Earlier this week when I posted about the Snail Mail Movie Club, a number of people gave me some wonderful recommendations for snail-mail-themed movies to watch. One of them was Letters to Juliet, which I duly watched on iTunes a couple of nights ago.
Have you seen it? The premise is that people write letters to Juliet Capulet (of Romeo and Juliet fame), mostly about their love-lives, and leave them on a wall opposite the balcony in Verona where once the original Juliet sighed and pondered “What’s in a name?” (It doesn’t seem to matter to them that Juliet is a purely fictional character.)
So far, it’s just a kind of sweet “passing through” tradition, like leaving a padlock on the Pont des Arts in Paris. But the best part of THIS story is that a group of women who call themselves the “Secretaries of Juliet” hand-write answers to each and every letter.
After I finished watching the movie I looked this tradition up and, with a lovely sense of “rightness” in the world, I found out it was true!
Apparently it all started more than 100 years ago, when visitors began to leave notes at Juliet’s supposed tomb. But the tradition really found its feet in 1937, when the then-custodian of Juliet’s tomb, Ettore Solimani, began replying to the notes, simply styling himself “Juliet’s Secretary.”
In the letters, which came from all over the world but were predominantly from adolescent American girls, people told Juliet their hopes and dreams. They shared their stories. They asked for her advice, they asked for her help.
“Help me! Save me!” one Italian woman wrote to Juliet, after her husband had left her. "I feel suspended on a precipice. I am afraid of going mad.”
Juliet, through Solimani replied, “Men have moments when they are unable to control themselves… Have faith… The day of humiliation will come for the intruder, and your husband will come back to you.” I hope everything worked out for her, whether he returned or not.
(That exchange came from a 2006 article in the New York Times, taken in turn from the book Letters to Juliet by Lise and Ceil Friedman, which I’ve ordered online but not yet read).
I love Solimani’s extravagant eccentricity in taking on the role of Juliet’s Secretary, a title he held for 20 years until he retired in the late 1950s. Stories tell that he created a series of rituals for visitors to the tomb, inviting them to make wishes that he promised would come true, and training turtle doves to alight on female visitors.
These days, the Secretaries of Juliet are a team of letter-writers, volunteers engaged by the City of Verona, called the Club di Giulietta. They answer all the letters, in every language, contracting translators if necessary. If you want to, you can even volunteer as a secretary yourself!
If a self-funded trip to Verona is a bit beyond the budget right now, you might still want to share your stories and dreams with Juliet, or seek her advice, at any time.
"Who knows if Juliet can really solve the problems in the matter of love, if she can make a dream come true or give hope to lovelorns… Sure is that this phenomenon has taken on global dimensions and has become part of the collective imagination,” her Secretaries say.
If you’d like to write to Juliet, simply addressing your letter to “Juliet in Verona” will be enough, but her formal address is:
Giulietta Capulet Club di Giulietta Via Galilei, 3 Verona Italy