Monday, February 2, 2015

The fascination of Fasoli's

 Louis Esson immortalised Fasoli's in this poem which was first published in the Bulletin in 1906.

The Temple of Bohemia, it boasts no golden gate
It flaunts no marble corridor to lure folk to their fate;
But down the pavements dreary, towards one dim lamp's glow,
Fasoli's draws the pilgrims where the good Bohemians go.

Oh! that bottle-laden table! Oh! the mixed and merry scenes!
And oil and garlic mingled with that salami and beans!
Fat macaroni festoons, and pungent, ruddy wines -
Oh! 'tis Bacchus waves his thyrsus where the Latin Quarter dines.

The world is spun of patchwork; and some there are belong
To prayer and holy living, and some to dance and song;
And some explore the cloister to find the key to Truth - 
But some prefer the wine-shop and the commonwealth of Youth.

Italian, Swiss and German, French, Chilian and Russ
They fraternise with Cockney, and with Yid and Yank and Us.
They've humped their swags from God knows where, the whirling wide world round,
But in old Fasoli's wineshop they meet on common ground.

And there's rich and poor all talking in the tongues of all the earth;
There's dominoes and piquet, and there's long-resounding mirth;
There's every brand of rover making merry at the bar,
And there's smoke, and wine, and strumming of the harp and gay guitar.

All the creed and caste are buried; there's only man to man -
A strange Australian picture of the Cosmopolitan.
And there's no bad blood among them, though their arguments may roll
From the price of beer in China to the future of the soul.

The world is spun of patchwork, and some there are belong
To prayer and holy living, and some to dance and song;
A rocky road to Heaven, a sloping path to Hell - 
But which road is the right one? ... Good God, it's hard to tell!

The Temple of Bohemia, it boasts no golden gate,
It flaunts no marble corridor to lure folk to their fate;
But song and mirth and mateship; ah, well, 'tis wise to know
That wine-splashed road of Bacchus that the good Bohemians go.

No history of dining in Melbourne, indeed no history of dining in Australia seems to be complete without a mention of Fasoli's. But Fasoli's fame rests, as Esson's poem suggests, not on the food served there but on the atmosphere of the place and the people who met there. The story of Fasoli's also taps into the wider story of Italian immigration and the influence Italians have had on the dining culture in Australia.

The establishment at 110 Lonsdale Street which Vincent or Vicenzo Fasoli took over in 1897 had originally been established as the 'Pension Suisse' as early as 1864. Abraham Gascard, the first owner, appears to have run the place as a lodging house (in the Argus 2 April 1865 p. 5 he is described as a 'lodging house keeper , Lonsdale Street') but also advertised 'Gascard's genuine colonial wines' which could be purchase for 1s a bottle or 4d a tumbler at 135 Bourke Street east (Argus, 7 November 1866, p.8). Gascard and his brother Jules appear to have been keen businessmen and associated with wine making and wine makers in the Rutherglen area. In a letter to the Argus (25 August 1870) Abraham Gascard describes himself as 'one of the oldest retailers of colonial wine'.

In 1868 the 'Pension Suisse and Colonial Wine Shop' passed into the hands of another Swiss, Colestin (or Coelestine/Celestine) Frey. Frey had been making wines on Sutherlands Creek outside Geelong and remained in Lonsdale Street until 1882. There were several other licensees in the ensuing years, Carlo Brocco 1883/1884, Monigatti, Fedelle and Co. 1885, Imhoff (Charles) and Co. (Imhoff was a member of the Swiss Society of Victoria) 1886 - 1888, Carlo Pescia 1890 - 1893, Angelo Piezzi 1893 - 1896 (Piezzi had previously held the license for the Colonial wine hall at 57 Exhibition Street) and finally Valentino Franzone who took over from Piezzi in 1896 and then handed over to Fasoli in 1897. Franzone went on to run an Oyster Saloon, advertised as a first-class restaurant charging 3d a course at 399 Sydney Road, Brunswick.
Although the exact lines of connection are unclear all these men had contacts with their fellow country men who were making wines locally and their wine hall operated as an outlet for this local production.

Born in Nobbialo, on the north western shore of Lake Como,Vincent/Vincenzo Fasoli was in his early twenties when he arrived in Victoria in 1864, coincidentally the year the 'Pension Suisse' was established. Why he came to Melbourne is unknown but it is likely he already had some contacts here because he seems to have made his way straight to the Italian community which had established itself around the Jim Crow diggings in the Daylesford area.

