"The" Gentleman of Verona

Da molti anni il Club di Giulietta a Verona si occupa di rispondere a migliaia di messaggi indirizzati all’eroina shakespeariana da ogni parte del mondo. Grazie ad un team di volontarie, le Segretarie di Giulietta, ogni lettera viene letta, tradotta e risposta e poi conservata nell’archivio del Club che contiene migliaia di storie d’amore. Nel 1930, Ettore Solimani, il custode della Tomba di Giulietta, iniziò a raccogliere le prime missive che i turisti lasciavano in cerca di consiglio e, commosso dal fenomeno, ebbe l’idea di rispondere. Il Club nacque poi a Verona nel 1972 su proposta di Giulio Tamassia e di un gruppo di artisti ed intellettuali accomunati dalla passione per la leggenda shakespeariana. Da anni, grazie alla collaborazione di associati, enti e istituzioni, il Club di Giulietta organizza anche il concorso “Cara Giulietta” che ogni anno premia le lettere più belle; il “Compleanno di Giulietta”, una festa cittadina per celebrare la nascita di Giulietta Capuleti e il premio letterario internazionale “Scrivere per Amore”.

The Juliet Club in Verona, Italy has been answering letters written to the famous literary heroine since 1930 when Ettore Solimani, the guardian of Juliet’s Tomb, began responding to the Juliet Letters people left by her grave, thus becoming the first “Juliet’s Secretary.”{mprestriction ids="*"} Since then, the Juliet Club responds to every single one of the thousands of letters that arrive from all over the world. In 1972, Giulio Tamassia and a group of artists and scholars created the Juliet Club. United by a passion for the Shakespearian legend, the nonprofit cultural organization also organizes other initiatives such as “Dear Juliet,” a prize awarded to the most beautiful letters, “Juliet’s Birthday,” an annual celebration, and “Scrivere per amore” (Writing for love), a literary award for love novels. Recently, one of La Gazzetta Italiana’s contributing writers spent time among the members of the Juliet Club and she shares her story with us.

That of Romeo and Juliet is a tale as old as time and man: to love and to be loved. Shakespearean love found its epicenter in the idyllic and romantic city of Verona, Italy. It’s incredible to know that he never actually visited the city but simply imagined it. You need not wear rose-colored glasses to perceive the magic and romance that this special capsule holds. Since I have lived here almost half of this year, I can officially attest to this.

So, as I studied I discovered and explored the city more and more, I knew I would have liked to spend an afternoon at Juliet’s Club, learn more about the organization, meet Juliet’s secretaries and respond to a few love letters. Elena, who has now volunteered as one of Juliet’s secretaries for nearly 15 years, welcomed me with a beautiful smile, a kind enthusiasm and was so eager to show me Juliet’s current club. She also brought me to a secret spot: the archives that contain more than 25 years of love letters to Juliet.

I was truly taken by her authentic “love” and “passion” for the organization. I learned it was made up of only volunteers, many of which were from Verona, but a large number who visit from around the world for a few days, weeks and sometimes even months simply to help out and respond to the overwhelming 60,000 letters arriving each year. The more I learned, the more I was fascinated. Here is a group of volunteers who genuinely dedicate their time to an epistolary tradition that has existed for now nearly 30 years. The city of Verona, itself, finances the return stamps on the replies. In fact, they had to open an independent post office just for all the letters and packages arriving for Giulietta!

How does this club survive? I asked myself. How do they pay bills? Who is the person/angel behind all this? And this is where the real magic happened for me. Elena explained that a true “effervescent gentleman” (those are the exact words she used to refer to him), now 84, was the person behind it all. I was immediately so captivated. He must be deeply, profoundly, a romantic, I thought. The next thing I know, I was invited to come back the next day to spend the afternoon with him Signor Giulio Tamassia. This was the romantic Verona I had personally dreamed of.

He has been featured in the New York Post, the Washington Post, the Guardian, and La Repubblica. I was so honored and privileged to meet the creator, founder and President of such an internationally renowned endeavor dedicated to love.

Francesca Mignosa (FVM): In a world increasingly more digital and superficial, where love has almost taken on both connotations, what can a love letter teach us, Signor Tamassia?
Giulio Tamassia (GT): To read about others’ love problems, suffering, happiness can help you with your own. You will find out that you are not alone in what you are feeling. It can teach you a lot about love around the world. It gives you great responsibility in writing and mailing it and even more in responding and trying to provide comfort. You must respond without judging.
FVM: Why do you think this huge international audience prefers to write such personal and intimate details of their love/private life to Giulietta and not write an email or tell a friend or someone they trust?
GT: Because when you write a letter, you are more concentrated or more relaxed, you are even more intimate and dig deeper than with an email. Most importantly, you take your time. As with love, romance requires the right amount of time. Through writing, you can transmit your deeper feelings and thoughts and they will be forever encapsulated in a written letter. This also proves that problems of the heart haven’t changed in time, space and geography.
At this point, he got emotional. I share this with you because it was truly a meeting of the heart and it is important for me to convey to you the passion, perseverance and pride this real gentleman, born in the 1930s, holds for love and romance.
*FVM: (I wanted to make him smile) Signor Tamassia, I have difficulty finding a man who wants to spend 40 minutes with me today but I have read you spent nearly 40 years with your wife. (He smiled.) Do you believe eternal love exists in our world?
GT: That is a great question, he said. Se ti circondi di persone che ci credono, allora lo incontrerai. Se ti circondi di persone che non ci credono, allora non lo potrai mai incontrare. If you surround yourself with people who believe in it, then you will find it.  If you surround yourself with people who don’t believe in it, then you will never be able to find it.
FVM: Every day you receive international, multilingual letters from across the globe. Who writes the most? And what can you say about love among different cultures?
GT: The top 5 would be the U.S., South America, Japan, Germany, and Russia, but these have changed and will change again through the years. The Japanese give out many details about their surroundings and loved ones, the Europeans are very pragmatic, the Americans present issues to be resolved, and the Latinos are very romantic but, all in all, “mal d’amore” (love sickness) is the same universally. They are all very strong, emotional letters, even those with a happy ending.
FVM: What are some of your future dreams for the club?
GT:  Dreams are human and beautiful. There is a growing interest in the club. We want to continue with the yearly literary festival awarding the best love novels published every year as well as awarding the top 3 letters received each year and Juliet’s birthday celebration in Verona.
Signor Tamassia was emotional during our time together, the sign of his sincerity and honest love for Giulietta and everything she metaphorically represents for love worldwide and for his beloved Verona. To think that all this started in the 70s, in a small lofted area in his private home, where a group of intellectual friends gathered and then started responding to love letters. There was also a piano, a guitar and, surely, a lot of love in their souls.

Francesca and her sister Giovanna are the owners of “Sicilian Sisters Travel,” an online travel boutique specializing in personalized journeys to Sicily and Italy. They invite you to visit their facebook page and website for more info.