L’albero di Spaghetti

Of course, no one would ever believe it once word got out that the entire segment on the BBC had been an elaborate April Fool’s Day hoax. The greatest of all-time, in fact. Considered so in the present as well–even after Taco Bell claimed to be buying the Liberty Bell back in ’96 (for the perfect mélangé moniker), before the internet ruined all chances of sustaining a national ruse. In the case of the spaghetti incident, that the year was 1957 only worked in favor of the credibility of the lie, for no one could have ever imagined such a new medium as television to disseminate non-truths. Least of all British television, run by such a proper and staid nation. That the show, called Panorama, honed in on just such an “esoteric” part of the world as the Swiss border only added to the report’s initial credibility about “the spaghetti crop” experiencing a boon that year thanks, in part, to getting rid of the former nuisance that was the “spaghetti weevil.”

Taken in by the seriousness of the reportage, concluding with the lines, “For those who love this dish, there’s nothing like real home-grown spaghetti,” Brits were flabbergasted to slowly learn of the “falsity” of the broadcast, many even going so far as to book flights to Milan so as to make their way up to the border (because why not stop at Lake Como while they were at it?). That some took their flights before being informed of the “cruel joke” added to the mounting number of lawsuits against the BBC (many of which cited causing accelerated death from such banal programming).

Yet so many wanted to get a taste of those precisely cut strands, which the narrator of Panorama explained as being a result of “patient endeavor by plant breeders, who succeeded in producing the perfect spaghetti.” The Italians, on the other hand… far too messy and barbaric to bother with the methodical processes of the Swiss in terms of spaghetti cultivation. This was perhaps what most convinced the British of the dispatch’s veracity–constantly searching for ways to look down on the Italians while envying their food with the same Jell-o green aura that emanated from the plates they served to their families. For when you want something that someone else has–knowing full well that you yourself can never have it–it’s only inevitable to turn your nose up in any unjustifiable way possible.

Those Brits who did carry out their journey as a result of the Panorama report were horrified to find a very “uncultivated” people indeed living at the border, in the Italian-speaking region of Ticino. That the BBC was also thorough enough to use a real yet just off the average radar place as Ticino also speaks to why so many “fell for” the gag. Unlike The Guardian-invented island (divided into “Upper Caisse” and “Lower Caisse”) of “semicolon-shaped” San Serriffe in 1977 (which really should have tipped more people off, yet perhaps there truly is a paucity of literates and font nerds in this world), Ticino was provably real. The trees, however, had to be seen to be believed. Yet naturally, no visiting outsider would ever find them. They were looking in only the most open of areas, and the most obvious of places. That’s often the problem with anyone seeking “truth.” They never seem to realize that it has to be found just beneath the surface of things, but that it’s there in (largely) plain sight nonetheless.

As news of the BBC’s epic hoax spread back to the island of Britain, outrage was quelled for several months until news of the Soviets launching Sputnik in October left everyone feeling uncertain as to whether or not the information was real–after all, who would name their spaceship after a potato? An emblem so decidedly Irish. When the BBC saw how vastly they had breached the trust of their public as letters trickled in about chastising them for pulling yet another prank in the form of “this Sputnik business,” the head of the company insisted upon a public apology so as to assuage the masses from thinking the BBC would steer them wrong in such serious matters as “intergalactic travel.” Thus, with an pathetically obsequious newscaster taking the hit for the entire organization, it was admitted, once and for all, that no spaghetti trees have ever existed, or could ever exist, in any climate, regardless of the presence of “the warm alpine sun.”

As life soldiered on into 1958, the British began to forget about how they were duped, focusing on other important matters, like seven Manchester United players dying in a plane crash. So it was that, gradually, any thoughts of a spaghetti tree faded from public consciousness, much to the relief of a select group of Italian women living on the borderline in question. The fact of the matter was, a spaghetti tree did–and does–exist just at the divide between Switzerland and Italy, in a sequestered patch of land where only the most fastidious of pasta makers can bring themselves to travel. And only the sagest are aware of. For one must be somewhat wise to parse a myth from a reality.

L’albero di spaghetti was whispered of many times throughout both sides of the land, but most–especially those who cooked–balked at such dicerie assurde, claiming it was a way for those who could not adequately make pasta to attempt justifying that there was a better product out there to do so than the packaged filth in the stores. So it was that the general public’s skepticism in things that ought to have been given credence to, once more, prevented them from partaking of an experience that might have improved the lusterless quality of their lives.

And as Mariangela helped herself to a heaping portion of spaghetti from the tree, strands that would soon turn into the sustenance that kept her many paramours coming back for more, she cackled to herself, no one else paying much mind as there was never more than about four or five people scavenging from the discredited tree. Human stupidity knows no bounds, it’s true. But very often, it’s the kind of stupidity that puts a barrier on believing in so-called “magic,” or what’s better known as “fake news.” This is, unequivocally, why only some will experience the most youthful of skin (thanks to that fountain of youth in Montecatini) or the pure delicious flavor of spaghetti freshly sprouted from a tree. For it’s no prevarication: you have to be a bit mad to believe in verity.

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