Monday, February 1, 2010

Oh Verona, Verona...Where Art Thou----Reminiscing...

Reminiscing Verona….
Just before reading Robin Maxwell’s splendid book, O, Juliet, I became a bit uneasy about the author’s nestling the lovers’ location in Florence, as opposed to the legendary Verona.  Robin and I exchanged a few emails regarding this delicate point and the reasons as to why she chose this location.  Although her explanation and research methods proved quite convincing, I still wasn’t sure that I’d approve.  For me, this sort of took away from the magic of the place…and then… I read the book. 

(Release Date:  Feb. 2, 2010.  Be sure to visit Historical Fiction Bloggers Round Table  -click on Charter Members on right sidebar to ENTER GIVEAWAY).
Let me just clear the air right now and say that the Florence location in O, Juliet fit in wonderfully with the plot! The story is breath-taking and the setting was perfect! (Read my review of O, Juliet, + Giveaway here).
So, why was the different location such a problem for me?  After all, R & J’s tragedy is but a tale!
Here I go…
As some of you already know, other than being born a Canadian, my roots are from Venice.  Both my parents were born and raised in Vicenza…very near Verona…
Suffice it to say that I spent most of my summers, up until I got married, in this beautiful part of the world- vacationing and staying at my grandmother’s home in Vicenza.  Although a widow by the age of 50, my grandmother (Nonna) loved flamboyance in her life.  And although she was a devout Catholic who prayed and went on pilgrimages, she did not shy away from entertaining, traveling and the fashion world.  Her life was filled with art- the religious, the fashionable- and, the historical as well.  As a matter of fact, I’d like to think that it was her interest in all of this that helped evoke my own passion for history, languages and the arts.
Where does Verona fit in all this?  Well, there used to be a little old seamstress,( back in the 60’s), I forget her name, but my grandmother called her  ‘la Sarta Veronese’ (The Veronese Seamstress)- or - la Vecetta de Verona (the little old lady from Verona, spoken in Venetian).  She would sew exquisite wardrobes for my Nonna, and …she lived in Verona, on Via Mazzini.  This road leads right into (almost stuck to/ or just a few steps from) Via Cappello.  Cappello is the street where Juliet’s house is on!
From about the age of five or six, my grandmother would take me with her to Verona 2 or 3 times a summer for her fittings.  As my grandmother was quite busy with the seamstress, I was allowed to play outside with the children of the piazzetta.  I don’t know how I met them, but all I remember is that I knew them to somehow be my good friends.  I guess times were different back then- less danger- less fears- who knows; nevertheless, I was allowed to roam freely in the streets of Verona! 
Our favourite game was hide-and –seek in Juliet’s courtyard! just a few steps from where my granny was being fitted.  How many times I ran and even climbed the muretto, or hid behind vines.  I also remember running through the sort-of-portico in the house.  I may have been reprimanded a few times by the ladies who swept the place, but honestly, I don’t remember the crowds, or the entrance fees to what is now a museum…
All I can remember is running freely in and out of the courtyard with my friends- eating a ‘merendina’ by the steps and soon hearing my grandmother calling from the street that it was again time to leave.  I had the most fun ever- even under the rain!  I loved those trips by ‘corriera’ (a type of villager bus) to the seamstress. I can still hear my grandmother’s words:  “Don’t go to far to play- Just go to Giulietta’s and stay there, where I’ll know to find you.” I have fond memories of this. 
I also remember the statue of Juliet in the courtyard.  It’s made of bronze and if you rub her right breast, it’s believed that it will bring you luck in love.  All of us tried to reach up to her breast to touch it- being so small at the time- giggling all the while.  There were always a few boys showing off (wow they seemed so big but were probably not older than 10 years-old) trying to actually reach up to Juliet to audaciously plant a kiss on her lips!
As I grew older, I went less and less to the courtyard, except for the occasional walk through it to share a talk with my friends from the neighborhood.  But then, as time passed, Nonna stopped going to La Sarta Veronese.  Time moved on for everyone- Nonna aging and needing less, and the seamstress eventually passed away.
So who could tell me that Juliet didn’t actually live there?  I grew up listening to stories that talked about a 13th c  Cappello family who lived on the very street named after them.  My grandmother along with others insisted that the story of Giulietta was based on actual history.  It was told to me over and over again that Pellegrino, a Verona native and bowman in the service of the Venetian Republic in the 16th c spoke of these lovers from his hometown.  He told all about it to his Captain, Luigi Da Porto- who went on to write the first great Novella of Romeo and Juliet based on Pellegrino’s recollection passed on through time.
The people of Verona are very proud of this site, and yet so very non-chalant about it all, as well.  It was easy for me to play at Giulietta’s- a hub for many children at the time.  I doubt that with all of its popularity the place is still quiet nowadays, but I hear that it’s still possible to roam through it peacefully if you go very early in the morning or late afternoon…
Now… can you blame me for pledging my loyalty to Verona and for not wanting to believe otherwise?

