Lonely Planet – £17.99

You can have the Universe, if I can have Italy,’ said Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, and I couldn’t agree more. Because after two decades of travel, I see no end to the peninsula’s pleasures and surprises. Of course, there is the outstanding artistic heritage, the gorgeous landscapes and the food – my God, the food! – but more than that it is Italy’s warm humanity that I admire most. It imbues life’s most simple pleasures – a street-corner chat, fresh seasonal produce, a perfect negroni – with reverence and joy. It’s a philosophy that soothes the soul.

(Paul Hardy, ‘Welcome to Italy’).

It’s hard knowing just where to begin with regards the most beautiful and mesmerising nation of Italy, although it being referred to as ‘’a philosophy that soothes the soul,’’ is as good a start as (m)any.

At 1007 pages (excluding Behind the Scenes, Index, Map Legend, List of Writers and a Lonely Planet pull-out Map of Rome), this is a jumbo size guide if ever there was one.

There again, the subject simply exudes a colossal amount of class and culture.

Two qualities that are wholeheartedly reflected throughout this hefty wallop of book.

The sort of book which, depending on your mood, can make for a mighty good read in and of itself. Regardless of the fact that Lonely Planet’s Italy is first and foremost, a travel guide. A travel guide which could quite easily double-up as being a really enticing historical novel. There’s so much to read and find out about.

Once again, It’s hard knowing where to begin.

Okay, obviously at the outset; but you hopefully know what I mean.

It would after all be possible to just focus on say Sicily. Or Rome. Or Milan.

There’s an overt saturation of information to take in, of which the following are two mere examples:

‘’Most seminal movements in western art – from classical, Renaissance and mannerist to baroque, futurist and metaphysical – were forged in Italy by a red-carpet roll call of artists including Giotto, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Caravaggio, Carracci, Boccioni, Balla ad de Chirico. This is the reason why touring Italian art cities such as Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome and Naples was considered an essential scholarly pilgrimage in the days of the Grand Tour’’ (‘Mighty Masterpieces’).

‘’Italy is a gastronomic powerhouse, a mouth-watering, knee-weakening Promised Land of culinary decadence. To say Italian cuisine is regional is an enormous understatement when striking differences can often be found valley to valley, village to village. Wherever you eat, your taste buds will be delighted by the sheer diversity of the Italian pantry from Sicily’s Middle-Eastern-influenced palette, to the New World-inspired tomato dishes of Naples, Piedmont’s truffle-loaded plates and the Swiss-style fonduta of the Valle d’Aosta’’ (‘Feasting & Foraging’).

Unlike an array of Lonely Planet guides, Italy includes a number of Itineraries very early on (essentially from page 40 onwards). Thus, allowing you to plan before hand; depending on what it is you’re fundamentally after. Especially given that Italy has so much to offer. Starting with Italian Highlights (9 days), followed by Northern Jewels (2 weeks), The Grand Tour (4 weeks), Venice to Milan (2 Weeks), Central Italian Escape (10 days), Northeastern Interlude (2 weeks), A Lakes Tour (1 week) and concluding with Southern Coastal Route (2 weeks).

Naturally, there’s all the usual the features herein (Top Experience, Need to Know, First Time Italy, What’s New, Accommodation, Activities and Regions at a Glance – along with numerous maps, colour photographs and definitive descriptions. For instance, here’s (just) the intro to Rome’s most famous Trevi Fountain: ‘’[…] the iconic Fontana d Trevi, is a baroque extravaganza – a foaming white-marble and emerald-water masterpiece filling an entire piazza. The flamboyant ensemble, 20m wide and 26m high, was designed by Nicola Salvi in 1732 and depicts the chariot of the sea-god Oceanus being led by Tritons accompanied by seahorses that represent the moods of the sea.’’

So much to read and find out about.

