Feb 12, 2013

The Love Secretary Always Writes Back

Unrequited love is one of the loneliest feelings in the world. But if you're staring down a hole in your heart, you're not alone -- there's an office in Verona, Italy (the home of Romeo and Juliet) that's waiting to hear from you.

You've got Marinella, Manuela, Ellie, and Clare. Jacopo, Giovanna, and Giula. Barbara, the 48-year-old dancer. Gianni, the 55-year-old man who loves photography. Eleanor, the 21-year-old au pair from England with time to spare. There are grandmothers, young things, divorcées, and newlyweds. There are scholars of literature, teachers, and busy moms. Men, women, old, young. A staff of twenty or so volunteers are on call with one purpose: to answer, one by one, your letters of unrequited love.

Officially, these kind-hearted letter-writers call themselves "Secretaries." Secretaries of the Club di Giulietta (The Juliet Club).

The club evolved organically out of the longstanding tradition of lovelorn people leaving notes on Juliet's supposed tomb.* In the 1930s, the custodian for the tomb, a man named Ettore Solimani, began replying to some of the notes. And word starting getting around -- if you left a note, you would hear something back. By the early 1990s, a bunch of good folks in Verona decided to make the practice official, and formed the club. Though the Secretaries are unpaid, the city chips in for envelopes and stamps.

Letters sent to the Club di Giulietta

I spoke with their manager, Giovanna (the daughter of the founder), who says that nowadays the Club di Giulietta receives almost 10,000 letters a year (including emails).** The letters come from all over the world, and the Secretaries can respond in almost any language (in addition to the Romance languages, they can reply in Japanese, English, and German, and when necessary, they use translators).

And the Secretaries themselves? Some of have been answering letters of love and heartbreak for decades. Some come for just a few months -- almost like a semester-long intensive -- to practice the art of replying to wounded and wondering souls. Most lead busy lives, and come in during spare hours to attend to that week's pull.

Secretaries at the Club di Giulietta

So if you are in the lonely camp this year, put the lights down low, light a candle. Grab a pen and let that bottled-up yearning spill out onto the page. Know that, for once, someone will see it, witness it, and write back.

The address is:

Club di Giulietta
Via Galilei 3 – 37100 Verona, Italy

* There is some literary lore suggesting that Romeo and Juliet may have been based on real people alive in the 1300s. Whether or not this is true, what is known is that Shakespeare did not come up with Romeo and Juliet from scratch. He based it on a poem written by Arthur Brooke in 1562, "Romeus and Juliet." And whether or not the tomb that is fabled to belong to Juliet actually does, it has been promoted as such for hundreds of years.

** There was a big swell in letters after the Hollywood movie Letters to Juliet came out in 2010 (the movie centers around one of these letters). There is also a non-Fiction book about the club, called Letters to Juliet, by Lise and Ceil Friedman.

*** For anyone who has had a hard week, check out this video.

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