Verona officially celebrates Juliet’s Birthday on September 16th
1)       Did you know that there is actually a Juliet Club?
Where you can write letters of love and have them answered?  It’s run by a group of volunteers and the whole operation has been going on for over 70 years!  Apparently, letters swarm into Verona by the truckload and each and everyone of them gets answered. 
A book about these letters and the stories of the people behind the scenes has been written :  Letters to Juliet, by Lise Friedman and Ceil Friedman  

2)      There’s also a movie that will be coming out in May about an American girl who finds a letter to Juliet. Title: Letters to Juliet.  You can also watch the trailer here:

3)       Wouldn’t you love to eat some Baci di Giulietta (Juliet Kisses)?  This place has the most awesome delicacies ever!  Once on Via Cappello and now on Via Verdi, Pasticceria Perlini makes these delicious kisses- and you can order from them directly. See here for more details:

So where do I go when I feel the irresistible need to see Verona again?  One of my favourite blogs to visit is run by the sweetest lady ever, Valeria from Verona Daily Photo
Valeria posts the most awesome pictures.  She also writes a brief caption that is always interesting and with some fascinating bit of news or history attached to it.  I love her blog and consider it one of the most complete and in-depth sites on Verona.  Please visit her to see what I mean.
For now, I leave you with some of Valeria’s superb photos of Verona…of course, these are all Romeo and Juliet related:)

Some tourists on Juliet's balcony

Look at the crowd nowadays visiting Juliet's house.  Those are are all love notes and love wishes stuck on the walls.

Overhead shot of Juliet's house.

Juliet's Grave

Romeo's house is the one that looks like a little fortress.

In honour of the Lovers patron Saint...Here is Verona in Love during St. Valentine's Week.  It draws lovers from around the world.


Arleigh said...

Thank you for sharing this with us Lucy! What it must be like to live in such a place! You're so lucky to have had that experience!

Lucy said...

Oh I know! Thanks Arleigh- I so treasure the the memories:)

BurtonReview said...

How utterly fantastic. This is going to be one of my favorite all EBJ posts EVER (sorry, Josephine!) I loved hearing your attachment to Verona, and the history behind Juliet as you know it. It is so awesome! (* No I don't blame you!!)

Thanks for adding all those extra links too, the Letters to Juliet program that has been going on for 70 years sounds so inspiring. I would love to know more about that.
Wonderful post, Lucy! LOVE IT!

Christina T said...

Thank you for sharing your story. You had an interesting childhood! I've always wanted to go to Italy. Now if I ever get the chance I will try to visit Verona. I also didn't realize that Letters to Juliet was based on something real.

Now I want to read O, Juliet to see a different version of the tale than Shakespeare's.

brokenteepee said...

What delightful memories. Thank you.

Robin Maxwell said...

Wow, Lucy! You had me at "Oh, Verona". What a completely fascinating post. What made it so special was its personal nature, and the beautifully written descriptions chock full of FEELINGS. That's what makes for great writing. I wanted to be a little girl with you visiting Verona with your Nonna, skipping in and out of Juliet's courtyard. I think there's a short story lurking in this piece.

