Tourist hot-spots come in many different guises. Only a couple of weeks ago the queue to get into the Colosseum was about an hour and a half in length -- and all to see the rather depressing ruins inside the building which are nothing compared with the splendid outside. (Tip: if you really want to see the Colosseum, go to one of the entrances to the Forum and buy the ticket there.. the queue is never so long.)
In Verona, where we finished our stint of filmimg yesterday (not the amphitheatre, in case you are wondering), the place to go is the "House of Juliet", complete with balcony, as in Romeo and Juliet. There were no actual queues, but a tremendous, polyglot crush, even in mid December -- made all the more democratic by the fact the view of the balcony and other bric-a-brac is free. You only have to pay if you want actually to go and stand on it, and to see the other Juliet memorabilia in the 'museum'.... pride of place going to the bed that starred in Zefferellis version of Shakespeare's play.
Of course, the place has nothing to do with the non-existent Juliet at all, and was a clever invention of the 19th century, turned into a veritable tourist attraction in the 1930s. But overall it is as odd as the Colosseum, with the added tinge of slightly off-putting, slightly leering, slightly touching "romance".
One highspot of the museum itself for most people is the opportunity to send an email (or even an old-style letter) to Juliet, who -- it seems -- will answer you (unless you are too filthy in what you choose to say to her). Indeed it appears that they have a whole team of people employed just to answer the emails that Juliet receives in the 'Club Juliet'.
But if you cant afford the 6 euros to go inside, there is still plenty to do. The wall of the entrance-way to Juliet's House are covered with the graffiti of at tleast the last 3 to 4 years of hopeless romantics - as if scrawling your name in the vicinity of a mythical balcony of a mythical couple somehow gives it added force. That's me with the wall of names.
But the weirdest thing was the 1970's bronze statue of Juliet standing just underneath the balcony. It was clear from the 'polish', and by watching what people actually did, that one hallowed custom was to go up and grasp Juliet's right breast, and have your photo taken in the act. This was the sport of almost every visitor from the seven year olds to the seventy-something., male and female. A few looked a bit embarrassed. Most entered into the spirit of the fondle.
A new ritual, a bit tacky -- but bringing the star-crossed lovers down to size.