Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Lessons From Juliet

My Dearest Helen, 
   Thank you so much for sharing your story with me...

Readers - this will be a late-night ramble, be warned. The title probably suggests that this might be an emotional lesson in love, and in romance, but in truth, I don't know much about either of those. I don't know whether anybody knows much about those things. 
  What I do, humbly, know a thing or two about is history. I can reel off facts about the past that people may or may not want to hear- I can remember the dates of battles, coronations, when Kings died and Queens reigned. 
 But I don't pretend to know much about matters of the heart. 
     I know an awful lot about the Sweet Swan of Avon, where this all started. Between the two of us, Catherine and I could recite most of the plays and several sonnets by Master Shakespeare- in fact, Catherine is a Shakespearologist and is the North's answer to Stanley Wells. And I thought I knew enough about his most famous play, the tragic Romeo and Juliet, to know that it isn't really about love. It's a melancholy state of affairs, in which two blissfully naive teenagers are victims of political violence and die within three days of knowing each other. 
   Not going to lie. I never had much time for this play. But Juliet...well, Juliet was the saving grace. She was wised up to Romeo's bold declarations and pinned him down swiftly before he could run off to his next Rosaline, she was the one who sorted out- and carried through rather efficiently- their escape route- whilst Romeo ballsed it all up by killing her cousin and not bloody listening
 And then something changed. Last summer, in a whirlwind month doing a Grand Tour of Italy, we came to Verona. Juliet's balcony. La Casa Di Giulietta. 
You cannot possibly go to Verona and avoid this house. The exquisite little city is dotted with sign posts and memorabilia, hoards of tourists hustle you along their path, down the tiny cobbled side street and past scores of graffiti, names and hearts and declarations, before you reach the 14th Century house. 
  It was there that I sat down and wrote a letter to Juliet. The Club Di Giulietta, a group of local volunteers who reply to thousands of letters sent to Juliet every year, baffled me at the time. Call me cynical but I couldn't understand what it was about Juliet that was causing such a fuss. Why was I confiding my deepest emotional turmoil to a fourteen year old girl? Yes, Shakespeare gave her and Romeo some rather wonderful lines- they speak in sonnets- and yes, there never was story of more woe...but I didn't understand it. 
   Today, I finally think I understand. 
Waiting for me when I got home was a letter. A handwritten, two page letter. From Juliet herself. 

Sitting in floods of tears reading this powerful, eloquent letter, I realised something.
  I bloody underestimated Shakespeare.
Juliet isn't just a fourteen year old girl. She's a fourteen year old girl that every single person who has experienced the ups and downs of love can relate to. She's the person who says: been there, done that. Here's what you've got to do. Here's how you handle it. It's okay, honestly. And the best part is- she isn't real. She doesn't exist. Everything you put in that letter is like screaming out in a deserted wood. You let everything out, nobody has to hear what you think is stupid, embarrassing, and heartbreaking.
   I sat and wrote that letter because, I realise, I desperately wanted somebody to write back and tell me what to do. I said I don't know much about love- I don't. I thought I was in love once. And Juliet's reply...well, let's just say it helped.
  Juliet isn't a heroine in Romeo and Juliet. But what she has inspired in the Casa Di Giulietta is rather spectacular. Romatical cynics, say what you like. y. They let no deserted scream go unnoticed.

Thank you, Shakespeare.
And thank you to whoever was the Juliet behind my letter.
It will be treasured.

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