As the travel/book tour continues, we make a quick return to a European country I never tire of writing about...but there's an American twist to it that, for me, is impossible to ignore. See, I can't think of the city of Verona, Italy without also thinking about the city of Verona, Wisconsin -- the town where I went to high school. In the warped, mash-up database that is my imagination, I combine the two Veronas, twining them with random lines from Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" and lyrics from Bon Jovi's "Who Says You Can't Go Home."
Maybe because Romeo and Juliet were teens in their Verona, as I was a teen in mine, and maybe because they didn't have the smoothest of adolescent love lives, a problem I could relate to altogether too easily, I've always felt a certain affinity for them and their hometown.
In A Summer in Europe, my characters visit the Italian Verona and they take in several of the well-known sites, most notably, the large Colosseum-like Arena in the center of the city and "Juliet's balcony."
The Arena di Verona is an amazing amphitheater. Unlike the Colosseum in Rome, the Arena is still in use today with operatic, musical theater and even rock performances being held there regularly (Sting, Pink Floyd and Muse have all done shows in the Arena). It's home to the Verona Opera, and four productions are typically planned for every year between June and August with up to 15,000 people in the amphitheater at one time.
Juliet's balcony is, of course, a touristy fabrication, but it's a delightful one, and the fact that Juliet was merely fictional in no way stops many of us from seeking it out anyway. My husband and I went there and snapped pictures along with dozens of other travelers, and the characters in my book did the same...all of us reciting at least a few of the lines from Will's famous tragedy while staring up at that balcony.
"But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
who is already sick and pale with grief
That thou her maid art far more fair than she."
~Act 2, Scene 2
Yeah. I first read the play in high school, in that Midwestern Verona, and spent most of freshmen English irritated by our teacher's required reading list. So many "classics" were forced on us -- Shakespeare, Dickens, that Austen woman. Stories that, in significant ways, changed my life. Funny how you so often don't realize the value of your education until long after you've left school. (Although, perhaps, I would have appreciated our teacher's choices more if I'd gotten to see Leonardo DiCaprio playing an urban "Romeo" when I was 14.)
Standing in front of that balcony in northern Italy, I laughed, remembering my high-school romantic dramas, one of which had actually taken place while we were reading "Romeo and Juliet," and appreciating the insight Will gave to us about teen relationships those many years ago. The dizzying power of infatuation. The allure of forbidden love. The irrationality of family tiffs. The ease of disaster at the hands of adolescents.
The ties connecting the two cities in my mind were strengthened yet again.
Did you read "Romeo and Juliet" in high school? College? Or was your first exposure to it through film? Do you think it's different reading it for the first time if you're a teen vs. an adult?