In 1868 he marries Bridget White (who is Irish), and they have five children, four daughters Milly (Amelia, 1869), Kate (1870), Mary(1872) and Virginia (Florinda, 1874) and one son, Nicholas (1878), all born in the Daylesford area. Just what Vincent did with himself in Daylesford isn't entirely clear although it appears that he tried his hand at wine making. By1869 V. Fasoli and Co. have taken over an established vineyard at Spring Creek and Fasoli is winning prizes for his red and white wines at the Glenlyon, Franklin and Daylesford Agricultural Show (Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers, 22 March 1869, p. 67, The Australian 3 April 1869 p. 25).

In 1889 Vincent Fasoli applied to become an Australian citizen, urgently requesting his letter of naturalisation 'for the purpose of obtaining a transfer of a Victualler's License'. On his application he lists his occupation as hospital wardsman. According to J. Alex Allan, Fasoli bought the Carriers Arms Hotel in Daylesford in 1893 ('Bohemia in Melbourne', The Argus, 6 August 1932).

1898 sees the Fasolis in Lonsdale Street, Melbourne. Vincent runs Fasoli's until 1905 when he retires and hands over the management to his daughter Katherine, now married to Nerino Maggia, a surveyor from Genoa who had arrived in Australia in 1903.  In 1907 the Maggias move the business to King Street and the original premises are taken over by a Mr. Camuso/Carmoosa and become popularly known as 'Carmuso's' although eventually renamed 'The Ritz'.

Vincent Fasoli dies in 1919 and his wife Bridget in 1926. In 1929 Kate Maggia also dies and the business passes into the hands of Virginia. (Virginia had married Guido Mazzolini, born in Cremona. Guido arrived in Australia in 1899 and died in 1924.) By 1934 the business was in the hands of Guido Maggia, Kate's son, and is sold, ending 36 years of Fasoli's in Melbourne.

My fascination for Fasoli's involves both its role in the Bohemian life of Melbourne and the story of the Fasoli family. Long before we start talking about the influence of post World War Two migration we have a strong, well established Italian community using their skills and knowledge to make a living and introducing their ways of eating and drinking to the broader community around them. In this case bringing the local wine from Daylesford and the sausage produced there, know as bull-boar, to be enjoyed by the artists, poets, journalists, musicians, parliamentarians and professional men of Melbourne. I am intrigued by the figure of Bridget from County Clare serving red wine and spaghetti to her clients and how clearly her daughters, Kate and Virginia, identified with their Italian heritage, presumably a result of their upbringing in the Italian community of Daylesford. For most of the life of Fasoli's it was not run by Vincent but by his daughter Kate, and it was Kate who maintained the novel menu and the Bohemian atmosphere.

In his reminiscences I Recall, Robert Croll (p. 43)  has this to say of Fasoli's -
Many have written of both the old and the new Fasoli's: none, I think, has done justice to the memory of Mrs. Maggia, under whose firm and beneficent rule it prospered for such a number of years. She was a woman who had to play a tactful and often difficult part, and well she did it. She earned respect and liking; at her death I felt the loss of a personal friend.
Here I found a whole new world of sensations. I was delighted. The salads (particularly the potato salad) and the 'shark' (as any fish was named, from sardines upward), or the salami (believed by all to be of horseflesh) which prefaced the more important dishes; the spaghetti with its grated cheese; the general flavour of oil and garlic; the vin ordinaire (it was proper to refer to this, no matter how excellent it might be, as the etching bath), the novel cheeses (here I first met Gruyere and Gorgonzola) and, above all, the flow and sparkle of talk in many languages - these were indeed a change from the monotony of the normal. Even the fact that you must not part from your knife and fork throughout the meal had a charm - the charm of novelty.
It seems to me important that we don't underestimate the charm of novelty and the important role immigrants to this country have played in teaching us about not just the variety of what there is to eat but importantly how to eat.

The information I've put together here about the Fasoli family has been gleaned from newspapers (available through the National Library Trove search engine), from indexes to births and marriages registered in Victoria and from copies of files pertaining to applications for naturalisation available through the National Archives of Australia web site.

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