David Marx

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix –
The Stories Behind The Songs
By David Stubbs
Welbeck Publishing – £20.00

This next song is dedicated to all the troops fighting in Harlem, Chicago and, oh yes, Vietnam. A little thing called ‘Machine Gun.’
(‘Band Of Gypsys’)

When Jimi Hendrix entered New York’s Record Plant in mid-April 1968 to work on the third and, as it turned out, final album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, he did so in truly turbulent times. Personally, professionally, musically and historically, things were working to a head.
(‘Electric Ladyland’)

To cut straight to the chase, Jeff Beck – a very gifted and terrific guitar player himself – turns seventy-eight today; and in this book’s Introduction, he, along with Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend, is already mentioned by way of the following: ‘’When Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton arrived late at an early Hendrix show at Blaises club to check the new American guy out, they met Jeff Beck coming out, who simply rolled his eyes. Townshend asked him if Hendrix was that bad. Beck replied, ‘’No, he’s that bloody good!’’

Fifty years later, Jimi Hendrix still remains ‘’that bloody good!’’
Still, no one has come close.
And to be honest, no one probably ever will.

So it’s quite nice and rather invigorating to be able to write about Jimi Hendrix -The Stories Behind The Songs.

A book of eleven chapters and 185 pages (excluding Chronology, Discography and Index) that contains an assortment of terrific, never before seen black and white/colour photographs of not only Hendrix, but also his band The Experience and various others whom surely substantiate the era. For instance, a photo of Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr., whose assassination, ‘’would prompt a devastating live instrumental tribute from Hendrix, sadly un-bootlegged.’’

As David Stubbs ever so clearly states ‘’More than any other figure, Jimi is the magnificent embodiment of all of rock music’s ambitions. His early, and not inevitable death at the age of 27 is appallingly convenient in that it freezes him at his peak, preserves his iconic status. Age shall not wither, fatten or embarrass him, nor make him resort to a bad hair weave. He remains, then as now, rock’s alpha male, the man. He cut the shape and set the tone by which all subsequent ‘’guitar heroes’’ were measured and generally found wanting, until finally a newer generation decided it might be wiser not to attempt guitar heroism at all but busy themselves in other musical ways entirely.’’ (Introduction).

Moreover, as the book’s title suggests, its fundamental subject matter remains the songs themselves.

Songs, which apart from being w-a-y ahead of their time, were simultaneously simple yet complex, devastating yet profoundly resonant of the world in which Hendrix lived, as the following clearly illustrates: ‘’A showcase for Hendrix’s developing skills as a lyrical storyteller, ‘Castles Made of Sand’ is a psychedelia-tinted parable, featuring three scenarios. The first features a drunken man thrown out of the house by his wife, their once-happy marriage now a broken shambles, a pitiful spectacle for the neighbours to ‘’gossip and drool’’ over. The second features a young Indian brave, who since the age of ten has dreamt of becoming a warrior chief. He grows up and here he is on the eve of battle, looking forward to his initiation and ‘’singing his first war song […]. Finally, a young girl, mute, disabled and thoroughly miserable with her lot, decides to take her own life by drowning herself in the sea. However, just as she draws up to the shore, the sight of a ‘’passing golden wing ship’’ miraculously restores her ability to walk and talk’’ (‘Axis: Bold As Love’).

The likes of Harry Styles and Ed Sheeran don’t even come close.
In fact, I’m already repenting at having mentioned their ghastly names in the same article as Jimi Hendrix…

‘’Henry Rollins said Hendrix was probably rock’s only genius and he was probably right. To paraphrase the Victorian poet Matthew Arnold, who knelt in verse before Shakespeare, ‘’others abide our question; thou, Astro Man, art free’’ (‘Epilogue’).

David Marx


Berlin –

Life and Loss in the City That Shaped the Century

By Sinclair McKay

Viking/Penguin – £20.00

Berlin in s a naked city. It openly displays its wounds and scars. It wants you to see. The stone and the bricks along countless streets are pitted and pocked and scorched; bullet memories. These disfigurements are echoes of a vast, bloody trauma of which, for many years, Berliners were reluctant to speak openly. In the shadow of filthy genocide, it was taboo to suggest that they too were victims in Hitler’s war. The city itself is long healed, but those injuries are still stark…


Throughout the twentieth century, Berlin stood at the centre of a convulsing world. It alternately seduced and haunted the international imagination. The essence of the city seemed to be its sharp duality: the radiant boulevards, the cacophonous tenement blocks, the dark smoky citadels of hard industry, the bright surrounding waters and forests, the exultant pan-sexual cabarets, the stiff dignity of high opera, the colourful excesses of Dadaist artists, the grim uniformity of mass swastika processions.


