On the train to Verona, I thought about Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. When I first watched it, I dreamed I was Juliet night after night, for months afterwards. Technically, the first time I watched Romeo + Juliet, I was a fetus. My parents went to see it on Valentines Day. Mum was six weeks pregnant. I didn’t know about this until much, much later. By that point, I had a large Romeo + Juliet poster on my wall, as well as pages from a second hand copy of the play ripped out and blu-tacked above my bed. I owned the film soundtrack on blue vinyl, and on CD. On my bookshelf, there was a large, hardback copy of the play, two Romeo + Juliet VHS collector’s box sets and a very limited edition Japanese photobook. You had to read it back to front.
In Verona, you and I ate some of the best gelato of our entire trip. The large, round tubs were hidden under flat, metal lids, which I had read online was an easy way of telling that the gelato was authentic. If the gelato was stacked up high, like sliding, creamy mountains, then it probably wasn’t real gelato at all. We had bought gelato from a place like this in Rome, but only because they offered a bright blue ‘Viagra’ flavour. The man behind the counter teased us the whole time he was scooping our gelato into the cup. “Don’t let her eat any, ah?” I ended up eating most of it, because I have more of a sweet tooth than you. It tasted like vanilla.
Casa di Giulietta was packed with tourists. There was a queue to get a picture on the balcony. I waited. You took a photo of me from below on our disposable camera, and I tried to ignore the sea of selfie sticks swarming around you. The balcony was attached to the dining room, not Juliet’s bedroom, which seemed unrealistic within the context of the play. Juliet’s bed had a large, oak headboard with five tiny drawers carved into it. I wondered if that was where she would have hidden the poison that wasn’t really poison. I wondered what else she would have hidden. On an information board, I read that Franco Zeffirelli used this bed for the 1968 film. One of Juliet’s dresses from the movie stood in a glass case opposite the bed. It was amber-brown with a lace up bodice. My dress was long and made of pale pink silk, with white embroidery. As I hurried back down the staircase, I kept stepping on the hem. A couple of times, I stumbled and ended up practically flying down the stairs; the only way of getting my balance. I felt young and romantic. When I got back down to you, the hem of my dress was torn and dirty.
The gift shop sold mostly magnets, keychains and brightly coloured figurines of Romeo and Juliet locked in a passionate embrace. These Juliet’s all had very large breasts, especially for thirteen year olds. The least offensive souvenir was a red heart-shaped lock, with a little pen that you could use to write things on it. It was overpriced but I bought it anyway, since our next stop was Paris and I wanted a lock to leave on the Pont des Arts.
After we left, we walked to Casa di Romeo, which was really just a plaque on a high brick wall. The house itself was hidden from view. We found a stone bench and sat down to eat the sandwiches we had packed for lunch. The concrete was so cold our bums went numb. We discussed how much busier Juliet’s house must be during Summer. It seemed impossible.
The walk to Juliet’s tomb was longer. The streets emptied out. We walked past a church, and two tiny shrines to the Virgin Mary. I stopped to take photos, as I always did when we came across a Virgin Mary shrine. When we arrived at the tomb, nobody else was there. We wandered in the gardens for a while. The tomb was quiet, and even though I knew it was just a story, it felt like something real and important had happened in there. I didn’t sob like Claire Danes, holding dead Leonardo Dicaprio in her arms. In fact, I didn’t cry at all. When I was thirteen I would have, but over the years I had forgotten how.
We arrived in Paris on our three year anniversary, and took the heart lock straight to the Pont des Arts. The sides were all boarded up. We quickly realised it was no longer possible to attach locks to the bridge. We walked along the Seine to a second bridge, with barely any locks, and clicked ours onto the fencing. You kissed me on the cheek. On the way back to the station, I searched ‘pont des arts’ on my phone and read you lines from the Wikipedia article. The sides of the Pont des Arts were paneled up three years ago, holding over a million love-locks. They had become so heavy, the bridge was near the point of collapse.