In daylight, the Scala della Ragione was just as prestigious as its name sounded. It was a grand outdoor staircase blended with late Gothic and early Renaissance detail that swept all the way down to open the courtyard at the foot of the Lamberti Tower. It was built in red and white marble that was evenly loaded on top of one another like the inside of a layered cake.
I had only been to Italy once when I was fourteen. It was the summer of 2008 before my freshmen year of high school. At that time I was a walking ball of teenage angst and hormonal emotions because I wasn't sure if Eli Loveman – the guy I had a massive crush at school – liked me back. Typical for a fourteen year-old to feel as she walked the streets of Rome with her overwhelming enthusiastic family. But it was also during this time that my Dad gave us some coins to toss into the Trevi Fountain. My Mom – the true Italian of our family – told me and my brother the legendary properties that the Trevi Fountain had when throwing a coin into the fountain's basin.
"If you turn your backs to the fountain and toss the coin over your left shoulder," she told us. "You're guaranteed a return trip to Rome."
The point is, looking back on that first trip to Italy and being in Rome, all I cared about was dating a boy.
You would think that I would have learned my lesson at age 21, now a college student and now living 5,000 miles from my native home of California, that I would focus my mind on enjoying the splendors of what Italy and the world had to offer me.
Well, yes and no.
As I sat with Sofia and her friends at the top of the Scala della Ragione I tried to remind myself of all the beauty that I saw that day in Verona.
Sofia's parents owned an apartment that was directly across from the famous Castelvecchio. Built of red bricks, Castlevecchio – as its name suggested meant "Old Castle" – had seven towers, a keep and a bridge that stretched over the Adige River. Earlier that day, Sofia and I walked together across the castle's bridge while we were walking my cousin's French bulldog, Maisy. Like the castle itself, the bridge had the same imposing M-shaped merlons running along its walls. They also had white marble steps where you can actually climb the walls to the bridge and look out over the Adige.
"The bridge was built by Cangrande II della Scala incase of invasions and rebellions," Sofia explained to me when we climbed the walls of Castlevecchio's bridge. "Because Cangrande was a real tyrannical prick back in the day."
A white steel arch, 40 feet high, was curved above the open rim of the arena where it ended outside the walls of the amphitheater as a giant, white, iron, comet star.
"See that?" Ida pointed to the erected white star where several tourists stopped to take pictures in front of it. "That's the Stella Cometa. Every Christmas the Arena exhibits this statue. Although, I don't see what's so special about it. It's an eyesore if you ask me."
What my family absolutely didn't like were the loud tourists who "ooed" and "awwed" at the architecture or the history behind the tombs at the Arche Scalier. Ida would always roll her eyes whenever a tourist would come up to her and ask for directions to the Piazza delle Erbe. She'd curse in Italian whenever someone was walking too slow in front of her because they were admiring the buildings, or taking a selfie in front of an authentic Louis Vuitton store.
"That's just pathetic," she said to me. "Don't these idiots know that Louis Vuitton is French?"
Which brought me back to the problem I was facing in dear old and beautiful, Verona:
I was thinking about a boy.
Particularly, a French boy.
"Those grenouilles," Ettore smiled at us. "Stealing our Italian girls away from us."
In case you don't know your French, grenouilles means "frogs."
Sofia shook her head in disapproval of her father's choice of words.
Regardless, Sofia and I were both dating boys from France. But while Sofia seemed comfortable in her relationship with Baptist, I was struggling with some internal conflict with Kevin. Sofia was going to be living in Europe for a longer duration of time than my year abroad. I only had six more months living here in Europe before I packed up my stuff and headed back home to the United States.
Yet, I was confronted with this problem:
Was it worth spending time with him if I was just going to up and leave him in May?
After all, I was a ticking clock. My airline tickets back to the United States were already bought and I was due back to watch my friend's graduation at Mount Holyoke in the summer.
I was bittersweet about this whole situation during my week in Verona when one afternoon Ida and I were walking Maisy from the Bra and we went down a street that was swarming with people in front of a particular building.
It was of medieval architecture and the crowd of people were pushing and shoving to get through the gated entrance. Some people were holding pens or pencils, post-it notes or scraps of paper that looked like they had been ripped from the very belly of a notebook.
"What's going on?" I asked Ida.
I heard her back crack as she straightened up and looked at the horde of people – tourists no less – with her jaw locked into a disgusted frown. She tightened her grip on Maisy's red leash and muttered between her teeth, "Dio dannato! Goddamnit! Every time!"
She pushed Maisy's leash into my hands and shoved her way through the massive throng of people. Leave it to Ida to part the Red Sea. Even Moses couldn't divide what was in front of him fast enough from the way Ida marched and cut her way around the tourists. I followed her. Maisy too.
"That was La Casa di Giulietta," Ida sighed with annoyance once we made it to an open space free of tourists at the Piazza delle Erbe. "Every single goddamn morning that place is packed with brainless tourists."