(Preface; ‘Every city has history, but Berlin has too much’).

The ‘gentlemen’ didn’t know where she was going. Then the ‘gentlemen’ led her to the door. We heard it slam behind them and listened to the quiet little steps and the echo of boots stomping down the stairs. Then it was silence again.

(‘The Road That Led into Darkness’)

From the social(ist) idealism of Messrs. Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht, to the beer-hall bigotry of Hitler’s delusional rantings (‘’They had intoxicated themselves with crazy theories and senseless catchwords, by which the militarist elements in Germany try to console themselves for the loss of the war’’); from the generality of the city’s citizenry (‘’[…] the majority of citizens in Berlin were, by April 1945, denied the luxury of speculation about the future. Their city was suspended in time; an unending midnight, between one era and the next. The three weeks that were to follow – through which they were to face bombardment and conquest and unimaginable trauma – seemed to have neither day nor night; yet somehow, these Berliners retained an extraordinary obdurate toughness, and a keen sense of their own identity. In those three weeks, the entire world was once again watching their city’’) right through to the infamous Berlin airlift between June 1948 and May 1949, this simply superlative new book by Sinclair McKay, covers every unfortunate verisimilitude of twentieth century Berlin.

Hence the title.

Hence the degree to which Berlin – Life and Loss in the City That Shaped the Century essentially covers a vast and unequivocally vertiginous terrain. A terrain, which, it has to be said, is neither linear nor lacking, pleasant nor peaceful.

In fact, it is everything but the latter.

Having lived in Berlin for a number of years, I can wholly substantiate that Germany’s capital city is many things. Many things to many people. Although beige, boring and bland, absolutely isn’t one of them. And as McKay writes with such a high-octane, fine nuance of literary verve and panache, so much of what is written within these 375 pages (excluding List of Illustrations, Picture Credits, Maps, Preface, Acknowledgements, Selected Bibliography, Notes and Index) is akin to dissecting a photograph. If not reading photographic evidence.

It really is that real. That gritty. That honest.

‘’They had been complicit, even if they personally felt no guilt. They might not have seen the camps, or the railway trucks, but they had known about them. And what they certainly had seen was the violence of Kristallnacht in 1938; the howling, shouting groups of civilians. That was the night upon which no Berliner could claim to be in ignorance of the depth of malevolence directed towards the Jewish people. The philosopher Hannah Arendt was later to make the distinction between ‘collective guilt’ and ‘collective responsibility’ – the former meaning that, in essence, no single individual was guilty, the latter obliging German society as a whole to acknowledge what had been done in its name. For the hungry and sexually violated Berliners in 1945 such distinctions will at the time have felt abstract’’ (‘Complicity’).

Berlin almost reignites this extraordinary city in such a way that none of the last century’s tempestuous history can or could ever be denied (let alone questioned). This includes Berlin’s many variations of shade – both good and bad.

In other words, the trajectory of Berlin’s more than substantial dark-side is herein, very candidly brought to the fore – of which the following two quotations (from the chapter ‘Where was home’) are a prime examples:

‘’And Death Mills, made with footage taken at the nightmare discovery of the camps, was directed by Hanus Burger. The narrating voice, provided by Oskar Seidlin, was openly accusatory of ordinary people, as the film juxtaposed images from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will and from the death camps. ‘Yesterday, while millions were dying in German concentration camps, Germans jammed into Nuremberg to cheer the Nazi Party and sing hymns of hate,’ ran the narration. ‘Today, those same Germans who cheered the destruction of humanity in their own land, who cheered attacks on helpless neighbours, who cheered the enslavement of Europe, beg for your sympathy. They are the same Germans who heiled Hitler.’’’


‘’In those post-war months, the US Army quietly conducted a survey in its sector of the city concerning civilian attitudes towards the Jewish people. They found that at least 39 per cent were openly anti-Semitic – 18 per cent of the total radically so. Well over a third of the respondents voiced the belief that it would be preferable if the Jewish people remained away from the city.’’

Dark, disturbing, yet majestically written, Sinclair McKay has perhaps herein written the book on Berlin, by which all future others will be compared and measured.

Surely a contender for book of the year.

