The somewhat grainy photo on the left is of a time long ago when I was not yet twenty years old, on a wonderful school trip to Italy. I am standing on the veranda of the Palazzo Borromeo on Isola Bella. I always had a bit of wanderlust in my blood even though my family rarely left our home in Brooklyn, New York. About the only place we visited regularly was my maternal grandmother's home in rural Pennsylvania, and I'm sure my love for the country and old fashioned farm life came from those wonderful visits. But the desire to travel always burned bright in me and when I heard that my high school sponsored a two week trip to Italy every spring, I worked very hard to save my earnings from various part time jobs to be able to go in my senior year. This was the trip of a lifetime, and now that I am in my silver years I look back fondly at the experience, ever happy that I took the chance to go!
I bought many postcards on that trip as I was afraid my little Kodak instamatic camera would not capture the beauty before me. The photo on the right is showing Isola Bella, one of the Borromean Islands of Lake Maggiore in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. In 1632 Carlo III of the influential House of Borromeo began the construction of a palazzo dedicated to his wife, Isabella D'Adda, from whom the island takes its name. Isn't that a testimony to love? The island achieved its highest level of social success during the period of Gilberto Borremeo (1751–1837) when guests included Napoleaon and his wife Josephine.
Our tour of Italy began and ended in Milan, and we traveled to sixteen cities in two weeks. After touring Milan we traveled to Stressa in Piedmont, over the border at Ponte Tresa for a day in Switzerland to visit the Italian speaking section of Lugano, and then back again to Italy to tour Lake Como. We then went on towards Venice, stopping along the way in Verona, in the Veneto region of north east Italy. There we saw an ancient amphitheatre built by the Romans, and this famous and romantic sight...
My circa 1970's photo of the legendary Juliet's balcony at Villa Capuleti in Verona is on the left. The balcony scene in Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet, which was about young star crossed lovers of long ago whose tragic deaths are said to have ended a violent and long-standing war between two powerful families, supposedly took place here. The first accounts of Romeo and Juliet was in a "novella" by Luigi Da Porto (1531). He was a captain in the service of the Venetian Republic and he claimed that one of his bowmen, named Pellegrino da Verona, told him the true story of two unfortunate young lovers who had lived at the beginning of the 14th century and belonged to two rival families, the Capulets and the Montagues. This novel inspired a lot of other European writers, until it reached the peak of artistic expression in Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," written in 1596. A clearer postcard view of the same balcony from the 1970's is on the right. If you were to visit this courtyard today you would find a bronze statue of Juliet, large amounts of tourists, informational signs about the legend and many letters and notes attached to the walls from present day star crossed lovers who are asking Juliet for help. The letters are typically answered by the "secretaries of Juliet," who are volunteers from Verona who for more than 70 years have collected the notes and the letters that arrive in the mail by the thousands, and then write back to every single letter writer who gives an address!
An oil painting of Romeo and Juliet
Ford Maddox Brown 1821 - 1893
Delaware Art Museum
Which leads me to this charming movie, and the subject of this blog post: "Letters To Juliet" Please take a few moments to watch the movie trailer below:
Although I found the movie somewhat contrived and sappily sweet, it is certainly a fun movie to watch for Valentine's Day. You can easily find it on DVD. It's a delightful movie to watch for all its beautiful scenes of Italy and also to see the stately beauty of Vanessa Redgrave. If I can age as gracefully as she has, I would be a deliriously happy woman!
In reality a group of about 15 secretaries, the Club di Giulietta (link is to the English version), divides up according to their languages and romantic problems, the more than 5,000 written letters that also pour by mail into Verona, and answer them. Secretaries have been doing this since about 1940, when one of the caretakers of Juliet's house and tomb began answering the notes and letters that had been piling up for years. They even award a "Cara Giulietta" ("Dear Juliet") prize on Valentine´s Day to the most compelling letters received during the previous year.
You can also look for a copy of the Letters to Juliet book, which has nothing to do with the movie, but is also a charming story about these letters and the Juliet Club volunteers.
Roses in the Rose garden of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden
I'm sure you'd like to know if I left a letter for Juliet when I visited Verona so many years ago? Thankfully I didn't have to, as I met my future native born Italian husband two years later. But I did imagine him, and asked "the powers that be" to help me meet him at another very special and magical place.....and it wasn't even in Italy.....but that, as they say, is a story for a future blog post!
Happy Valentine's Day!
I'm linking this post to "Coast to Coast, The Colors" of Love at Candy's The Little Round Table, "Friday's Favorite Linky Party" on Sandi's blog Whistlestop Cafe Cooking, "Pink Saturday" on Beverly's blog "How Sweet the Sound," Laurie's "Valentine Party" on her blog Chatting and Bargain Hunting with Laurie, Mary's "Mosaic Monday" on her blog Dear Little Red House, and "Rednesday" at Sue's It's a Very Cherry World. Thank you all for your hospitality!