Tuesday, April 5, 2011
My trip last weekend to Mazzorbo and Burano was heavenly. And I don’t say that lightly. I truly felt apart from this world most of the time. The hotel I was staying in, Venissa, was on Mazzorbo, a tiny island just north of the better known Burano. Besides the inn, a cemetery, and two small restaurants there were just a handful of houses, each with their own vegetable garden. I woke up to the sounds of the tide going out and roosters crowing. I somehow had been miraculously transported to a small village, yet here I was in the middle of the Venetian lagoon, not 30 minutes from the madness of San Marco.
Burano, just over a small wooden bridge that connects the two islands, was definitely more touristed than Mazzorbo. Day trippers piled off the traghetto to stroll along the multi-colored alleyways and fondamente to buy ‘local’ lace and other trinkets. Even though my own photos captured the back side of Burano, of which there is plenty, with nary a store to mar the kaleidoscope of color, the streets in the center were lined with stores catering to tourists.
Although I managed to find an authentic bead maker, I never considered for a moment coming home with what seemed to be mostly made-in-china lace. Maybe there was some real stuff in there somewhere, I admit. But lace? Who but a tourist would decide they needed a lace fan? Or one of the weirdly decorated bodices that apparently must be all the rage someone in the world.
Just when I was about to head back to Mazzorbo, to the ‘real’ village, I was drawn into a little bakery, its windows full of cookies. Mind you, there were lots of other bakeries around, with huge signs saying “Real Venetian Cookies” or “Old Fashioned Venetian Bakery”. But this one wasn’t making such claims. There were just tiny hand written signs, stuck into piles of biscotti. This was an old fashioned venetian bakery selling real Venetian cookies. Without the quotation marks.
I managed to spend a half hour with Giorgio Garga, the baker and owner. The bakery was started by his grandfather and he himself had taken over the business from his own father. While there were cakes available, it was mostly cookies that took up the most real estate on his shelves. The famous s-shaped “Essi” of course, but also spicy “Pescatore” that were a speciality of the Burano.
As I started nosing around with my camera, he told me that of course I could head in the back and take photographs of anything I wanted to. “You’re lucky that today it’s pretty quiet, there’s no one there.” I thought I had misunderstood him, since first of all there were people in and out of the shop the entire time we were talking. But he meant in the back, or so I thought. Whey would there be people in the back?
“Yes, today’s a quiet day” he insisted. Then pointed to the calendar on the wall, that was filled in with names and quantities. Maria 10 kg. Teresa 20kg. Benedetta 50kg. As the date got closer to Easter, the names came fast and furious.
“The ladies bring in their ingredients,” Giorgio explained with a smile,”Butter, eggs, flour and sugar. And I make their cookies for them. While they watch. And do they watch! They want to make sure that their ingredients go into their cookies. Sometimes it gets pretty crazy back there, with just me baking and all those ladies talking away!”
While this goes on all year, Easter is definitely the busiest time. What does one do with kilos of cookies? Gifts. So, not only are the ladies assured of high quality (even though he uses good quality all the time anyway) the real reason is that not only is it easier, it ends up costing them less. “I charge 6 euros a kilo to make their cookies. When they bring in 10 kilos of flour, they end up with double that in weight of cookies.”
In the back room it did indeed look as if he had just taken a break from the baking frenzy. Flour dusted almost every surface, a pot of chocolate was slowly melting by the massive oven, and trays of cookies were cooling on their trays.
Back in the front room tourists continued to stream in and out, Giorgio selling them cookies in every language but Italian. But I was comforted by the fact that Italian and local traditions were what was keeping this place alive. Not economically (the tourists were doing their part), but culturally. As it turned out Burano was indeed a small village, and I had just stumbled into its sweet, beating heart.
Via S. Mauro 335