Romeo & Juliet’s Verona

I can safely say I’ve never been hugely fascinated by Shakespeare’s heart-wrenching “Romeo and Juliet”. I found the whole drama of the story a bit over the top as it centered on two teenagers who, by definition, weren’t mature enough to accumulate a feeling worth dying for. It’s more often than not hormones and a generally rebellious disposition that drive adolescents into bold and life-risking extremes. Set in Italy against a bitter family feud, this story about two turbulent, romance-seeking souls has an extra edge and zeal and keeps standing up as one of the most enduring love tales. More than that, I had difficulty in seeing what I would define as LOVE in this story… Would I define what it is if you asked me to? I don’t think I would but extravagant obsession was never part of it and that was what I saw underpinning a number of poor cinema adaptations and if you will, I might have them to blame for my nonchalant vision of Shakespeare’s piece. But forget about what I’ve just taken a liberty of saying and imagine me throwing my vision out of the window as I was sitting on the coach writing an intimate, heart-felt letter to… Juliet! Yes, a hormone-driven teenager who is a pure fiction!
That early cloudy morning we were on our way to Verona, a home place of the famous teenage couple. What was I doing writing that letter which I knew most probably wouldn’t ever be read, let alone replied to? Well, I thought this would be a beautiful ritual which would nurture my romantic side which had already been fuelled over the last couple of days. It wasn’t that teenage Juliet who stupidly ended up killing herself for “love” that I was writing to. What this letter did was reinforce my belief in love which hopefully existed. It also shed some light on what I wanted from life and love. The process of writing it was very beautiful and romantic and I don’t think I’d ever questioned the idea of writing to a fictional character I never took a liking to. I was just putting together the words strewn with a combination of emotions I never knew I could be experiencing venturing on doing something like this. I think if I read it now, I would chuckle but at the time it seemed quite natural to be let myself be taken over by romantic, sappy ideas… The rational part of me (the one that takes some time to mend when back home) was saying “What are you doing committing to paper some incoherent, quirky ideas and wishes, no one is going to read it at best and you might as well get ridiculed by whoever might happen to read this…”. The romantic bit of me (the one that wouldn’t drift away back home and makes you long to be back on the road again because this is how it stays alive) was savouring this moment and it is this part of me that told me I would be writing so extensively about it here…
Here we were in Verona, a beautiful city in Northern Italy. We didn’t have much time to spend here, that was going to be just a quick walking tour with a local guide who spoke a really nice Russian and looked very nice as you would expect an Italian lady to. That was in Italy that I saw ladies strut their stuff in quite high heels! Fashion-consciousness is something they were born with. I really loved how she said in Russian that she was from Verona. It sounded very cute the way she said it and it made me think about how this little phrase that people are taught to say in their first language classes comes to represent us to people outside our country… Я русская. I’m Russian. Ich bin Russin. Io sono Russa. Under certain circumstances, these words can be very important or just a conversation icebreaker… You have to experience saying them outside your country and that’s how you will get my point…
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The city was still quiet at this early hour… To my right I saw something which looked a lot like the Colosseum! Well, I knew I was in Italy after all but was there another, a smaller one? That was Arena di Verona, an amphitheatre which is still in use as a concert venue today. I wasn’t ready for seeing something like this knowing I wasn’t in Rome so I think it went a bit unappreciated…When you arrive here, you have to open up your mind to so much more that Verona has to offer except it being an alleged setting for Shakespeare’s story, otherwise you may miss out. We enjoyed a leisurely stroll of one of the main shopping streets. All these “Saldi” signs looked very inviting and shoes… Aw, they were beckoning for me it looked like paradise and I could only imagine walking the streets of Italy in one of these gorgeous pairs…
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Views of the Adige River and the feeling of tranquility I was having evoked a different side of Italy I wasn’t previously aware of…The city looked a small and comfortable place to be in… There is so much more history for me to learn before I can see beyond the tranquility of our stroll.
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The city seemed to be living at its own medieval pace and at one point when I was standing looking up at one of those very old buildings, I felt its decaying but enduring history looking back on me. Our very own and personal perception of history is shaped by moments like this… This is when it feels still living and breathing, you just need to stop to hear it… Verona streets are perfect for bonding with the history in quite an intimate and romantic way. I’m not sure if we have Romeo and Juliet to thank for that, though…
