11.07.17

A Melbourne place where Caesar or Cicero would hang about to pursue their public career

The Roman forum was a public space: the key political, ritual and civic center. If I were to compare it to a modern day equivalent in Melbourne, then Cafè Brunetti in Carlton meets the criteria. It is my third year working at Brunetti and it has been more than a part time job while attending university.

Like the Roman forum itself, one is able to hear discussions of all sorts standing at the bar–espresso with or without cornetto in hand. The bar is central with public debates and discussions taking place. Topics stem from politics to the Serie A championships. Lazio and Roma fans welcome… The bar is a place to hear and to be heard.

We will try not to judge if you order a soy decaf latte, but it may provoke a slight bias. Despite different backgrounds, we all gather here and share one thing in common: a thirst for life and the need to emulate the Italian culture.

A local of African descent loves to practice his Italian with the bar staff. A young university student scribbles in his notebook, finding inspiration from the surroundings. A jobless lecturer seeks purpose in the next chapter of his career. I smile at the businessman who brings his teenage son in every morning, setting an influential example of networking and professionalism.

Habits are lived by daily. A local man aged in his fifties orders a granita al limone every day with a smile on his face and reads his novel. One day he didn’t order it. I asked, “No granita today?” He replied, “The doctor told me I should cut down sugar.” A few weeks later he ordered it again saying, “How can one live without the simple joys in life?”

Brunetti brings such joy to people: inspiring and encouraging growth. One can really learn something new everyday here. I certainly have. As a twenty-year-old I can converse with people from all different cultures and ages.

To the left and right of the bar, tables fill the long room where I suppose private, lengthier and meaningful conversations occur. Early morning tradesmen gather before the big day ahead, business meetings happen at a relaxed pace, mothers introduce traditional dolce and babycini to their bambini, and romantically involved couples are always around. Even though I cannot hear them, their facial expressions display humanity and genuine emotion.

Feeling lonely? Someone is always willing to strike up a conversation. I once met an old man who recounted his life growing up in Italy in a Tuscan villa and seeing at close range Mussolini giving a speech in front of a crowd. Hearing the insights of people’s life is a priceless learning experience one cannot get from

Hearing the insights of people’s life is a priceless learning experience one cannot get from university.

In the back rooms, another world comes to life full of wit and spontaneity. Pastry makers, chefs, cleaners and the infamous runners animate the Brunetti forum night and day. Here, similar topics are discussed in an informal manner and I am free to drop formalities letting another level of discussion open up my mind.

Upon entering Brunetti, one may somehow feel as the great German poet and writer Goethe felt when he arrived in Rome during his famous tour of Italy over two hundred years ago. The marble floors and benches, the high ceilings and wide pillars, have set a precedent to the design of Italian cafès in Melbourne.

On big public holidays and great events, Brunetti adds to its look and modifies its interior to fit a larger number of customers and provide the atmosphere of familiarity and security.

Brunetti can be a treat, but it is much more than that. It is an icon of Italian lifestyle and a center of social life where people meet, discuss, socialise, and have romance and commercial affairs. A Melbourne place where Caesar or Cicero would hang about to pursue their public career.

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