The Futurists in Fat City

Umberto Boccioni via The New Inquiry

Just the other day it was the discovery of Charlie Chaplin’s novella. Now comes another article about Bologna:

Diners at the Bologna location were dubbed “experimental passengers,” seated in a room that resembled a fuselage, and served dishes named for an airplane’s various gear. Engine noises blared in lieu of Wagner. The experimental passengers came away from the experience unnerved and disoriented yet impressed by its beauty.

And which group was behind this onslaught of sensory and gustatory sensations? The Futurists, of course:

The Futurists wanted their cuisine to discombobulate. They imagined the Tavern of the Holy Palate not as “a simple, ordinary restaurant,” as Futurist luminary F.T. Marinetti writes, but as “an arts centre holding competitions and organizing Futurist poetry evenings, art exhibitions and fashion shows instead of the usual post-prandial coffee evenings or dances.” They designed their eatery to disorder the senses, to unmoor the eater from his everyday habits. All of this discombobulating, disordering, and unmooring they believed advanced a risorgimento, a wholesale remaking of Italian thought and culture.

Has there ever been such an Italian shift to a movement? Because really, what does food have to do with Futurism, other than the fact that no good Italian movement can survive without good Italians, and no good Italians can survive for long without good food. Here’s their attempt to justify it:

Despite their zeal for industry, machines, and automation, Futurists considered food one of the more effective weapons in the fight against tradition. Because it engaged the body immediately, it presented the fastest way of transforming the mind. And a mind transformed by modern food, the logic went, was a mind sympathetic to a modernizing agenda.

This is comical, and I wish I could laugh. Unfortunately, the Futurists are (as usual) one of the most misguided groups ever. They remind me of young boys eager to play war, not realizing they’re in way over their heads:

Soldiers about to get “into a lorry to enter the line of fire” or go “up in an airplane to bomb cities or counter-attack enemy flights” may wish first to enjoy a “Heroic Winter Dinner” consisting of three fairly involved dishes. First comes “Drum Roll of Colonial Fish,” a mess of fish, bananas, and pineapples eaten to a snare’s accompaniment. Then comes “Raw Meat Torn by Trumpet Blasts,” a single cube of beef marinated in rum, cognac, and white vermouth, given an electric jolt, and plopped atop a bed of red pepper, black pepper, and snow. (The dish’s presentation was meant to suggest an aerial view of a winter battlefield’s trenches, corpses, and spilt blood.) Ripe persimmons, pomegranates, and blood oranges offer a palate-cleansing interlude before the meal’s finale. Dubbed “Throat Explosion,” it consists of “a pellet of Parmesan cheese steeped in Marsala.” Immediately upon eating this “solid liquid” even the most reluctant warriors  – or “meat to be butchered,” as the Futurists urged them to call themselves – felt courage enough “to rush like lightning to put their gas masks on.”

Ugh. Every time I read about the Futurists, it’s the same thing. I laugh. I shake my head at how ridiculous they are. I get caught up in their enthusiasm for about two seconds. Then I wind up wishing I could go back in time and try to shake them out of it.

You can read much more about the fascinating Futurists and their feasts in Christine Baumgarthuber’s piece in The New Inquiry.

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