Filippo Tommaso Marinetti
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Filippo Tommaso Marinetti

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

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Thu 29 Jan 2009 1:00 AM

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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