He is the oldest baker in the city of Venice. “I started when I was 14, this work is my life” he said in a special feature for La Nuova. Every day at four o’clock in the morning, Giulio wakes up, puts on his white uniform and goes to work. He is never in a hurry.” Once he arrives at his bakery near Sant’Agostin square in Venice, his lifelong passion awaits him: the oven, the mixer, the molder.
Giulio Cortella was born in 1921 and he began working when he was only 14 years old. The Department of Corporations even gave him an official letter with permission to work as a minor. “I still keep this letter as a relic. It is dated 1935.” There was no luxury lifestyle for little Giulio. “I began to carry baskets of bread on my shoulders. You had to earn your pay. In one day I probably carried about dozen of bread baskets around the town. I went and came back a few times and each trip I got about 20 schei” (schei is the name of old Venetian coins). With 25 pounds on his shoulders, the young Giulio moved on foot from one side of Venice to the other. The boats took him across the Giudecca Canal. “I went up to Celestia, St. Helena, at the Academy. I reached the ship docks also; I brought bread to the crew getting ready to leave for the Adriatic. ”
Giulio was a hard worker.” I remember once, I was really tired; I’d had enough of the day. With my baskets I leaned against a well. I had never done this before. Suddenly I saw “the boss” who had gone for a coffee. He walked over and slapped me. If you didn’t work hard, you got slapped and kick in the butt. Those were the “educational” methods of the time.” A few years later Giulio began receiving a fixed salary. “I finally earned even more dignity as a worker. I began selling the bread in the shop, I was working with customers.” Meanwhile, every day Giulio was “stealing” the skills of the craft with his eyes. He learned to knead flour using baking powder, oil, salt and bake “montasù”, “rosettes”, “duvets” and “pillows” – different type of breads.
At age 17, Giulio was given the opportunity to make bread in the bakery. “It’s a never ending work! The bread was made differently back then. It was time consuming but of better quality. “Now the process is faster, at the expense of quality.” We baked twice a day, once at dawn and once in the afternoon. We still use the old genuine method, but the quantity is reduced.” He says with a smile: “Venetians eat less these days. They look like little birds”
The work was heavy back in the days. At noon we stopped for lunch – his mother brought him food – and he rested for an hour lying on a wooden table in the shop. Then came the war and from 1940 to 1943 he was drafted in the army. “They gave me ten days vacation for good behavior. These were the only days so I could not return home. I was sent by train to Naples.”
On September 9th 1943, Giulio escaped the army with three friends. He returned home on foot. With terror in his eyes had to stop for two days in Mestre. He was unrecognizable. “I could not go home. I had no documents. I didn’t know what to do? I asked a woman for help. She drove the bus, since men were fighting in the war. I asked her to get my family to bring me my brother’s id card. We looked alike and he was a prisoner in Greece. I was hidden in the attic for the entire time. “Giulio continues: ” That day in Mestre a barber stopped me and said, “you can’t go to Venice like this”. So he made me handsome, he shaved my beard and gave me a modern cut. Now you can go – he said. He didn’t even want a penny for this.”
When he arrived in Venice, there was a death silence; even a funeral home was noisier. “Fear and suspicion hovered in the air, but I had to take my life back. My old boss hired me again. ”
Giulio married Clementina di Riese Pio X and later they had two sons – Francesco and Pierluigi. The younger one is now following his father’s footsteps. Behind the counter, Ersilia the clerk smiles: “Families are purchasing the cheapest bread today. It costs 4 euro per kilo. Mr. Giulio also kneads bread rolls with raisins, pizza, focaccia Genovese and carnival fritters. In the nearby barber shop the hairdresser Manuela says: “He is a very generous man, he is a Venetian myth.” Giulio, a man of traditional values, smiles and continues to make bread for the Venetians…at least for those who are still in town.
The story was first published at La Nuova. Written in Italian by Nadia De Lazzari.