The city of Verona has a fabulous Roman arena, a Romanesque cathedral and the rather recently fabricated house of an imaginary romantic heroine. No prizes for guessing which is the biggest tourist draw.
But now the city is faced with a delicate problem. Hundreds of tourists, domestic and foreign, pour every day through the Casa di Giulietta, "Juliet's House", at number 27 Via Capello. They come to gaze on the legendary balcony where Juliet may have sighed and Romeo clambered (had either of them existed), to admire the bronze statue of the unlucky lady and to place a hand on its left breast, to give themselves better fortune than hers.
But most of all they come, couples from all over the world, to think happy thoughts about the condition of being in love. And, these days at least, they write their fond thoughts on little yellow sticky slips and attach them to the exterior walls of the house, wherever they can find a space, with chewing gum.
The walls are now plastered with the things, there is barely an inch of free space, and they reach such a height - practically to the balcony - that the lovers must be bringing their own ladders. And the city government has had enough. These walls are medieval, they point out. They won't take much more of this chewing gum. The little slips, adorned with hearts and X loves Y messages, must go. "The damage is evident and intolerable," says Francesca Tamellini, the city's tourism councillor, "we must do something". The stuck-up messages are to be banned. Instead, lovers visiting the house will be invited to send their ardent emotions in the form of SMS messages (phone number yet to be published) which will be displayed on a giant video screen to be set up inside the house, as well as on a special website.
It might work - though citizens of Verona point out that earlier attempts at shutting down the problem survived only a matter of weeks before the little yellow things started creeping back. The "technologically correct" solution (as Corriere della Sera newspaper terms it) is open to criticism on two counts. For one thing the messages will enjoy only a brief life, being rapidly killed off by incoming new ones. For another, the semiology is all wrong. Given the number of Japanese tourists piling through Casa Giulietta, it's no surprise to learn Verona's lovenote fad - dating back only 18 months - has a Japanese provenance.
Visit a Shinto shrine in Japan and you see thousands of prayers written on slips of white paper, folded and tied to the branches of trees. They are intended to stop people carving their thoughts on the sacred walls.