Verona has been a byword for passion’s power to overcome all obstacles since William Shakespeare’s Romeo declared his love to Juliet on her balcony.
Centuries later, two modern star-crossed lovers have proved romance is still thriving in the city, despite weeks of lockdown, by starting a love affair from the balconies of their neighbouring blocks of flats.
Michele D’Alpaos, 38, first noticed Paola Agnelli, 39, last month as they emerged on to their facing terraces to listen to music at 6pm — a daily appointment of the kind kept by Italians across the country to buoy their spirits during the coronavirus outbreak.
The live music was provided by Ms Agnelli’s sister, a professional violinist who lives with her and chose that day to play Queen’s We Are the Champions as neighbours applauded.
“My sister and I live with our mother on the sixth floor, Michele is across the street on the seventh floor, and the music was like an arrow fired by Eros,” Ms Agnelli, a lawyer, told The Times.
Mr D’Alpaos said: “I found out who Paola was from my sister, who knows her from the gym, tracked her down on Instagram, we started messaging until three in the morning and love was born.” He added: “Our balconies are too far apart to hear each other, but we talk on the phone and look at each other.”
Modern star-crossed lovers have proved romance is still thriving.
To prove his affection, Mr D’Alpaos erected a large banner on the roof of his building with “Paola” written on it. They have asked a DJ who places speakers on the balcony of his third-floor flat at 6pm every day to dedicate songs to each other.
“People have been making detours on the way to dump their rubbish to come and look at the banner and us at 6pm after word got out,” said Mr D’Alpaos, who works in IT at a Verona bank. “The neighbours are happy for us,” Ms Agnelli said. “With all the death around at the moment, this has brought a ray of sunshine and has made people happy,” she added.
Verona has been hit hard by the virus outbreak in Italy, just as the plague raged in the city in Shakespeare’s play. Due to quarantine, Romeo is never told that Juliet’s apparent death is faked, pushing him to commit suicide.
The romance between Ms Agnelli and Mr D’Alpaos, who are both unmarried, may have been difficult but it has been decidedly less traumatic.
“Michele is intelligent, kind, genuine and is close to his family — all qualities I never thought I would find so close to home,” Ms Agnelli said. “He can substitute a kiss with his words,” she added.
Mr D’Alpaos said the two had lived opposite each other most of their lives, but apart from a chance meeting on the street a year ago, when his sister had introduced them, they had never met.
Now, the pair have agreed not to hold surreptitious meetings on street corners, even if observing social distancing. “I continue to go to work since the banks are open and I cannot do my job from home, so I am in contact with plenty of people and need to avoid Paola to protect her,” he said.
“Our first date when this will be over will be sitting on a bench in the nearby park. But our relationship is magic and we can wait,” he added.
Ms Agnelli said: “We are not teenagers, but this has been an adolescent love story lived out by adults. We have called it ‘Romeo and Juliet at a time of coronavirus’, but this time there will be a happy ending,” she added.