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Piazza delle Erbe was very evocative of ancient Romans as it was where the Forum was. The Italian word “piazza” (square) defines some really lively open space where people can casually hang out to have a chat or people-watch. Piazzas are usually lined with lovely cafes and restaurants if you want to enjoy a meal or sip on a drink while doing any of the above…It was quiet when we came but my mind was buzzing with images of the place in the late evening when people take to streets for their stroll… That had been the first piazza (not just what I would have called a square) I had encountered at that point with a real Italian feel to it. For a moment, it helped me to take my mind off this whole “Romeo and Juliet” thing because this idea of the association with the city made me feel pressured to feel as romantic as I possibly could… It was a really weird feeling… There was also a very beautiful and somehow warm Fontana dei Madonna Verona. It celebrates the warm and charming beauty of Verona and somehow posing beneath it felt a bit spiritual as if it was giving us some loving protection and guidance…I think I was starting to capture the spirit of Verona in this vibrant place… The souvenirs sold from stalls looked really lovely and homely…There was all that staff for your kitchen and so much more…
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You can go out of your way to try to escape the romanticism inspired by Romeo and Juliet but you really can’t because we were just on our way to Casa di Romeo through the streets coming alive. That wasn’t a very pretentious but rather low-key building where you truly had to let your imagination do the job for you… It was covered with inscriptions by lots and lots of people either desperate for romance or proclaiming their eternal love for each other… It all looked a bit too much… It was now time for the highlight of the tour, Juliet’s house and balcony. From about a distance away you could estimate how many people still believe in romance and someone special out there for them.
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Of course you know it’s all just a tourist trap because even the balcony was added to the house in the 20th century (obviously to make things slightly easier for our imagination). It was starting to rain and the place was packed with people from virtually everywhere but it was really romantic to be part of something celebrating something vague and intangible but something that we all want to believe exists… We were all there for one reason – LOVE… Celebrating it, asking for it, searching for it… It’s our curiosity about love that brought us there in the first place. There was one important ritual we were just about to take part in. There’s a statue of Juliet in the courtyard and you’re supposed to rub her right breast to be lucky in love. I have no clue where this whole tradition comes from but it really embraces the erotic aspect of love… Probably signorina Juliet doesn’t mind a bit of intimate contact as all the people wishing for luck in love seemed to be female…
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And we got to post our letters to Juliet! According to the film “Letters to Juliet”, there are secretaries employed to answer these letters! You might want to think of them as Juliet’s personal secretaries…Romeo, though, seems to be left out of the modern plot… It would take an insanely romantic to believe this letter would ever be answered… And what kind of answer would you expect? We just love the idea of putting a small piece of crumbled paper into a beautiful post box with lots of heart images in this crowded but cute courtyard celebrating the IDEA of love and… Shakespeare’s art which will be here forever…
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Before we left, we took a quick look at the street performers, got a few lovely souvenirs and munched on a much-needed fruit dessert which was a mixture of fruits put together in a bowl so in the end you got a mixture of flavours and it tasted like Italy and the sun which was hiding from us at that moment… It was just starting to rain again and the last thing I did in Verona was to ignore it and stop at a newspaper stand and ask if they had any British newspapers on sale. They had two! They got a bit wet in the rain but I felt so amazing reading these huge newspapers on the coach and feeling a bit British here in Italy…
Romeo and Juliet are one of the reasons people keep coming to this lovely city of Verona but there should be something else to it to make you want to come back or just really enjoy the city. And it has what it takes to be appreciated beyond all the romance. Of course there is a huge commercial aspect to this love tale but I think that this teenage couple makes for a very beautiful background to the subtle medieval charm of the city… When I look at this statue of Romeo and Juliet sitting on my desk locking their lips for a kiss, I know this is Verona, something passionate hiding in the rubble of time… Till after I’d visited Verona, I wasn’t properly aware of Romeo and Juliet being Italian and they have this exaggerated idea of love… Is love worth dying for? We’d rather not know and leave the tragic end out of the plot… Arrivederci, Verona! Arrivederci, Romeo e Giulietta!
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Author: Olga

An English teacher and translator, a keen traveller

7 thoughts on “Romeo & Juliet’s Verona”

  1. Hello there ! I just wrote you a card on Postcrossing and stumbled across your blog 🙂 I hope you get it soon ! Did you know that Verona isn’t the actual city of Romeo and Juliet ? It is actually Sienna, but Shakespeare moved it from Sienna to Verona. If you like to read, I really recommand “Juliet” by Anne Fortier, it’s a fictionnal novel but she talks about the transfer from one city to another and from the actual tail, since Shakespear isn’t it’s actual Daddy 🙂 (And Sienna seems absolutly beautiful aswell !)

    1. Bonjour! Thank you very much for my postcrossing card! I hope I will get it before I leave in two weeks. No, I didn’t know about that. Thanks for the book recommendation. Italy is gorgeous wherever you go there! You can read about France as well.

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