Friday 5th December, 2014
Camerino is my family name.
Choosing a name for the bakery was hard. Ideas were bounced around but none stuck. In the end, Camerino just felt right. My decision was made on a gut feeling.
Negotiations for the lease on the bakery space went on for a year with no hint of when they would conclude. I carried on with work and life but was on high alert. When the lease was agreed I would have just 4 weeks to fit out the shop before the rent clock would start ticking. Any moment could be go-time.
My grandfather, Enzo Camerino, is a survivor of Auschwitz. He and his family were taken from their home in Rome on the 16th October 1943. You can learn about his story, see videos and read interviews here.
Before the Jews were taken form Rome, a part of the Camerino family converted from Judaism to Roman Catholicism to protect themselves. This side of the family, Enzo’s uncles, were coffee roasters, and famous ones at that. 3 brothers in business together made Cafffe Camerino, the coffee with 3 F’s (3 “fratelli” or brothers). These Camerino’s were saved from persecution.
Enzo was a great speaker in front of an audience but less talkative with me. Last year was the 70th anniversary of his deportation to Auschwitz. Enzo lives in Montreal, in an assisted home for elderly people. Imagine my surprise when I came across a photo on Facebook of my grandfather shaking hands with the Pope. My grandfather and the Pope on Facebook. It was bizarre on so many levels.
I rang my mother immediately; “Is Nonno in Italy?”
“No, you know he can’t go to Italy. He has dialysis three times a week. He couldn’t go.”
“Well I’m staring at a picture of him with Pope Francis.”
“It must be Photoshopped. How could he go without us knowing?”
“Can you call the home and check that he’s there?”
(2 minutes pass. The phone rings)
“Your grandfather is in Rome.”
This year I was ready for it. My father, sister and I invited ourselves to Rome for the 16th October commemoration and Enzo was invited to meet his pal Pope Francis again. My flights were booked. Then my lease was agreed and I got the keys to my bakery on the 1st October. The starting gun had shot. I could have stayed in Dublin to keep to the construction schedule. I decided to go Rome with my family regardless.
There is a Holocaust history preservation group in Rome that knows Enzo very well by now. Enzo is one of two remaining survivors of that transportation on the 16th October 1943, but the only one of sound mind. He is the only survivor able to recount his experience for them to record. On this trip we all went together, my family and I, to watch Enzo give them a video recorded interview specifically about his escape from Auschwitz and his return to Italy. I never knew that it was his name, Camerino, that convinced a passing truck carrying coffee beans, to bring him back to Rome.
Back in the 70s Cafffe Camerino had a few coffee shops in Rome with some pretty cool branding. The business was sold a few years ago and while Cafffe Camerino still exists, it isn’t operated with the love and soul it once had. When I was back in Rome in October I met some Camerino’s I hadn’t met in years and some I’d never met. The Camerino’s were beyond excited, even moved, at the impending opening of a Camerino, run by a Camerino in Dublin – as if the name was being reclaimed by the family.
Camerino connected me to the Italian side of my family, with whom I had little in common other than our name. Now our name in business was something we could talk about. I was getting well wishes and gifts, and even parcels of cherished old and rare branded merchandise from the good old days of Cafffe Camerino.
On Sunday, my family threw an early birthday party for Enzo. My sister rang me to include me in the action. Enzo took the phone and we spoke. I thanked him for the money he sent me for Camerino. It was well spent on coffee beans. He asked if everything was good and if I was good. Yes and yes. He told me that he was happy for me and that he was happy. Camerino had been open for one month.