David Marx


Generations –
Does When You’re Born Shape Who You Are?
By Bobby Duffy
Atlantic Books – £20.00

We are teetering on the brink of a generational war. Wherever you look, battles and betrayals across the generations are poisoning relations between old and young. Older people have stolen the future from younger generations, while the young are killing the traditions that older generations hold dear. Emerging social justice warriors’ find themselves facing a ‘war on woke.’ Baby Boomers are selfish sociopaths, while Millennials are narcissistic snowflakes.


A generational frame helps us to understand the impact of major demographic trends too, such as our greater life expectancy and increasingly ageing societies. This is one of the most significant changes we’ve seen, and it has huge implications for how we should understand the future. In Japan, the median age (the age of the middle person, if you lined up the whole population, from young to old) was 46 in in 2015, and by 2050 it will have increased to 53. This increase of seven years may not seem like a big shift, but it reflects an incredibly aged society; 33 per cent of Japan’s current population is over 60, but by 2050, 42 per cent will be.

(‘The Question of Our Generation’)

Hmm, talking about my or ones’ generation – one cannot help but wonder what Pete Townshend might have to say about this book.

As is, Generations – Does When You’re Born Shape Who You Are?, attests to the vertiginous vortex of generational change; as underlined by a difference in culture and (current) complacency, economics and (a clear-cut, current governmental lack of) ethics.

The latter of which is surely bound to change endemic social behavioural patterns within the UK at least – if it hasn’t done so already.

To varying degrees, an example of said behavioural change is touched on in the chapter ‘Stuck in the nest – Home Affront’ (especially within the high-octane realm of economics), wherein the author Bobby Duffy writes: ‘’While owning your own place remains the clear aspiration in many countries, an increasing number of young people are not even making it out of their childhood bedrooms. The vision may be of a swish downtown apartment or a cosy suburban house, but the reality for increasing numbers of young adults is sleeping in their old single bed, surrounded by tatty posters of pop bands from their teens. As one 28 year old who had recently moved back in with her parents says: ‘It’s hard to feel like an adult when you’re living with the people who used to brush your teeth.’’

From living with those who used to brush your teeth, right through to the likes of Greta Thunberg (the renowned environmental equivalent of Paul Weller, only without the musicality), Generations is as resoundingly thought-provoking as it is all too clearly stated: ‘’We aspire to be ‘the generation to end world poverty.’ We want future generations to look back on how we’ve responded to COVID-19 and, as Queen Elizabeth II suggested in her address to the Commonwealth early on in the crisis, recognise that our generation was ‘ as strong as any.’ We also sometimes call on other generations to make a difference, as when Greta Thunberg argues that it is the responsibility of today’s adults to save the planet from a climate change disaster that may determine her future’’ (‘The End of the Line?’).

As The Guardian’s overtly knowledgeable Polly Toynbee has already written: ‘’Startling, witty and erudite. This is a must-read, complete analysis of our times – a portrait of the way we live now in all its changing confusions down the generations. Read this to explore the myth of manufactured generational wars.’’

Manufactured generational wars eh (why don’t you all just f-f-f-f-f-fade away)?

David Marx

In Hitler’s Munich

In Hitler’s Munich –
Jews, The Revolution and The Rise of Nazism
By Michael Brenner
Princeton University Press – £28.00

Munich is the city of Hitler, the leader of the German fascists; the city of the Hakenkreuz [swastika], this symbol of popular defiance.

(Thomas Mann, June 1923).

Das Jüdische Echo described these deportees – some of whom got only a few days before the date of their expulsion – in detail. They included persons who had lived in Munich for seventeen years, some of them since they were two years old. Among them was a girl apprentice, a tailor, an engineer, and a medical student. The group contained a decorated war veteran from the Austrian army, the father of a family of nine, and a man whose pregnant wife was close to confinement. Some of them no longer had any ties to Poland or Russia or family members there.

(‘The Hotbed of Reaction’).

Munich the asylum for all persecuted freedom fighters.

(‘The City of Hitler’).

As if anyone were to need reminding, this more than resolute, insistent book sheds a lot of disturbing and illuminating light upon the rife divisions which persist within the current day UK and US.

