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Culture

Rambling On Lygon Street

Carlton’s Lygon Street remains Melbourne’s
premier strip for Italian cuisine and culture, but
the authenticity of the cultural experience has
been diluted in the past few years.

For today’s visit I start with Museo
Italiano, a showcase of the Italian history
of Carlton. If you’re ever unsure of where
to visit or eat in Lygon Street, head twenty
metres down Faraday Street for a thorough
guide to Carlton’s oldest establishments. The
museum’s black and white photos tell the
story of Olympic medallist Nino Borsari, who
found himself stranded in Melbourne after the
outbreak of World War II. Borsari opened a
cycle shop in Lygon Street, and is credited with
bringing the first coffee machine to Australia,
establishing the area as the coffee centre of
Melbourne. Borsari and other high profile
Italians like Carlton footballer Sergio Silvagni
helped build Carlton into a cultural icon, a
place of belonging for Italian immigrants
throughout the 1950s and 60s.
I head to University Cafe, which in 1976,
when the Italian population in Carlton peaked,
was considered to be the Italian Consulate
(but with food). Today this old meeting spot is
occupied by a small group elderly gentleman,
all dressed in their finest leather shoes, slacks
and suit jackets for coffee. But the menu could
be from any other cafe in Melbourne, giving
no hint of the home style Italian cuisine that
customers would pack the building for decades
ago. Despite the thick Italian accents coming
from the signori opposite, there is little here
that speaks of the famed cultural hotspot of
yesteryear. One of the men tells me he was
friends with the family who owned the deli
where Boost Juice now stands; he is saddened
at the loss of significant cultural icons over the
last few decades. It’s gratifying to see that Boost
is devoid of customers while the cafe next door
enjoys a healthy lunch trade.

As night falls and many of the
commercial retailer’s close, the ristoranti come
alive as patrons spill out onto the footpath.
The air is filled with the bellows of men with
thick moustaches and the beckoning aroma of
salted pork and wood-fired pizza. People cue
for gelato and the line snakes out of Casa Del
Gelato, stretching well around the corner. It is
only now that everyone seems to be celebrating
the heritage of Carlton as all the distractions
of Boost, Cotton On and Seed disappear. The
Forza Italia merchandise store dazzles with
bright lights and cheap Italian livery but the
majority of people appear to walk straight by,
knowing that a real taste of Lygon Street lies
amidst the restaurants and delis rather than a
shirt displaying Michelangelo’s David.

It’s impossible not to notice the
growing Western influence on the strip as the
generation that made Carlton’s Little Italy an
icon gradually move on. I’m in no way opposed
to other cultures integrating into the area (SR’s
Namaste Indian Restaurant is a particularly
tasty and cheap eat). But I hope Lygon Street’s
authentic Italian charm will prevail.

About Christopher Pase

NBC’s Community led me to believe that at uni hacky-sack is a serious sport, avoid the occasional chauvinistic mature-aged student and those with patterns in their facial hair are probably drug dealers. After two years of my Arts (Global)/Science degree it appears Frisbee is accepted above hacky-sack, the Chevy Chase lookalike in my maths lectures is actually a nice guy and drug dealers are getting smarter by blending their sideburns in with the rest of us. That being said, my efforts at AXP were crudely compared to Chang’s marathon pop-and-locking and, as this bio demonstrates, my pop-culture references aren’t exactly streets ahead.

Christopher Pase

The author Christopher Pase

NBC’s Community led me to believe that at uni hacky-sack is a serious sport, avoid the occasional chauvinistic mature-aged student and those with patterns in their facial hair are probably drug dealers. After two years of my Arts (Global)/Science degree it appears Frisbee is accepted above hacky-sack, the Chevy Chase lookalike in my maths lectures is actually a nice guy and drug dealers are getting smarter by blending their sideburns in with the rest of us. That being said, my efforts at AXP were crudely compared to Chang’s marathon pop-and-locking and, as this bio demonstrates, my pop-culture references aren’t exactly streets ahead.

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