Hers was a story that would encapsulate the meaning of enduring love for all time. Although star-crossed from the start, the tangled sentiments of passionate love and loss surrounding Shakespeare’s famed heroine still prevail beyond her mythical existence.
Attesting to these truths, missives arrive daily from all parts of the world to Verona seeking solace and comfort from Romeo’s beloved. They are addressed simply to - Juliet, Verona, Italy.
Handwritten letters decorated with floral borders and drawings all arrive in hope of a response, but who will reply? The Secretaries of Juliet of course!
Facing the courtyard of Juliet’s home, in view of the famed balcony is where the office of the Juliet Club or the Club di Giulietta is located in Verona. This second floor office is where the essence of her passion is breathed anew with every hand written reply.
Each year more than 5,000 letters are received by the Club di Giulietta, and with the newly released Hollywood film – ‘Letters to Juliet’ starring Amanda Seyfried of Mamma Mia fame, Gael García Bernal and Vanessa Redgrave, the numbers have been greater.
|Recreating the past: Some of Juliet’s secretaries on the famed balcony in Verona
At present, Juliet’s band of secretaries’ number 15 volunteers (two of them being male) from all walks of life- tour guide, ballet dancer, student, translator, - says 46-year-old Elena Marchi (EM). Elena has volunteered as a Secretary of Juliet for seven years. Having worked as a translator, she comes to the club every day to attend to letters and secretarial work.
The following is an email interview conducted by the Sunday Times with Elena about the Club and their role in giving voice to a fictional heroine.
Q: Could you give us a brief idea about the history behind the Secretaries of Juliet and how the Club di Giulietta got involved in the replying of letters?
EM: In the 1930s the guardian at Juliet's tomb, Ettore Solimani, started doing this (replying letters addressed to Juliet). Then other people, like a famous Veronese Professor, did it over the years until the birth of the Juliet Club.
The Juliet Club was a group of friends, mainly artistes, who gathered, back in the 1970s, to talk about Verona and various cultural issues. Twenty five years ago the Mayor of Verona asked Giulio Tamassia (still our President) to take care of the letters and start replying them.
Q: Who pays for the postage of the letters?
EM: Verona City Council pays for the stamps. We work for free.
Q: What sort of background do the Secretaries of Juliet come from?
EM: Our ages span from 20 to 55 years of age. Four of us are married, one divorced, some are single, and some engaged. We are volunteers and have other jobs. Some of us come to the club once or twice a week, some every day, some once in a while and we reply the letters at home.
Q: What are the traits that a volunteer should have?
EM: You don’t have to be a psychologist to answer the letters. People don’t look for a “technical” answer. You have to be a sensitive, empathetic, open-hearted person and always bear in mind that you write on behalf of Juliet, who has become the universal symbol of romantic love because she was a strong, brave and passionate young girl.
Q: Do you all choose which letters to reply to?
EM: We reply all the letters
Q: How long would it take for someone to receive a reply? Are they all hand written?
EM: About one month, maybe more now because of the bulk of letters that have started coming in after the film “Letters to Juliet” came out. All letters are hand written. We also receive some emails (not on Facebook though).
Q: What does it mean to be a volunteer at the Juliet Club?
EM: I have read thousands of letters, but there is always something new. They give you an intimate view of the world of feelings, of love and get you in touch with people from different countries and ages. It makes me feel good to see that so many people still care about love.
Q: When writing responses do you ever stop and think to yourself- ‘What would Juliet have said?’ since you are her voice?
EM: I do think about this but I also use my experience as a present day woman.
Q: What is the most common theme that runs through these letters?
EM: People often look for advice but what they need most is for someone to listen to them. They tell Juliet about their love lives but also about friendships, family and other problems. People often write "You are the only one who can understand how I feel".
Q: How do you know if the advice that you give is correct? Are you worried about how to respond?
EM: I am not worried to say the wrong thing. As long as you truly listen to the person who is opening his or her heart to you and you try to be of help I don’t think you can do any harm, quite the opposite.
Q: What do you feel is Juliet’s role in replying these letters – to give advice or to listen? – is she allowed to judge?
EM:Juliet never judges! What people need most is someone who listens to them, like a friend. You don’t expect friends to solve your problems. You just need them to be there for you when you need help and support.
Q: What about letters that need to be translated?
EM: We can deal with English, French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Russian and Italian of course. When we get a letter in a different language (for ex. we had Polish, Flemish, Chinese, Portuguese) we look for someone who can help us with it but this is an exception. It is always us secretaries who read and reply in the original languages.
Q: Since the release of the movie ‘Letters to Juliet’, has there been a greater awareness of your work? What has the response been like?
EM: Many more letters and interviews for sure but also new volunteers.
The best epistle of love
Each year, on Valentine’s Day, the club awards their “Cara Giulietta” (“Dear Juliet”) prize to the most beautiful letter sent to her. This year the event takes place today February 13. The prize winners who are invited to Verona are guests of the city and receive their prize at Juliet’s house. We reproduce below one of the winning entries at this year’s competition.
I need your advice. I am in love with the boy who I believe was made for me. We shared a summer. And now it has been over a year since we have seen each other. Over a year since we were on the same continent.
He unknowingly changed the way I view life, and therefore the way I live my life. He is one of those spectacular persons that made me feel more alive than ever before. During our time together, a part of me was awakened that I had completely forgotten about...thirst and passion and wonder and awe of life.
If I never see him again I will die a happy person knowing I had for a brief moment- what- to me was one of those beautiful and perfect experiences in life where time just stopped...for two whole months. Nothing mattered to me- I lost all of my worry- and really, it never came back entirely.
I last saw him the day before our birthday in 2009... Yes, we share the same day. Only, I am 6 years older. I know that might seem like a lot- (especially since I am the girl), but it never meant a thing to me. He is an old soul- wise beyond his years, yet in need of something. I want to give him all the love in the world. I want to show him that love doesn’t have to end in pain. That it doesn't have to abandon. He is my heart...I don’t think I have gone more than an hour in the last year- since the day I met him- without thinking about him. Am I pining? Am I mad? I have let go and let go and let go over and over again all year long. But when someone hold such a huge place in your heart- it is impossible to completely let them go- or give up that hope. All I want is love- and he is afraid of it- which makes sense. He has never told me that, but I know he is.
He is in the UK. I am in the US.
I have been planning to move to Spain for a year to teach English and study Spanish.
I am passionate about travel, and want to see the world and meet new people. I just turned 28, and feel the time is right in my life to pick up and explore. I love my life and NY (where I live), but I grew up in the South, and feel that there is so much out there to see that I need to while I am young.
My mother is not enthusiastic about me leaving the US for that long. I am the oldest child, so her opinion weighs heavy on me. I feel guilty and selfish for wanting to leave. And what makes it worse of course, is that I know as well as you do- part of- a large part of- why I want to go to Europe is because I will be closer to him.
Accessible. is it stupid to go? Should I go? Everything in me wants to go with all of my heart. But, my mother's sweet and sad voice stops me. I am afraid if I don't go I
will either never get over him, or always wonder "what if". I feel like I am going crazy.
Am I crazy?
Should I blow all of my savings and go? Please- tell me what I should do?!
Thank you so much for reading this, Juliet.
All my love,
Need Juliet’s help? Then send her a letter to: Club di Giulietta
Via Galilei 3 – 37100 Verona, Italy
Or email : firstname.lastname@example.org.