Never Let the Facts Get in the Way of a Good Story- Dispatches from Juliet's Balcony, Verona
”In fair Verona, where we lay our scene...”
By my personal estimation, Juliet's Balcony in Verona receives approximately 6 million visitors per hour, not counting myself. The cul-de-sac for the Casa de Giulietta is roughly the size of a cigarette pack and it's safe to say when we were oiled up and slid past the walls of love notes from teenagers who’ve long since split, and into the cramped space, I could smell every single person, or at least the 8 that were immediately pressed against my face. Literally. As my glasses were pressed off my nose and forced below my right ear by a gentleman's shoulder, I laughed to myself, “These silly people. Do they not know it's a fake?” And I was pressed on, shuffled about like sand through the hourglass toward the holy grail of verandas, looking up through my one still-good lens, laboring under the delusion that somehow I was not one of these people, but the single, “woke” individual on the whole Romeo & Juliet non-romance. Then it hit me with same force as the lady's elbow to my left, “But, so why am I here?”
The answer was simple, of course. I was there for the same reason everyone else was; because we don't let the facts get in the way of a good story. And it is a good story. I came to this story before I was required by school mandate to learn it. My aunt was an English teacher- grades 6 through 9- and for years I spent one week every summer with her and my cousins. In the US, Shakespeare is required curriculum in the life of every high schooler and it begins in grade 9 with Romeo & Juliet. Before I ever reached grade 9 a few of those summer spent with my aunt, Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting would show up as a “movie of the week.” My much adored but slightly wacky aunt, having long ago memorized and taught every line to tone deaf 9th graders, taught it also to us, and I can honestly say, you haven't truly lived a life of perfect fulfillment until you've heard Romeo's “But soft...” soliloquy spoken in dramatic American southern accent...by a woman. And I still don’t know what Hussey’s voice sounds like; I’ve never been able to hear her speak.
And so, I knew why I was there. I knew it was a fake, that the house was no more Juliet's than Juliet was a person. That the balcony was propped up in the 20th century so the joint would have the balcony the scene required. That Juliet's tomb may have contained something but it was certainly not Juliet. I knew, while rubbing her statue's right breast like an idiot that it would no more bring me luck in love than rubbing my own. I knew all that and I'm now pretty sure everyone else did too. We were all there- and people still file in, hour by cramped hour- because it's a good story. It ticks all the right boxes. It has memorable lines, and action, and blood and guts, and death, and...love...good old fashioned everlasting unconquerable love. We don't need to believe in the star-crossed lovers' actual existence to believe in a good story, and if it's a good enough story, the fiction can bring a truth to us. And that's why we were all there.
I was thinking about all this last night on my own balcony which overlooks the same fair Verona. A perfect, gorgeous, blood orange full moon rose just over the spire of Basilica San Zeno and hung there, bathing the bell tower, the Torres dei Lamberti in the distance, and the hills above Verona in a warm, amber glow. It was the best full moon I've ever seen, truly. I took a picture of it but, but being a traveler and without my weighty, better camera and lenses, I was forced to take an iPhone photo that would never do it justice. It was amazing, but would anyone ever believe it?
“Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon ...”
It was a really beautiful moon though...