Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? Face it, we’ve all wanted a love like Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (okay, without the double-suicide, but still.) Even in 2022, hoards of hopeless romantics travel all of the way to Verona, Italy in hopes that one of the most romantic cities in the world might give them some luck in love. I’ve been obsessed with Verona (and Italy) since 2010, when my fifteen year-old heart was forever changed by Letters to Juliet, a romantic comedy starring Amanda Seyfried and Vanessa Redgrave.
In the movie, Seyfried plays Sophie, a wannabe journalist who travels to Verona with her soon-to-be husband, Victor, while he visits potential vendors for his new restaurant. Sophie wanders to Casa di Giulietta (Juliet’s House) a top tourist attraction in Verona, and sees countless women leaving letters to Juliet in an old wall just a stone’s throw away from her famous balcony. After a few minutes of snooping, Sophie finds a letter written some 50 years ago, and later discovers the Secretaries of Juliet, who respond to each and every letter that is written and left behind. Of course, this particular letter got lost and Sophie makes it her mission to respond, even a half century later. What ensues is a heartwarming romp through the Tuscan countryside as Sophie and friends try to reunite long lost lovers.
Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, sort of. In February of this year, I found myself in Italy as an au pair after quitting my full-time marketing job. I spent three months with a wonderful family just outside of Florence, and I was lucky enough to travel around on the weekends to see more of the beautiful country. Of course, number one on my list of places to visit was Verona, strictly because of my obsession with theatre and obviously, Letters to Juliet. Yes, I really do love that movie, even 12 years later. I called up my weekend traveling buddy, Jess, who was also an au pair nearby, and as fate would have it, she had just learned that the Secretaries of Juliet were real. The secretaries are actually a group of volunteers in the Club di Giulietta (The Juliet Club) who read and respond to thousands of letters from all over the world addressed to Juliet. Even better than the club actually being real, they accept any volunteer who wants to sit with them and respond to letters. I couldn’t think about anything else – I had to go meet them.
After solidifying a date and time with a leader of the club and writing letters to Juliet ourselves, Jess and I made our way to the office of Club di Giulietta. It was very unassuming, tucked away from the bustling crowds of tourists in the streets waiting to rub one of Juliet’s boobs for good luck (yes, I’m serious.) We said to each other that if you didn’t know it was here, you really wouldn’t know it was here. There’s no big sign that says “Juliet Club This Way!” like there is with just about every other popular destination in Italy. We rang and they buzzed us in, but the woman I spoke with over email was nowhere to be found and the ladies that were running the show that day had no idea we were coming (thank you, language barrier!) Even still, they warmly welcomed us inside and explained what to do. “Find a letter in your language and respond with words of encouragement!” There were boxes upon boxes stacked haphazardly on a shelf, each labeled Inglese, Spagnolo or Italiano. Obviously we grabbed a box of English letters and went to work. Among some of the letters that I got to read and respond to were a 14 year-old girl asking Juliet to describe what love feels like, a middle-aged woman who couldn’t get over her first romance, and young lesbian whose parents didn’t approve of her relationship, much like Romeo and Juliet themselves. If it wasn’t already apparent, I’m a bit of a hopeless romantic so I admit to shedding a few tears while I was reading and writing.
I am in total awe of the work that the Secretaries have put into this project since its inception in 1972. They are 100% volunteer-run, but do accept donations from the public to help fulfill their mission of keeping the legend of Romeo and Juliet alive. The Secretaries archive every single letter they receive, and have even published a book, Dear Juliet, of their favorite “Letters from the Lovestruck and Lovelorn.” The Juliet Club doesn’t only answer letters though. They also collaborate with Fenix Live to give couples the wedding of their dreams in the Town of Love. Who wouldn’t want engagement pictures taken on that famous balcony? They offer a variety of packages to suit different needs so that any lucky couple can “say yes in Verona.”
Throughout my time in Italy, my experience with the Secretaries of Juliet in Verona sits at the top of my list of favorite memories. Being able to participate in something that had long been only an abstract idea from a fairytale movie meant so much to me. Verona itself is striking, and I actually preferred it over my weekend in Rome, though that could be because we were violently hungover and hanging by a thread at the Colosseum. Nah, that’s probably not it!
by Alletta Gentry