains Marchi.

Who Writes the Love Letters to Juliet?

With love being the main focus, letter writers often express their concerns and feelings about various issues: heartbreak, unrequited love, even mustering the courage to tell someone how they feel. Or some just feel a need to talk about love itself.

“They do ask for advice but I think that what people need most is not the real solution to a problem, but someone that listens to them,” notes Marchi. She adds there are some letters that begin with: “Dear Juliet, you are the only one who can understand how I feel.”

With responses, Marchi says the secretaries don’t try to specialize in certain relationship problems. “People don’t look for a ‘technical’ answer,” she explains. “You have to be a sensitive, empathetic, open-hearted person, and always bear in mind that you write on behalf of Juliet, who has become the universal symbol of romantic love because she was a strong, brave and passionate young girl.”

Letters penned by men are increasing, but still 75 percent are written from women. Most letters are sent through regular mail, but the club now receives e-mails.

Every year, on Valentine’s Day, the club awards their “Cara Giulietta” (“Dear Juliet”) prize to the most compelling letter sent to her. Celebrities such as singer Andrea Bocelli and Franco Zeffirelli, who directed the 1968 Romeo and Juliet film version, have participated in the ceremony.

Letters Keep Pouring In:

On average, the club receives about 5,000 letters annually. There has been a jump in those sent from the United States, credited to the “Letters to Juliet” film. Marchi and her fellow secretaries got to meet the cast at the film’s premiere in Verona in May.

“Although we are doing our best, it might take a little longer to get a reply,” adds Marchi.

Learn more about Club di Guilietta online at www.julietclub.com. Need Juliet’s help? Those who wish to send a letter can do so to:
Club di Giulietta
Via Galilei 3 – 37100 Verona, Italy
Tel: (+39) 045 533115

[email protected]

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