You heard her right. You don't need to know Italian to understand the name of the place that we just passed.
La Casa di Giulietta was supposedly Juliet Capulet's house.
"Ugh, I hate that place," Sofia said to me when we went back to the apartment to finish writing our essays for our finals. I had told her about the chaotic crowd her mother and I had encountered when we tried to walk Maisy through the streets. "In fact I just hate Verona on Valentines Day. It's so cheap and corny. The streets to the piazzas have hearts everywhere and the government tries so hard to make it all 'lovely dovey.' All because the fucking tourists want to relive Giulietta and Romeo's screwed up love story. Not to mention that the statue must be crawling with germs after so many people have touched her tit."
This was absolutely 100% true.
The legend was that if someone rubbed the bronze breast of the Juliet statue, your luck with love will turn around. That's why after Sofia told me this news about the statue, I looked up an image of the famed sculpture and saw indeed that the tourists might have rubbed off a lot more than just Juliet's right tit. The right side of the statue's arm, torso and chest was 20x more lighter than her practically untouched bronze left side.
"If you ever get a chance to visit Juliet's house," Emily wrote to me via Facebook. "Remember to write her a letter. The Juliet Club, who runs the house, handle and read all of the incoming letters from around the world. They even reply to all of the letters that have been submitted to them."
"But what do I even write?" I had typed back to her.
"Usually people write to The Juliet Club to seek love advice," Emily wrote simply. "They are the letters to Juliet after all. The Juliet! Can you believe it? And Juliet even writes back to you."
Which got me thinking about three things. All three things involved me switching between putting on my English literature cap and my historical fact cap.
The first was, why were so many people seeking love advice from a thirteen year old girl?
Juliet Capulet, in Shakespeare's play, is a thirteen-year-old girl.
Do you have any idea how crazy thirteen-year-olds can really be?
When I was thirteen, my solution to everything was pretty much punching people in the face. Not that I actually did punch people in the face, but I would advise my friends to punch their friends in the face if they didn't like what the other person was doing.
See? Thirteen-year-olds cannot be trusted to make a rash decision on anything serious.
And do you know what thirteen-year-olds think about more than anything nowadays?
Boys. Boys. Selfies and more boys.
Don't pretend that isn't true. See the beginning of this very blog post.
And you know what? That's fine. It's perfectly normal to be a thirteen-year-old heterosexual girl and have a constant thought process of just boys. However, entrusting your deepest thoughts about your love life to a straight-up thirteen-year-old girl may not be the best idea. You're better off debating with a thirteen-year-old if One Direction is better than 5 Seconds of Summer, than discussing the complications in your love life.
Especially if that particular thirteen-year-old you are seeking love advice from happens to be Juliet Capulet (AKA: The Worst Person To Seek Any Advice From).
After all, look what ended up happening to her and Romeo at the end of Shakespeare's play. You really want to take advice from some chick who faked her own death and then ended up actually dying herself?
All I'm saying is that it didn't work for Olivia Hussey, sure as hell did jack for Claire Danes, and Hailee Steinfeld just didn't even try.
It's been widely debated that Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet around 1595, which means that back then thirteen-year-old girls were seen as mature enough to be married. Legally speaking, girls could actually be married off as young as twelve-years-old. Normally, this happened to only girls from rich families or nobel households – like the Capulet household.
So it would be logical to think that back in the 16th century thirteen-year-old girls like Juliet Capulet would be conditioned at an early age to be more mature in order to be married. That being said, maybe her youth and maturity would give way to deliver intelligent advice.
After all, thirteen-year-olds in Shakespeare's time were – and still are – very much different than the thirteen-year-olds living in the 21st century.
So, all right, maybe a 16th century thirteen-year-old might know a thing or two about love and marriage.
But because I'm a realist, I don't believe that sh*t for a second.
On Christmas Eve I couldn't get anymore work done because I was still thinking about what I should do about Kevin.
At six o'clock at night, Ida, Ettore and Sofia had left the apartment to run their own errands. I was alone with my thoughts, staring at my computer screen with my 15 page essay on the game playing dynamics of courtship in Middlemarch and Jane Eyre.
I found myself stuck in this endless loop of pros and cons of dating Kevin. I even went as far as scribbling my thoughts on paper when I realized what I was doing.
I was writing in the hopes that someone would tell me what to do.
I think in my subconscious of subconscious, a part of me wanted to believe – more than anything – that Juliet could advise me on how I should proceed with my relationship with Kevin.
I mean, Emily did say that if you wrote a letter to Juliet, you would receive a response from The Juliet Club with some kind of words of wisdom on how to proceed with your love life.
I figured that with the limited time that I would be here in Verona, I might as well visit this Casa di Giulietta. Plus, I was a pretty big Shakespeare fan, so I might as well fulfill my obligations as a English major to write a letter and deliver the letter myself at Juliet's house.
So I wrote to Juliet.
