■ 17 October 2009 by James Martin
Verona is a very nice city. People come there to see opera in the famous Roman-era Verona Arena, the third largest in Italy, with seating for 25,000. They also come to see Casa di Giulietta, the house of Juliet of Romeo and Juliet fame.
Of course, it isn’t the real house of Juliet. But that doesn’t matter.
In the courtyard there is a bronze statue of Juliet (or Giulietta, prettier in Italian methinks). You are meant to fondle it. Various legends exist to validate your antisocial but passionate need to rub your big meathooks over the various bronzed body parts of delicately rendered Giulietta. A manly cupping of the right breast is supposed to make you lucky in love. Believe me young man, you’ll need it.
A more feminine touch of the same breast (or perhaps something else) will make you fertile as hell, according to some. Evidently Italian women have stayed away, considering their birth rate has been falling like the economy and Berlusconi’s sterling reputation lately.
But you know the old legends. I won’t bore you with them. But what I want you to notice is how “touched” some other parts of the statue are, as noted by their burnished and bright appearance. For example, nobody said you could touch her left breast. No legend has been written about the half-covered handful. Yet you (I mean the collective tourist “you”) have violated Giulietta’s left breast despite her hand, which seems to be guarding it. Will you be unlucky in love? Well, you reprobate, I hope so.
It didn’t take me long to see some miserable examples of such kinky public displays of bronze abuse. See the picture. Shame on those two. And it’s the off-season. I suspect in the summer tourists are all over the poor Giulietta. Look at her arms. Shiny. Shameful.
But, hey, I’m not one to moralize. I just want to let you know. It’s the right breast. Repeat after me, “Right breast. Right breast for luck in love.” Is that so hard?
Ok, so remember that I said the house isn’t really Giulietta’s house? Well, I happened to find a reference to the house from way back in the late 19th century. Theodore Child wrote about Verona in a piece called Summer holidays, travelling notes in Europe. He finds Verona a somewhat “earthy” place. Juliet’s house didn’t have the balcony it has today. Well, not one without a pit toilet on it anyway.
Let us begin by a visit to Juliet’s house, “la casa di Giulietta,” as the Veronese call it. It is situated in the very centre of the mediaeval town, in the Via di Capello, on the left-hand side as you leave the market place, or Piazza dell’ Erbe, which was at once the market and the forum of the old republic. Imagine a narrow, stuffy street lined with antique houses, among which is noticeable a red brick facade with arched Roman windows, some of which retain remnants of architectural decoration. On the third flat is a stone balcony half broken away and resting on huge stone consoles. The facade is divided into two by a big water pipe, and the windows, irregularly distributed, are hung with rags and other evidences of poor tenantry. On the ground floor is the shop of a baker, with the sign “ Paneficio Fratelli Trenadii,” and the immense archway which gives en- trance to the Capulet house. Over this archway swings a sign of a cardinal’s red hat, and above it are the words “ Al capello, stallo,” that is to say “The Hat Stables;” other signs on the archway say “Noleggio cavalli,” “Horses to hire,” and repeat “ Nel capello, stallo.”
Beneath the archway the passage slopes up, and you enter a vast courtyard, the four sides of which are occupied by miserable buildings terraced with rough wooden balconies, on which linen is spread to dry and to absorb the perfumes of this most foul-smelling spot. On each balcony is built a wooden shed on which is written the word “Cessi “ which means water-closet ; the staircases are black holes thick with dirt; the courtyard is crowded with carts and vehicles of all kinds and redolent of ammoniacal smells ; and next to the sta- bles is a “ Gaffe Trattoria,” a cafe and a restaurant where you can be lodged for the night. Over this filthy and stinking courtyard, enthroned in a flourishing vine plant, an image of the Virgin presides at one end, while at the other end, on the back facade of Juliet’s house, are carved in low relief the speaking arms of the Capulets or Cap- elletti, namely, a hat, or “ Capello.” And it was here that Juliet had her garden ; here that Romeo climbed her balcony; here that the two lovers poured out their souls, until they were surprised by the song of the lark, and the dawn warned them that they must part. This is the house; there can be no doubt about it ; and we can imagine the Capulets and their retainers swaggering out of this vast courtyard and down under the archway to the street, ready to fall foul of those hated Montagues. But where was Juliet’s balcony?
Well, the balcony wasn’t built, but no matter. Interesting to see the contrast between the Italy of 1889 and that of today.
Visit Verona. It’s a super place. The courtyard of Casa di Giulietta is free. The fondling is free, although if you go early in the morning you’ll have the most time to spend with your hand on the bronze objects of your desire. But there’s enough in Verona to keep you busy for a good week or so if you want to get into the minutia of a historic city that hasn’t been too harsh on its heritage.
Don’t know where Juliet’s house is? Well, we’ve marked it on our Verona Map.
Oh, and click the pictures in this article to see them bigger. That’s always fun.
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