Casa di Giuletta
Judi Lowenburg Forman
In Verona, Charlotte planned to rub Juliet’s right breast for good luck. She was quite aware of the irony, wondered who decided this most tragic of heroines could provide better luck for others than she had found for herself. But don’t they say that it is better to have loved and lost and so forth? She’d already had love and lost it, lost it years ago when Richard left. And right now Charlotte wasn’t having any love at all, hadn’t for quite some time, not since the children were small. They were grown now and they too had left her. She was surprised that this change in her life awakened sensations in her body that had been dormant for years. Charlotte felt that even some tragic love would be better than no love at all. She wasn’t getting any younger; best strike while the iron was hot, or trying to be.
Verona was as good a place to start as any. Better than most, actually because Verona has the house where Juliet, if she had been real, would have really lived and the tomb where she would have been buried if she had really died. In this house there is a bronze statue of the beautiful maiden herself. According to Charlotte’s guidebook, people come from all over the world to rub Juliet’s right breast for luck in love.
Upon arriving at Verona’s Porta Nuova train station, it was threatening to rain. It was a fifteen minute walk to Juliet’s House – “boring” the guidebook said; best to take the bus. But Charlotte chose to walk anyway. She hadn’t been on foreign soil in over 30 years and she wanted to feel the earth – well, pavement anyway - beneath her feet.
When the rain started, it came down hard and she took refuge on Piazza Bra under the awning of Ristorante Olivo. She sat at a table directly across from the ancient Arena, which got her to thinking about gladiators, partially clad gladiators in armor, muscular limbs glistening with sweat under the hot Italian sun. Imagine all the broken hearts there were back then, poor young lovers left behind when their man got the thumbs down.
She couldn’t help but picture her waiter as a gladiator. Oh my goodness! There was something about Italian men and their eyes, the way they looked at you and made you feel that way, that certain way. This Italian man in particular, her waiter - Charlotte couldn’t quite place it at first - there was a familiarity about him and then it came to her. He looked like that other young man, all those years ago, the one in Florence who had spotted her going into a trattoria, given her a “Caio, Bella!” and then, astonishingly, waited for her outside. He had spoken no English, she no Italian but he looked like Richard for heaven’s sake. Richard who she’d been friendly with for a couple of years by that point but who, to her dismay, persisted in thinking of her only as a friend. That night had been something else, it sure had, in that Italian boy’s little Fiat up in the hills outside the city –that had been quite a challenge!
Well there were no “Ciao Bella”s coming her way this time around, that was for sure. Just a lot of: Signora would you like to buy a fake Louis Vuitton umbrella and what not. But her waiter liked her, she could tell – the way he smiled right at her as he set down her glass of Prosecco and seemed so sincerely to want to serve her. As he asked her, “Signora will there be anything else?” - so cute the way it sounded when he said it - she noticed her hand on the glass of wine, how it didn’t look as old as it had the day before. She looked pretty damn good that day, that was for sure, in the skirt and top she’d bought at the street fair last summer. With a reluctant sigh she ran her finger around the rim of the glass and said, “No thank-you, I’m just here to get out of rain.”
It was still raining lightly when she headed down the cobblestones of Via Giuseppe Mazzini toward Casa di Giulietta. She almost stopped at the gelato place because the flavors looked so amazing behind the glass: big soft undulating mounds of nocciola and cioccolato, fragola and tiramisu. She decided she would stop on the way back, would have the tiramisu, most definitely the tiramisu. And a scoop of cioccolato.
The crowds thickened the closer she got and then there she was, through the door and into a darkened passageway. And as she entered the courtyard, the sun broke through, which made her laugh – or was it a giggle? – because it seemed like such a cliché. But yes, the sun really had begun to shine. The high polish on the right breast of the bronze statue of Juliet glistened and she wouldn’t have been at all surprised if a rainbow appeared over the courtyard, it was that kind of a day.
She squeezed through the crowd and climbed the stairs to Juliet’s balcony, the very balcony where Juliet could have actually stood. Charlotte imagined herself as the young Juliet asking Romeo where he was and Romeo down there telling her that she smelled like a rose. And as she peered down into the courtyard, her thoughts drifted to the gladiators and the waiter and the young man from long ago. She felt the muscles in her thighs contract under her skirt and thought: Oh dear, I’d better get on with it. With self-conscious grace she descended the stairs and made her way to the statue.
Charlotte watched people take their turns standing next to the statue, posing for pictures of themselves rubbing Juliet’s right breast, the one that’s highly polished from so many years of caressing. Charlotte thought that even if there was no one to specifically take her picture, surely she would end up in somebody else’s camera. She planned to take pictures of other people so she would be able to show her friends at home. She’d say, “This is what I did” followed by “And that very night I met, um, Paolo, perhaps? and we fell in love” and so forth. One of the pictures she snapped was of a girl rubbing Juliet’s left breast, the tarnished one, which Charlotte worried might actually bring the girl the wrong kind of luck.
When she was ready to stand next to Juliet herself, at the last minute Charlotte thought to hand her camera to a stranger, a Japanese man with a Nikon around his neck, a wise choice she thought. She said only: “Please?” and pointed to herself and Juliet. He smiled and taking on the task with gusto, ushered her quickly to the front. As she took her place beside the statue, he positioned himself before her, camera at the ready. The moment Charlotte’s hand cupped the shiny round breast and felt it’s warmth in the center of her palm, she heard the shutter click.
It was time to take her leave of Casa Capulet and head over to pay her respects at The Tomb of Juliet. The walls in the passageway to the street were papered with love notes in every language Shakespeare has ever been translated into. Charlotte had one more thing to do. God forgive her, it reminded her of years before when on a pilgrimage of a different sort, she had visited Jerusalem and left her prayers in the cracks of the Western Wall, which was as close to God as Charlotte had ever felt. Now in Verona - it was sacrilegious to think so – but Charlotte felt that within these walls lived the spirit of the goddess of love, may her soul rest in peace. She took her own carefully lettered note out of her purse and with a piece of gum chewed specifically for this purpose, stuck it on the wall alongside all the notes from enchanted children, horny teenagers, dewy-eyed newlyweds and dirty old men. And perhaps she, Charlotte, was not the only woman of a certain age to leave hers.
Judi Lowenburg Forman has been avoiding writing the memoir she thinks she should be writing, by writing instead, very short fiction, mostly about the internal lives of women of a certain age. Judi has a masters degree in public health and works in clinical research at Dartmouth Medical School. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband, Michael, and their two Basset Hounds, Boswell and Chloe, who help to fill the empty nest left by their two grown children, Hannah and Noah. "Casa di Giulietta" is her first published story.
Photo Courtesy of dreamstime.
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Fiction Copyright © 2008 Judi Lowenburg Forman. All rights reserved.