ITALIAN SKETCHES

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti

The man who tried to ban pasta
by Deirdre Pirro   (issue no. 94/2009 / January 29, 2009)

Italians and pasta are like a horse and carriage: they just naturally go together. The very idea of depriving Italians of their beloved pasta seems crazy, but Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the poet, novelist, critic and founder of Italy's Futurist movement, tried to do just that, although, as grocery stores and cookbooks everywhere indicate, without much success.

 

Born of Italian parents in the Egyptian city of Alexandria on December 22, 1876, Marinetti became an established poet in Paris at an early age. After a life-changing but not serious car accident in 1908, he began to write a series of manifestos. The first was his Futurist Manifesto, published in February 1909. Although it appeared in Le Figaro newspaper in French, it declared that ‘It is in Italy that we launch this manifesto of tumbling and incendiary violence, this manifesto through which today we set up Futurism, because we want to deliver Italy from its gangrene of professors, of archaeologists, of guides, and of antiquarians.'

 

Futurism's idea was to break with nineteenth-century Romanticism and eliminate the past by embracing speed and the modern industrial revolution in all aspects of life, including art, architecture, music, poetry, films, fashion, physics and technology. Not surprisingly, its chosen symbols were the aeroplane, cinema and the telephone and, above all, the automobile. As a movement, Futurism quickly spread to Germany, Russia and the Americas. It rivalled Cubism in its influence on other twentieth-century art movements including Art Deco, Surrealism and Dadaism.

 

Almost all the major themes of Futurism are explored in Marinetti's theories about food. A superb communicator, he first launched his ideas about the cuisine of the future in a radio broadcast from the Penna d'Oca restaurant in Milan in 1930. The same year, he published his Manifesto of Futurist Cooking in a Turin newspaper, followed, in 1932, by the publication of the La Cucina Futurista (‘The Futurist Cookbook') containing 172 recipes and polibibite (cocktails). Not unexpectedly, he sought to revolutionise ideas about food and eating habits which he and Luigi Colombo ‘Fillìa', with whom he had written the cookbook, experimented in the avant-garde restaurant the Fururists opened in Turin, Taverna Santopalato (‘Tavern of the Holy Palate'). Designed by the Futurist architect Nicola Diulgheroff, it was aluminium clad from floor to ceiling, with illuminated columns and porthole windows.

 

Eating was made a sensual experience. The food was sculptured in shape and colourful, and perfumes enriched its taste and smell. The diner was stimulated by eating a startling combination of sweet and savoury flavours while stroking a piece of velvet, silk or sandpaper during his meal. However, as speed was of the essence, a serving might be merely one mouthful or less. Knives and forks were abolished and traditional kitchen equipment was replaced by scientific implements like ozonizers to make food smell like ozone or ultraviolet ray lamps to activate vitamins.

 

Marinetti's main objective was, however, to abolish pasta. He believed pasta ‘mentally paralysed' the Italians and made them lethargic, pessimistic and sentimental. He thought that those who defended pasta were ‘shackled by its ball and chain like convicted lifers, or carry its ruins in their stomachs like archaeologists.' For him, being anti-pasta was part of being anti-past.

 

Marinetti's no-pasta menus included dishes like Taste Buds Take Off, a soup of stock, champagne, and grappa decorated with rose petals; the Excited Pig, a whole salami cooked in strong espresso coffee, flavored with eau-de-cologne; Chicken Fiat, a chicken roasted with ball bearings inside and garnished with whipped cream; and Italian Breasts in the Sun, two half-spheres of almond paste each with a fresh strawberry in the centre, sprinkled with black pepper.

 

A convinced warmonger who, as the Futurist Manifesto stated, wanted ‘to glorify war-the only cure for the world', Marinetti was quick to embrace Fascism and became a personal friend of Mussolini. (His were no idle words: in keeping with his beliefs, Marinetti fought, and on December 2, 1944, after returning at age 66 from his last military campaign as a volunteer with the 8th Italian Army in Russia, he died of a heart attack in Bellagio, on Lake Como, then part of Mussolini's Republic of Salò.)

 

Eager to cut the costs of importing the wheat needed to make pasta, the Fascists gladly supported Marinetti's anti-pasta proposal. In their propaganda, they maintained that pasta was unfitting food for soldiers and heroes and promoted home-grown rice as its substitute.

 

Indeed, this relationship between the Futurists and Fascism led later generations to keep their distance from Futurism, which may explain why La Cucina Futurista was not translated and published in English until 1989 and pasta is still a staple of Italian cuisine.

 

 


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