The Italian Almanac


Italian News - May 20

"Dear Juliet," the letters all begin.

Every week, hundreds of letters pour into the office of the Club di Giulietta, in Verona, Italy, the city that is the setting for Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." Some are addressed simply "To Juliet, Verona," but the postman always knows to deliver them to the club's Via Galilei headquarters. Every letter is answered by the club's group of volunteers, no matter what the language, sometimes with the assistance of outside translators. (In the past, the owner of a local Chinese restaurant helped.)

"Help me! Save me!" wrote an Italian woman whose husband had left her. "I feel suspended on a precipice. I am afraid of going mad." Her answer came from Ettore Solimani, who was the custodian of Juliet's tomb for nearly 20 years, beginning in the 1930s. "Men have moments when they are unable to control themselves," he wrote. "Have faith," Solimani added later in the letter. "The day of humiliation will come for the intruder, and your husband will come back to you."

Now two American sisters, Lise and Ceil Friedman, have put some of the letters and a few of the responses into a book, "Letters to Juliet," along with the story of the club and the play's historical background. It is being published in November by Stewart, Tabori & Chang.

The myth of Romeo and Juliet -- and it is something of a myth -- has become vital to the tourism industry in Verona, where Juliet's house and tomb are supposedly located. Giulio Tamassia, president of the Club di Giulietta, has said that the house on Via Cappello has been called "Juliet's" only since the 19th Century. And the balcony on its front dates from the first half of the 20th Century. (Shakespeare mentions no balcony in the play. For her famous Act II, Scene II speech, Juliet comes from "above.")

Outside stands a bronze statue of Juliet. Tourists rub the right breast for good luck. It is now considerably shinier than the left.