I told her about my past relationships and how they had miserably failed. I told her about the numerous boys I dated and the disappoints that I encountered along the way. I told her about how back in California I was in love with a boy who ended up sleeping with one of my close friends in high school; and how damaged I felt after I found out. I told her that I wanted to find a nice, honest boy, and that I felt that I had found that person in Kevin. On page two, I described to Juliet my predicament. How I was a study abroad student in London and how I would only be in Europe for a limited time. I asked her, point blank, "I fear that I will break his heart if I leave him. If that is the case, is it even worth pursuing a serious relationship with him if I am due back home in the summer?"
Once done, I signed the bottom of my letter, found an envelope in Ettore's office where I sealed the message and wrote my London address to my apartment on Stamford Street on the back.
Or at least, personally delivered to her mailbox.
To get to Juliet's house I had to walk through the Piazza di Erbe, which was decked out in holiday lights. A grand Christmas tree with blue lights held court in the middle of the piazza. However, right above my head as I walked past the pharmacies and cafés, was a string of icy white icicle lights webbed over the entire square.
I cut through the Christmas themed piazza and turned down the same street where just yesterday people were pushing and shoving to get through the gates of the building.
It was now 7:30 at night and the street was deserted. The dripping white lights from the LED icicles glowed overhead as I approached the gate and entered through the archway and into a dark tunnel.
Emily was not kidding about the place being vandalized.
It was like I was looking at the Western Wall of love messages. Except in Israel, you would stick your prayers to God in between the crevices of the Western Wall. Here, in Verona, at Juliet's house, the prayers for love were a burst of colorful paper right in front of your face, encouraging you to read. To hope. To pray.
I walked into the courtyard and saw the famed balcony on the right side of Juliet's house. Then standing before me, her left side a deep dark shade of bronze and her right side a light golden hue, stood the statue of Juliet.
Juliet doesn't really exist.
In fact, the supposed "house" that had belonged to Juliet isn't actually her house at all.
That balcony where Romeo and Juliet had their famous scene, was actually an addition that was added to the house in 1936 by the government to attract tourists. Worse, I knew that fact even before I made the effort to come out and deliver my letter to The Juliet Club.
Juliet was actually the worst because she wasn't real. Yet here I was. At some fictional character's house ready to deposit a letter that was full of my intimate thoughts and fears.
So why the hell did I even bother to show up?
The bigger question was, why does anyone make the journey to Verona to seek the advice from a fictional character?
Because the love that Juliet had shared with Romeo is the type of love that everyone strives to achieve in their lives.
For example, when you're done reading a Jane Austen novel, don't you believe that the next boy you'll meet will be THE Mr. Darcy? Or, after you're done watching Moulin Rouge, don't you feel like if you look hard enough you'll eventually find your Christian? Or your Colin Firth? Or your Ryan Gosling?
My point being, is that for hundreds of years people have been reading books, plays and watching movies in the hopes that these forms of entertainment will one day reflect our ideal image of true love.
But I hate to be wet blanket here, but the truth is, these "perfect" ideas of true love are nonexistent – just like Juliet, herself.
As human beings we hold ourselves to this standard that the "perfect" notions of true love are those that we see displayed in books and on TV. When that happens, we forget that these things actually don't exist in real life.
I stuffed my letter into that overflowing red mailbox and asked one of the few tourists in the courtyard to take my picture of me fondling the Juliet statue.
Because in all my years as a writer, the one thing that I've learned is that good storytelling will get you far in life.
I mean, look at The Juliet Club! They've profited on the power of Shakespeare's storytelling! And guess what? Even though people know that Romeo and Juliet were just figments of Shakespeare's imagination, nobody cares.
All people want whenever they visit Juliet's home in Verona, is to live a little part of it's dream in the hopes that they themselves might find their perfect form of true love.
If people want to pay €4 to climb up to the balcony and gaze below in the hopes of seeking their Romeo, then they should feel free to do so.
I'll even go as far to admit that a part of me does wish for that perfect form of true love. As an English major, how can I not fall to prey to tales about star-crossed lovers? The stories about Lancelot and Guinevere, Tristian and Isolde or even Harry and Sally are all romantic tales chalk-full of that everlasting hope that our perfect true love is somewhere out there in the world.
However, though I may be a hardcore English major, I am also a pretty pragmatic person to my own disbelief.
Outcome #1: I would get Juliet's immature thirteen-year-old response, advising me to marry poor Kevin. Then fake my own death, and then kill myself if Kevin should die.
Outcome #2: I would get Juliet's mature 16th century thirteen-year-old response, advising me to do whatever my father ordered me to do.
And Outcome #3: I wouldn't receive any response because Juliet was nonexistent.
So even though, in the end, Kevin and I went our separate ways, I waited every month for that letter to come to my address in London.
I'm still waiting for a response from her.
Not in the hopes that she would answer my question.
But in the hopes, of being delivered with some proof, that she exists.