Wednesday, January 7, 2015

One Day in Venice

I was looking through a box of old photos and notebooks the other day and I ran across a journal that I kept while studying abroad in Venice (Italy) in my early twenties.  As I perused its pages, I found that some events had completely faded from my memory and only existed in the pages of this journal.  On the other hand, a few of the moments I experienced were as clear as if they had happened yesterday.  This is one:

     The Ghetto

     This is where I ended up on (my first day in Italy).  I live in Cannaregio on Fondamenta della Sensa, two canals away from the Ghetto Nuovo.  This was the first ghetto.  The name, according to local history, comes from an iron foundry which once stood at this location, but there are other theories about the source of the name.  Whatever the origins, this place gave its name to the ghettos all over Europe which had the dubious distinction of enclosing all European Jews within their gates.  The gates are gone now and so are most of the Jews, but a wrought iron bridge leads into the ghetto from Fondamenta della Misericordia.  Several holocaust memorials serve as reminders to its history.  There is definitely an air of history when one walks into the place.  Maybe it's because I have read so much before coming, but it seems to me to be special in a strange way, like Venice, worthy of remembrance.  It is sitting in a city which is unique in the world.  A city of water and bridges and past glory.  The Ghetto is also an original.  It is a time capsule which holds inside its boundaries a struggling Jewish culture as well as the pain of past injustices.  There remain five synagogues.  Only one of which is now in use for part of the year.  The buildings here are the tallest in Venice, but some of the apartments are only six feet high.  5,000 Jews once lived inside this square.  I've learned these facts and many more during my time here, but the ghetto will always be special to me for another reason.  My first day in Venice, Anna dropped Rochelle and me off at our apartment, gave us sketchy directions to the Zambler, and left us to our own devices.  We were cold (it was January), hungry, and spoke not a lick of Italian.  Using Anna's directions, we wandered into the ghetto.  It was siesta, of course, and everything was closed.  We found one shop open and miracle of miracles, the people inside spoke English.  The woman directed us to her husband's restaurant.  It was the only open door in the entire campo.  The light inside was warm and welcoming.  I had the best meal of my life in this little place.  Not so much because of the food as because of the warmth of the people.  The owner gave us pasta, hummus, cinnamon rolls (sort of), bread, water, and several other dishes I could not identify.  His brother-in-law played Israeli music for us and talked about his days in the United States.  They welcomed us to Venice and gave us the meal for free.  On the table next to us, the owner's daughter was doing her homework.  I was a little less scared when I left that warm little room.