In an almost awkward, breathtaking kind of way, In Hitler’s Munich – Jews, The Revolution and The Rise of Nazism really does make for uncanny reading. For instance, in the following (again, from the chapter ‘The City of Hitler’), the author Michael Brenner could just as easily be writing of Britain’s brain and economic drain in direct relation to the traumatic trajectory of Brexit – wherein so many financial institutions have decamped to the more financially stable cities of Frankfurt, Dublin and Amsterdam: ‘’In former times the beautiful, comfortable, well-beloved city had attracted the best brains in the Empire. How was it that all these had left now, and that all the lazy and the vicious, who could not find a home in the Empire or anywhere else, rushed, as if magically drawn, to Munich?’’

Just like Jeremy Corbyn was (and to a certain degree, still is) to blame for ALL of the UK’s nefarious woes during the disastrous election of 2019 and everything that that STILL entails – a mere recent tip of the iceberg ranging from the ever increasing cost of living to ever increasing food banks, from the ghastly Home Secretary, Priti Patel, wanting to sever links with the European Court of Human Rights to this week’s first national rail strike in thirty years – so too were the Jews to blame for ALL of Bavaria and Germany’s nefarious woes: ‘’The Jews are to blame for everything! Wherever and whenever something might happen that displeases some Germans, the Jews are behind it. And since, according to what antisemites everywhere demand, there should only be one percent of Jews in every occupation, with the exception, naturally, of public offices, which should not be occupied by even a single Jews, what Jewish Germans are to blame for is obvious and, for a change, even provable with numbers. The revolution is alleged to be one made by Jews’’ (‘A Pogrom Atmosphere in Munich’).

Again, In Hitler’s Munich makes for an uncanny, if not reflective read; which, to be honest, might strike some as being a little (too) close to the bone. But, one can at least read this altogether disturbing book from the defined premise of hindsight.

In other words, the very kernel of Germany’s disastrous and catastrophic disintegration lies within the pages of this book.
In black and white.
For all to see.
The cloying caveat being: it’s just such a colossal shame that Britain’s disastrous and catastrophic disintegration – before our very eyes – cannot be seen in ragingly similar fashion.

Were one to replace the word Jew with the word Immigrant, the following could just easily have been written about today’s Kent. Or Essex. Or any number of Home Counties so horribly infected with regal racism: ‘’In a letter to the editor of Das Jüdische Echo, Helene Cohn, who had recently arrived in Munich, agreed with Kopel: ‘’Never before in my life have I sensed around me such a degree of hate-filled passion as in the streets of this city. When I buy newspapers on the street corner, look at book-store displays, hear a conversation in a tram or restaurant – everyone is filled with hate and inflammatory defamations of Jews.’’ No distinction was really made any more between German and East European Jews. It bordered on madness that the people, afflicted with hardship, could not think about anything else besides ‘’hating and annihilating the 2,500 Jewish families within the walls of the city of Munich.’’ These words written by an observer who had only recently moved to Munich very clearly expressed what was happening at that time and place. For the first time in a German city, the ‘’Jewish question’’ had arrived to the centre of daily life. In his study of postwar Munich, Martin Geyer comes to the conclusion: ‘’What was only marginally successful (including in Munich) before the war, in spite of the campaigns waged incessantly by the largely nationalistic and antisemitic wing of the Conservative party – namely turning antisemitism into a central component of debate and speech – was now being accomplished with astonishing speed. The ‘Jewish question’ was on everyone’s lips’’ (‘The Hotbed of Reaction’).

Dense, dry, maybe a tad repetitive here and there, but eye-opening nevertheless, In Hitler’s Munich makes for powerful reading. To quote Peter Fritzsche, author of Hitler’s First Hundred Days: When Germans Embraced the Third Reich: ‘’Set in what Thomas Mann recognised as ‘the city of Hitler’ already in 1923, this unusually intimate account of revolution and counter-revolution reveals how unexpectedly crossed relationships between Jews, revolutionaries, and antisemites turned unforgiving and lethal in a few short years.’’

Unforgiving and lethal in a few short years – sound familiar?

David Marx

Meditations in an Emergency

Meditations in an Emergency

By Frank O’Hara

Grove Press UK – £12.99

And the rooftops are falling apart like the applause

(Aus einem April)

And now I am quietly waiting for

the catastrophe of my personality

to seem beautiful again,

and interesting, and modern.


