I’m a Macaroni Man, and Other News


On the Shelf

Richard Cosway, who went by the “Macaroni Painter” or “Billy Dimple”, poses for a portrait. Image via the Public Domain Review.


  • I’ll just come out and say it: I enjoy macaroni. Always have, always will. And I’m fortunate to live in a time when a man can eat his noodles with no fear of reprisal from the squares and fuddy-duddies of the anti-macaroni establishment. It was not always so. As Dominic Janes writes, Britain in the eighteenth century cast a cold eye on young men who dared to devour macaroni in public—they seemed, you know, funny. Soon the very word macaronibecame associated with sodomy … Horace [Walpole], who was not a married man, presented himself as something of an old-school fop and it was he who first recorded the existence of a ‘Maccaroni club’ in 1764, which consisted of ‘all the travelled young men who wear long curls and spying-glasses’ … Whilst British patriots rejoiced in roast beef, some of those recently returned from the Grand Tour flaunted their newly acquired tastes for Italian cuisine—with a supposed penchant for macaroni pasta in particular … Permeating all these late eighteenth-century notions of the macaroni is the idea that strange cuisine and dress were not the only unconventional customs these travelled young men brought back from abroad. Italy, in particular, was associated by the Protestant British with perversity because of the influence of an unmarried Roman Catholic priesthood which, it was thought, expended its sexual energies on cuckoldry and sodomy. The further implication was that British aristocrats might also bring a taste for such vices back with them from their travels.”

  • David Byrne has said that highways are the cathedrals of our time. He’s right, but there are also malls: malls are the cathedrals of our time. So I can’t understand why people are teasing the Mall of America for its ambitious writer-in-residence campaign, which invites authors to celebrate the mall’s twenty-fifth anniversary by steeping themselves in its culture—our culture—reporting in real time on the sights and sounds of a place that serves as the ultimate metaphor for the contemporary United States. The Mall, as the New York Times reports, “is inviting ‘a special scribe’ to ‘spend five days deeply immersed in the mall atmosphere while writing on-the-fly impressions in their own words.’ … The goal of the contest, according to the mall’s news release cited by the Star Tribune, ‘is to come away from this project with an evocative story about Mall of America that represents the contemporary guest experience after twenty-five years of evolution as a leading retail and entertainment establishment.’ ” Don’t knock this. Writers are seldom asked to serve vital functions in the culture anymore. If you can’t write well about a shopping mall in 2017, you can’t write well.
  • Speaking of “just being an asshole,” here’s a little taste of Evelyn Waugh’s approach to parenting, courtesy of Violet Hudson: “Whenever [Waugh’s wife] Laura fell pregnant—seven times in all, though only six of the children survived—his attitude was consoling rather than celebratory. ‘It is sad news for you that you are having another baby,’ he wrote once—it evidently not having occurred to him that it was they who were having the baby. When his children came to school age, he openly rejoiced at the end of the holidays. He went out of his way to avoid spending Christmas with them when they were little, either staying in boarding houses or traveling abroad. There is also a famous story … of his managing to procure a banana during the gourmet wasteland of the Second World War. The Waugh children had never seen the exotic fruit before—let alone tasted one—but their father, after showing it off proudly, covered it with cream and sugar and devoured the whole thing himself.”