The family story.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Meet the family. Mummy Giusi. Papa Davide. Their shy son, Nicolo. And his cheery girlfriend, Eleonora. Together they run Panificio Volpe Giovanni–the only old-fashioned bakery in the ancient Jewish district of Venice.
While it might not be politically correct to celebrate the world’s first ghetto’s 500th anniversary–it was set up in 1516–one can surely sing a song for this kosher bakery.
The Volpe family is catholic but every product in their little establishment is prepared in obedience to the Jewish dietary laws. Mummy Giuso confesses of never having pondered on words like ‘Talmud’ and ‘Torah’ but she knows that you can’t mix meat with milk, thank you very much.
“Our customers consist of people living in the area… but actually most are tourists, Jewish tourists,” she says.
The family lives far from the ghetto in the immensely picturesque Mestre, a very Un-Venetian area with no canals and no tourists. Papa Davide gets up from his bed every night at half past one and boards the bus to Piazzale Roma from where he walks to the bakery to start the ovens. The rest of the folk arrive a few hours later. Their day passes in a blur of breads, buns and customers–friendly rabbis, chatty regulars and shy tourists.
Mummy Giusi says the bakery was founded by her father-in-law, Giovanni, 60 years ago, and it was run for a long time by him and his wife, Maria. That was another age. The ghetto has undergone tremendous transformation. Venetian Jews no longer live here, most old shops are gone and the synagogues feel like preserved pickles. Such details may fascinate an idle mind but mummy Giusi just don’t have time to mull and reflect. “We don’t think of the ghetto as ghetto,” she says, adding, “To us, it’s a place where we earn our living and serve our customers.” As papa Davide emerges out of the kitchen with a trolley of steaming hot bread, mummy Giusi says, “I’m sure my father-in-law opened this shop here not because the area belonged to Jews or Christians but because he sensed an opportunity.”
The Volpes close the bakery daily at half past seven in the evening, after which the whole family dines together at home in Mestre. Of course, their private kitchen is not kosher.
It’s all home-made here
1. (The Volpe family, from left: Giusi, Eleonora, Davide, Nicolo)