Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
– William Shakespeare
Once I knew visiting Italy was within sight, I absolutely had to see Verona. Verona, the Italian city of love. And, as a town that effortlessly blends the old with the new, it is a perfect picture of beauty.
Stone balconies look out over the main streets, overgrown with ivy and budding flowers. Colorful wooden shutters are faded by time. Rather modest catholic churches with breathtaking carvings hide, tucked away between savory smelling cafes and quaint boutiques. Verona certainly knows how to lay on that Italian charm.
Most of Verona’s tourism can be credited to a single play that they make all American teenagers read in high school: Romeo and Juliet. Or, if you prefer the Italian way, Giulietta e Romeo.
Thousands of people travel to see the famous balcony that is said to have inspired one of the greatest poets of history, William Shakespeare. Entrance is free once you find the iron gate that’s right off the town’s square. The walls, once white, are now covered in so many layers of graffiti that most of it is illegible. Spray paint, markers, pencils, pens, paint – if you can write with it, it’s probably there. There’s only one way in or out and, during the busy periods, tourists waddle in like an army of ants trying to cross a stream.
While I was excited to finally see Juliet’s balcony, I was a bit disappointed by how much it had been vandalized. It’s not just a little bit here and there. It’s hard to find a patch of wall that hasn’t been scrawled on. Perhaps it’s impossible. Even a few cobblestones under my feet had faint markings faded from the tread of so many shoes.
However, if you take a moment to read some of the notes left behind, it can actually be uplifting. The most common is the telltale heart embellished with two pairs of initials – the mark of eternal love. Countless of initials are surrounded by hundreds of hearts. Words of encouragement and love call out to you.
While defacing the walls are now prohibited by law, it hasn’t stopped people from leaving tear stained letters in the cracks of stone with wadded up chewing gum. With so many people in one tiny space, it’s hard to catch everyone in the act.
Do you know what should you do when you see the statue of Juliet? Why, rub her right breast, of course. One of my friends didn’t know about the Verona custom. So, when she came back from Italy a few weeks later she told me, “yeah, all of these tourists kept grabbing her chest and I was like – what gives?”
There’s actual history behind Juliet’s bosom. It is meant to bring good fortune for those who have been unlucky with love. Love or fertility . . . the lore changes depending on who you ask. Which, given the context of the famous play, doesn’t seem to make much sense. Still, that didn’t stop me from cupping a feel like everyone else, just to say that I’ve done it.
Don’t feel too guilty; it’s not the original statue, which is now hidden away in a museum. A replica was made and switched a few years ago after the 1972 statue began to show wear and tear from all of the tourists and rainy weather. The one in the courtyard now has been there long enough to gleam gold by the millions of hands that pass over her. We can only hope that some of those hands have found their answers.
Italian weather is all but consistent. When we woke up around nine in the morning, the sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and the air was sweet. Two hours later and a thirty minute drive down the Autostrada (the Italian motorway that’s like one big giant toll), the clouds sagged and the wind picked up. We were only downtown for about twenty minutes before the rain started to fall hard, so we decided it was Mother Nature telling us it was time for lunch. A pizza parlor with a covered outdoor patio let us eat comfortably as the rain slowly faded away.
We each ordered a “personal” pizza. Personal, that is, if you have the appetite of a bear. When you order pizza in Italy, be prepared for a very decent portion. However, I’m never one to turn down a challenge that involves food.
The rain picked up again not long after lunch and my cousin and I huddled under the umbrella I had shoved in my backpack offhandedly, hoping we wouldn’t need it. Despite the weather, the outdoor markets held strong. I picked up a few magnets and a tapestry embroidered with lemons and lavender. My cousin bought a beautiful silk scarf to add to her growing collection. The thing about Italian markets is that they’re usually cheap and you can find things from all over Europe. There’s stunning pottery, impressive needlework, amazing artwork, sparkling jewelry, and certainly a unique item for every tourist’s pocket. That was also the first time I ever laid eyes on a fidget spinner, as they grew popular while I was abroad and hadn’t really risen to fame in my tiny little French town. Neither me nor my cousin could figure out what they were supposed to be. Flash forward a few more months, and suddenly they seemed to be plaguing the world.
The rain started to fall again as we walked back through the center of town and towards the car. With rain or shine, Verona will certainly leave her impression. I wish I could have stayed longer, but the city is certainly doable if you’re just stopping by to see Juliet’s balcony or the Roman amphitheater, Verona’s other major attraction. It’s a beautiful city that should be on everyone’s bucket list.
What do you think about vandalism in the name of love?