With the possible exception of a few interesting lines and imaginative ideas, Meditations in an Emergency (a slightly odd and rather presumptuous title), isn’t exactly going to be winning any Ted Hughes awards in the near future.

Essentially linear in both structure and ingenuity, Frank O’Hara, it has to be said, has herein delivered a book that is essentially average within the ever so great pantheon of poetry.

In other words, it isn’t the best.

Needless to say, there will always be something that will somehow leap off the page, ever so wide-eyed, unto the hungry, waiting mind of ceaseless curiosity:

A tongue given wholly to luxurious usages;

which only a moment before dropped aspirin

in this sunset of roses, and now throws a chair

in the air to aggravate the truly menacing.

(Chez Jane)

(and has lately availed

herself of this information), not to the Catholic Church

which is at best a over-solemn introduction to cosmic



and smiles, Ginger Rogers with her pageboy bob like a


on her shuffling shoulders, peach-melba-voiced Fred Astaire

of the feet,


(To the Film Industry in Crisis)

but so far as Meditations in an Emergency is concerned, one has to delve deep into the world of totally non-verbose verbatim; a quality, which after a while, becomes a tad irksome to say the least.

David Marx

Pasta Grannies

Pasta Grannies –

The Secrets of Italy’s Best Home Cooks

By Vicky Bennison

Hardie Grant Books – £22.00

Early dawn in Italy belongs to the fisherman landing their catch, cheese-makers making curds and bakers paddle-sliding dough into their ovens. There’s another group stirring, too: grandmothers – nonne – making pasta for their family’s lunch […]. All Italians know their grandmothers are the best cooks, because they enjoy their Sunday lunch – or daily meal – served with a liberal sprinkle of adoration. Their nonne have cooked from scratch since they were old enough to roll dough and, by and large, only learn two or three pasta styles typical of their region […]. Every nonna has her own recipe; in fact, every nonna has her own recipe for everything. This book brings together the cooking of these women – the Pasta Grannies as I call them. It features some of the women who have starred on the YouTube channel. The following pages reveal just how the story of that channel came about.


Divided into eight prime sections (Nuts and herbs, Vegetables, Pulses, Potato and gnocchi, Seafood, Meat, Pasta in brodo, Ravioli and tortelli), Pasta Grannies – The Secrets of Italy’s Best Home Cooks essentially homes in on the proper tradition of how to make Italian pasta.

As there really is a proper way of making pasta, which by and large, stems from that of regional tradition.

Whenever I go to my Italian mates’ house for instance, their mother Anna, will always delight in cooking a delectable dish of sorts. This will invariably involve a pasta, which for the life of me, always tastes far more fruity and exquisite, divine and dare I say it, correct; than when I attempt to cook the very same thing.

Even if just plain tomato sauce with onions and garlic.

To be sure, there’s something extra special about the actual texture of Anna’s cooking, that appears to be seemingly impossible to replicate. Hence, Vicky Bennison’s Pasta Grannies, which I am hoping will assist me in finding not only the right way, but the correct method.

One of these being the simple fact that Anna always insists on making her own pasta; something which is (perhaps unsurprisingly) mentioned herein: ‘’The majority of the nonne I film don’t bother with weighing ingredients, they have been making pasta for so many years it’s second nature to them. They rely on the feel of the dough to know when it’s okay. That’s a bit scary if you are new to pasta-making, but the good news is making pasta is dead easy – much easier than pastry, for example. Newbies like measurements and explanation, so that’s what I’m going to give, but remember pasta is not like other dough. If you use a little bit more or less flour, water or egg, it’s okay. Just channel your inner nonne!

(‘Making Pasta By Hand’).

And that’s just for starters, as there’s an abundance of actual terrific pasta menus to be found herein (Maria’s Cappelletti in Meat Stock and Rosa’s Tagliatelle with Sweet Wine being just two of my favourite), nigh all of which are ably assisted with a menagerie of top tips and mouth-watering colour photographs.

So if you’re looking to cook the real deal where Italian pasta is concerned, Pasta Grannies comes highly recommended. I’d go so far as to say it’s key (in unlocking just some of nonnas many culinary secrets).

David Marx