February 11th – Macaroni Madness
Yankee Doodle was probably right. It was getting out of hand.
They were streaming over in their hundreds, crossing the channel from Dover to Calais, and then heading south. Fresh out of university, and with privileged pockets full of family money, they were on their way to becoming gentlemen. With the obligatory Grand Tour to fill in the gaps in their education that Oxbridge had neglected to furnish them with.
Obviously they didn’t speak French. Not well enough, anyway, but there was time enough for that in Paris, an essential stop on the way to Geneva. In Geneva they learned to fence, and dance well enough to set them up for the balls ahead. Then, from Geneva, it was across the Alps and into Italy, some of them carried by their retinue of servants when the coach had to be disassembled through the Great St. Bernard Pass, their guides and good-time tutors leading the way.
It was in Italy where they got really annoying. Their predecessors, earlier in the 17th century, had developed a taste for Maccaroni, something delicious and exotic and other, and they had shipped this taste back along with as much of the pasta as they could get their hands on. With this, unfortunately, they shipped back the word, which became their catchphrase, a byword for anything exotic and fashionable and just a little bit outré.
They became, informally, and then more formally, members of the Maccaroni Club, a club of which Horace Walpole wrote,
“”the Macaroni Club, which is composed of all the travelled young men who wear long curls and spying-glasses”
It was the wigs that were the biggest problem. As the fops got foppier and foppier, the wigs got bigger and bigger, and more and more ridiculous, as the Grand Tourists tried to outdo each other with their displays of wealth and extravagance. Top heavy toffs teetered precariously in pointed toes while they whispered to each other about the women of Venice, those women who, as Sir James Hall noted, were
“more handsome women this day than I ever saw in my life,” also noting “how flattering Venetian dress [was] — or perhaps the lack of it.”
It was the Venetian women the Macaronis whispered about most, their more liberated dress sense and enlightened experience to sex being a highlight of many Grand Tours.
And still the wigs got bigger, and the bewigged nobles and gentlemen of breeding wore them prominently, out and about when the wind wasn’t blowing, and at home as they posed with the portraits of them posing with the ruins of ancient Rome.
Which brings us back to Yankee Doodle, satirised for thinking a feather in his cap was outré enough to make him one of the Macaronis of his aspirational dreams. Maybe it didn’t, but it probably left him with less of a headache and a more solid set of vertebrae in his neck.
Inspired by a prompt from here