Fabrio Abruzzi was born in a village near Milan in 1883. The Abruzzi family was quite poor with Fabrio’s father cobbling together their existence as a shoemaker. Almost from the time Fabrio could walk, he was put to work pounding leather for his father. He was a nice boy (the villagers lovingly called him bambino brutto) and he was hard-working although his mind would wander and he frequently distracted himself by singing popular Italian folk songs.

As a child, he always had a pleasant singing voice and when, as a teenager, his voice changed, it became a magnificent tenor voice. Fate smiled on Fabrio. A LaScala impresario happened through the village and heard the young man sing as he pounded leather. He took Fabrio under his wings, coached him extensively and on April 1, 1903, scheduled his debut as the principal tenor in Puccini’s Euripedes et Copernica.

On the day of his performance, he prepared himself (as many leading singers of the day did) by forcing lumps of pancetta up each nostril of his nose to lubricate the nasal passages (he had a magnificent Roman nose). Unfortunately, the pancetta became wedged there and he was forced to go on stage with it still in place. Things looked bad. Fabrio did not sound like a magnificent tenor; his voice was stuffy and nasal. The audience was growing restless with the need to toss tomatoes (which Italians always brought with them to the opera). Fortunately, the famous aria ti amo mortadella comes early in the first act. It’s a robust piece and Fabrio gave it his all, thereby dislodging the pancetta and hurtling meaty projectiles through the air. One put a crack in the second violinist’s Stradavarius; the other slammed into the conductor’s forehead, causing him to lead the orchestra off into an unrestrained allegro punctuated by several tomatoes to the back of his head.

But Fabrio was a success. He went on to have a short but illustrious career and was known throughout Italy as voce bellissima brutte facce.

And of course April 1 is . . .

spaghetti238The first day of April marks the beginning of the annual spaghetti harvest in parts of Europe, those happy days when family farmers go forth into their groves and carefully hand pick the strands from their spaghetti trees. They don’t, of course. The spaghetti harvest was one of the great April Fools Day hoaxes, all the better for having been aired on the venerable BBC television network. A BBC cameraman dreamed up the story after remembering how teachers at his school in Austria had teased his classmates for being so stupid that if they were told that spaghetti grew on trees, they would believe it.

Aired in 1957, the report showed a family in southern Switzerland as they gathered a bumper spaghetti harvest after a mild winter and the “virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil.” Footage of a traditional “Harvest Festival” was included along with a discussion of the breeding necessary to develop a strain that produced spaghetti of the perfect length.

Pasta was not a readily available product in England at the time, and Brits were primarily familiar with canned spaghetti in tomato sauce (think Franco-American).  An estimated eight million people watched the program, and hundreds phoned in the following day, some to question the authenticity of the story but many to ask for more information about how they could grow their own spaghetti trees. The BBC reportedly told them to “place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”

 

What fools these mortals be. — Seneca

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