May said...

Thank you so much, Lucy, for sharing these memories. A splendid and heartfelt post!

Michelle Stockard Miller said...

You are so lucky to have had these experiences! Now I know why you are so in love with Venice. Thank you for sharing! Regarding the book, Letters to Juliet, I bought it at a used book sale awhile back. It is a beautiful book! I'm also looking forward to the looks really good.

Lizzie said...

I have to agree with Marie this is my favorite post you have ever done! Wonderful I loved the family history and your experiences LOVED it. I am really going to have to go there someday it just looks beautiful!

Okay so what is the statue in the left window of the picture of the Balcony? The man, it looks really pretty and holy cow does that staue have a nice tushy.

Tudor Daughter said...

Lucy this was just amazing! What a treat. Do you speak fluent Italian. My son went on his mission for our church to Northern Italy. He was 6 months in Vicenza, it was his favorite area. The pictures are beautiful!

JaneGS said...

What a lovely personal story about Verona--thanks for sharing that! Many years ago on a business trip, we drove from Munich to Milan, and we we close enough to Verona that insisted we stop so that I could take a picture of was my first trip to Europe and I wasn't missing an opportunity like that!

Can't wait to read this book.

Ingrid Mida said...

What a poignant and tender story you have told. I could just picture you as a little girl, blonde hair flying loose behind you as you ran through those hallowed streets. What a beautiful post. Thank you!

Lucy said...

I want to Thank you all for understanding the depth of my post and enjoying it! I'm touched by all your comments- Thank YOu so much:)

Verona is definitely in my heart:)

Unknown said...

Oh thank you for sharing that info with us Lucy - it is wonderful getting to hear about your childhood in such a wonderful place. I got sucked into your story. I can understand why changing the location could have been an issue for you!

Allie ~ Hist-Fic Chick said...

Okay, so I have been saving this post for a time when I knew I would be able to sit down and really savor it. I have been so looking forward to this post since you fist told us you would be writing it. And WOW - it did not disappoint! It has been so lovely getting to know you via e-mail and via your blog and now via this incredible story of your childhood.

I can totally see why you were hesitant at first to embrace a story that moved R&J to Florence, but I am also glad that you loved that version as well. And let me also say that I had NO idea that Juliet was for certain a real historical character. Robin had told me that in her research, she found that the feud between the families originated in Florence (the whole issue with the Guelphs and Ghibellines), and you also told me that there were two lovers whose tale went like this, in Verona, but I didn't realize that there was an actual Juliet tomb! And that the balcony was for real! Robin directed me to the Letters to Juliet site so I had seen the photos, but figured it was more legend than historical fact. I had NO idea how much this story truly is a part of the culture of Verona. Fabulous post and thank you so much for enlightening me to the real history here!! It's fascinating!

Passages to the Past said...

This is the coolest post Lucy! I too think it's one of your best. I think because the more I read about you, the more intrigued I am. You are fascinating my dear!

What an amazing woman that Nonna was - I can see where you get it!

The pictures are great too. And I so want to visit with my husband during Valentine's.

Thank you for posting this Lucy!!

Jenny Girl said...

I had no idea and can see why Verona will always be in your heart. I have never been to Italy and would love to go someday. What special memories to share with us. Thank you Lucia.

Amanda said...

That has to be one of the coolest stories I've heard in a while. You are so lucky to have such a wonderful childhood and what memories! I had no clue about Verona's tribute to Juliet. Thanks for the post!

Jackson Fredericks said...

Stayed in Verona for a few nights following a fly-drive to the gorgeous Lake Garda. Had booked from the UK with city breaks operator lowcostholidays. While Verona was a nice, clean city with plenty of history - so extremely photogenic, I was very disapointed with the Juliet balcony. Chiefly, because it was over-run with tourists and over time, the surrouding walls were ruined by idiots who had scribbled graffiti 'love' messages everwhere. Otherwise nice city.