I had come to Verona, Italy for the Roman arena and the medieval castle but, somehow my feet wandered over to number 27 Via Capello, famously known as the “House of Juliet.” If I wasn’t such a fan of Shakespeare I wouldn’t have entered through the dark passageway into the courtyard. After all, this is not the real house of Juliet. It used to be a thirteenth century inn which was refurbished by the city in the twentieth century. In fact the tale of Juliet and her doomed lover Romeo was a work of fiction by Italian writer Luigi da Porto long before Shakespeare set his version down. But that is the power of a good story. The star-crossed sweethearts have been resuscitated in prose and poetry for centuries and its tragic romance attracts hundreds to the Casa di Giulietta in Verona. The house itself is not exceptional, but the fervency of those that come to visit here lends the ivy covered walls a forlorn romance.
The house’s entranceway is a long, covered walkway decorated with medieval crossbeams and overhead lamps. I maneuvered around the crowded passage where everyone busily pins their love notes to the walls. I passed a teenager weeping as she hunted for an unclaimed portion of wall on which to tie down her letter. I squeezed into the compact, cobbled inner courtyard where I watched the young men eagerly rubbing a bronze statue of Juliet standing underneath overhanging greenery. Directly above me a young woman proclaimed her passion to her paramour from the tiny balcony, while another clung onto the side eagerly scouring the men below as if certain one of them would turn out to be Romeo. They were all so eager in the search for ideal love, assured that if they could be in this vaunted atmosphere they would secure their perfect mate.
All this yearning made me think back to the story of Romeo and Juliet as I sat quietly hidden in one of the corner benches.
Much of Shakespeare’s play is driven by Fate rather than the willful choices of the characters. Romeo and Juliet are mostly led to their decisions by outside forces and await circumstance to discover the outcome of their next move. Yet another group of youngsters attempted to fasten their messages to an entry wall so covered with graffiti, chewed gum, and missives it looked like a Jackson Pollock mural. As I watched them struggle for a space, I wondered what drove so many to come here looking for answers to their love torn lives. Was it faith that the fictional Juliet, who had suffered so much at such a tender age, would heal their broken hearts? Was it desperation that this was the only place left to turn to for help? For a little while I was tempted to tack on a message myself. Though I had no current love conundrums that needed solutions, I could have used remedies for plenty of past failures. It felt a bit exciting and somewhat consoling to contemplate what the Juliet Club would say to my troubles. The club is a group of volunteers, formed by Veronese in the late twentieth century, who take the trouble to answer by hand each and every letter attached to the entry of Casa di Giulietta. Though their suggestions to me would be too late, I still pondered whether their advice would be useful any longer.
The club must feel like the Oracles at Delphi did: eagerly wanting to assist but reduced to offering vague platitudes and condolences. After all love, like life, is a risky game. There are never any straight answers, clear omens, or obvious directions to making the next move. Even past mistakes can sometimes take a long time to reveal themselves. I have often wished that life could be scripted, like one of Shakespeare’s performances, so that I would simply have to memorize my lines and watch the director for my cues. But, then, as I sit here watching these visitors in their quest for signs, I realize that what keeps life (and love) exciting is that none of us have the solutions. We are always taking a chance, a leap into the next turn. It might lead to something of incomparable delight or a soul crushing misery, but that very fact gives both love and life its power. As I move on from number 27 Via Capello to explore the rest of ancient Verona, I hope that those who leave their wishes fastened to the walls of Casa di Giulietta also continue to move forward, plunging into the next unknown adventure. While a reply to their plea may provide comfort, taking a chance will someday give them the answer.
For those on the path of Shakespeare’s ill fated paramours, there is a purported Casa di Romeo located a few passages away on Via Arche Scaligeri. Another restored medieval Veronese house, number 4 is one of the oldest surviving residencies in the city and still carries its original battlements.
For more on the Venetian region of Italy, pick up our Bespoke Traveler Journal: Into the Blue.