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Posts Tagged ‘letters’

2019-11-14-verona-balcony

Credit: Frank Bienewald/LightRocket via Getty Images
To see the famous balcony, tourists crowd the backyard of the building in Verona said to be Juliet’s house.

Having read recently that there are tens of thousands of people writing PostcardsToVoters these days, I was intrigued to learn about a letter-writing club with quite a different purpose. The letter writers in today’s post are making sure that anyone who writes to Shakespeare’s Juliet gets a personalized response.

Bianca Hillier reports at Public Radio International’s The World, “Verona, Italy, is filled with references to Romeo and Juliet, the city’s most famous literary residents. Tourists can pretend to be Juliet by standing on the balcony at what is said to be her 14th-century house.

“They can also write Juliet a letter. Each year, tens of thousands of people do, asking for advice on life and love.  They may be surprised to learn Juliet writes back.

“The personalized responses come from volunteers with the Juliet Club. Their work began decades ago as a group of friends answering letters to Juliet. … The letters have grown into a worldwide phenomenon.

“ ‘The letters started arriving in Verona maybe 100 years ago. So it’s a long tradition that belongs to the story of the city,’ said Giovanna Tamassia, manager of the Juliet Club. Giovanna’s father, Giulio Tamassia, founded the club in 1972.

“People can send letters by traditional mail, email, or by dropping a letter in Juliet’s mailbox at her house in Verona.

‘If you think, “Who writes to Juliet? Who takes the pen and writes to someone they don’t know?” It can sound crazy,’ Tamassia said. ‘But if you read the letters, you discover it’s not crazy. It has a meaning.’ …

“When the letters finally make it to the club’s modest office in Verona, they are sorted by language. Tamassia said some people write in looking for advice on love, while some simply want to express their emotions.

“ ‘We can see in these letters that [this opportunity] is a really unique thing. It’s not like writing to a doctor or a psychologist or someone you know,’ Tamassia said. ‘They don’t know who will read the letter [or] who will answer. It’s like writing to yourself, in a way. Writing is a therapy.’

“Juliet’s secretaries, as they’re called, respond to letters every day during the club’s limited hours of operation. A few remote secretaries in the United States, England, and Moscow reply to the email messages, but most letters are answered from Romeo and Juliet’s home city of Verona.

“An influx of Americans began volunteering as secretaries after a 2010 movie starring Amanda Seyfried called ‘Letters to Juliet’ popularized the club. …

“ ‘When people come to reply, it’s very heartfelt. They feel like [they are] in a mission of love. In the name of Juliet,’ Tamassia said. … ‘It’s like seeing in the hearts of many people. [We] try to give help or support or friendship. But we also receive a lot when we have the chance to read others’ lives, others’ experiences. It opens your mind to different kinds of love.’

“There are no standard replies to the letters Juliet receives, Tamassia said, and it takes secretaries 30 to 60 minutes to craft each thoughtful response.

“Only one aspect of the letters is standardized: they’re all signed, ‘All my love, Juliet.’ ” …

“As the Juliet Club nears its 50th anniversary, Tamassia said there is no plan to close the doors anytime soon.

“ ‘It’s a job I have because I love it,’ she said. ‘It started as a passion but maybe, now, I can’t stop because the letters continue and continue to arrive.’

“The doors also remain open, in part, due to donations. A local bank pays for the office space and the city of Verona pays for the stamps.

“ ‘The letters are really like a treasure. So many love stories in all languages from every corner of the world,’ Tamassia said. ‘There isn’t anything else that can be compared.’

“Instructions for writing a letter to Juliet can be found on the Juliet Club’s website.” More at PRI, here.

You know what really impressed me? That the people in the club take 30 to 60 minutes to craft a response. That’s longer than I would have thought. This is not like writing to Santa and getting no response.

Hat Tip: Twitter

Photo: David Simchi-Levi MIT

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Art: JRR Tolkien
An Oxford exhibit will feature decades of illustrated letters from “Father Christmas” to the children of Middle Earth wizard JRR Tolkien.

This is more of a Christmas post, but as the exhibit won’t go up until next summer, you have time to plan a trip to Oxford, England, to see JRR Tolkien’s illustrated Father Christmas letters. They will be on display from June 1 to October 28, 2018. If you can’t go, there is a heavenly array at the Guardian.

Maev Kennedy writes at the Guardian, “In December 1920 Father Christmas wrote a letter to a modest house in the Oxford suburbs, enclosing a watercolour sketch of his own rather more exotic domed snow house, approached by a flight of steps lit by ice lanterns. ‘I heard you ask Daddy what I was like and where I lived,’ he wrote to three-year-old John Tolkien, and as the family grew to four children, he continued to write every Christmas for 23 years. …

“The illustrated letters continued to arrive every Christmas Eve, sometimes delivered by a postman who had been persuaded to include them with the more boring letters and cards, sometimes materialising on the hearth rug with a handmade stamp. Some years Father Christmas was evidently very busy, and could only pass on the briefest snippets of news, and other years, when he had time on his hands, he could include elaborate multi-layered paintings. One showed his reindeer and sleigh arriving over the Oxford skyline – ‘your house is just about where the three little black points stick up out of shadow on the right.’

“Many recount the adventures of his friend and helper the Polar Bear – in 1926 he accidentally switched on all the Northern Lights – or the goblins who attempted to steal the stored presents in 1932. In one letter Polar Bear ‘found a hole in the side of a hill & went inside because it was snowing.’ He slid down a rocky slope, more rock fell on him, and he could not climb back: ‘But almost at once he smelled goblin & became interested & started to explore. Not very wise for of course goblins can’t hurt HIM but their caves are very dangerous.’

“The snow, the entrance to treacherous caves and the smell of goblin will be instantly familiar to readers of the book Tolkien was working on at the time, The Hobbit, the first of the adventures of Middle-earth. …

“Catherine McIlwaine, Tolkien archivist at the Bodleian, [says,] “There couldn’t be a clearer demonstration of how important his family was to him. He was orphaned from the age of 12, when his mother died, and then he spent years boarded out in lodging houses in Birmingham.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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