Salzburg – City of Culture

Salzburg – City of Culture

By Hubert Nowak

Haus Publishing – £12.99

Like few other cities, Salzburg knows how to resoundingly resolve into stone and atmosphere things that would otherwise in reality be in stark contradiction to one another. What’s more, it learnt this secret, this resolution of dissonances into harmony, from music.

                          (Love Takes Time)

In Salzburg, even a museum of modern art can’t avoid referencing Mozart.

                          (Shoebox with Don Giovanni)

This rather splendid and altogether endearing book cannot help but entice the reader into wanting to investigate the city of Salzburg further. That it is located so close to the Alps (or should I say within them) is, along with Mozart, history and its architecture, partially responsible for its enticing and all circumnavigating atmosphere of quasi-relaxed-frenzy.

As the Austrian journalist and author of this book, Hubert Nowak, adroitly points out in the eighth chapter (‘A Village Within the City’): ‘’History imposes obligations.’’

Too right it does, although in the case of this quintessentially cultured city, one could both easily and readily add a caveat by way of the word musical.

As in History imposes musical obligations, which Nowak readily brings to the fore in Salzburg – City of Culture by way of quoting the child prodigy, Sabina Hank: ‘’Improvisation is nothing more than ongoing composition from one moment to the next. The brilliant thing about Mozart was how everything he composed was just so perfect. Every note is right. There’s nothing there that you would change. The sheer vitality of it! Charlie Parker’s got that too. Parker’s really pretty close to Mozart’’ (‘Mozart Would be a Jazzman Nowadays’).

Suffice to say, there may undoubtedly those who might contest Hank’s view of improvisation or the fact that she considers everything composed by Mozart to be ‘’just so perfect.’’ Just like there might also be a wide array of tourists and home-grown visitors alike who might take umbrage with the following: […] in a city with an aesthetically beautiful centre, the mixture of ugliness and arbitrary development that characterises its outskirts is even more glaringly obvious than elsewhere’’ (‘A Picture of Salzburg’).

There again, this may go some way in accounting for why Nowak is renowned for having presented Zeit im Bild the most important news programme of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF).

And then wholeheartedly substantiating why these 141 pages are such a fascinating and beguiling read; for the author hurls many a contentious Salzburg cat amid many an assortment of literary pigeons.  

David Marx

Broken Lives

Broken Lives –

How Ordinary Germans Experienced The 20th Century

By Konrad H. Jarausch

Princeton University Press – £30.00

The testimonies of ordinary women demonstrate how collaboration with the Nazi dictatorship eventually turned them into its victims. During the pre-war years, women struggled with the contradiction between the regime’s restrictive misogynism and the chances for career advancement by joining the cause. Somewhat shielded by Hitler’s effort to maintain domestic morale, in the first part of the war when the Wehrmacht victories opened up grand vistas of domination, German women overwhelmingly supported the struggle. But during the second phase of approaching defeat, they were caught up in the suffering through the horror of bombing raids, flight and expulsion from the East, and mass rape by Red Army soldiers. Not only the objects of sterilization, members of the resistance, Jewish women, and Slavic slave labourers, but also ordinary German women suffered the dreadful consequences of NS bellicosity and racism. Their later recollections therefore show a distinctive experience that parallels the disillusionment of men.

                            (Female Struggles’)                                     

After the German surrender, ”the population began to feel what it meant to lose a war,” Agnes Moosmann remembered. ”Hardship and misery only increased.” Ideological propaganda and military orders had loosened the constraints of civilization – only now the Germans found themselves at the receiving end of brutality. According to the motto of not taking any prisoners, the hatred and revenge caused by Wehrmacht crimes and civilian atrocities led to spontaneous killings of soldiers trying to surrender. At the same time, the conflation between Nazi perpetrators and all Germans encouraged violent behaviour against non-combatants. Martin Sieg’s mother ‘’was raped and hanged herself after her apartment had been looted.’’ Joachim Fest’s dejected grandfather simply gave up: ‘’Cause of death should be given as: No interest [in living] any longer. While the end of the official fighting came as a relief, the transition into peacetime was fraught with danger to soldiers and civilians alike.

                            (‘Taste of Defeat – Defeat as New Beginning’)

To describe Broken Lives – How Ordinary Germans Experienced The 20th Century as heart-breakingly real would be a vast understatement.

Along with expansive and thorough, immensely readable whilst inexorably fraught with gut wrenching stories, these 380 pages (excluding Cast of Characters, Acknowledgements, Notes, List of Sources and Index) are nothing short of tough and unforgettable. Reason being, its characters have no alternative agenda (to gain), other by telling it how it truly was – which in far too many instances, sounds explicitly horrendous.

Telling that is, as it should have been told a long, long time ago; by the everyday, real people, who paid the ultimate price for the deluded vision of a deluded man. A reprimanding trajectory, which, if America isn’t too careful, will soon be replicating the many harrowing stories contained herein: ‘’In these personal accounts, the Nazi dictatorship, World War II, and the Holocaust emerge as the central vortex that irreparably altered millions of life trajectories. While the suffering of the First World War and hyperinflation seemed bad, the Weimar Republic provided a beacon of hope that progress would resume. But the devastating effect of the Great Depression created the mass disappointment upon which the novel National Socialist movement rode to power, renewing German pride by providing a warped sense of national community. Though these stories attest to Hitler’s initial popularity, they also demonstrate how the criminal war of annihilation eventually came back to haunt the German people themselves through mass death in military battle, civilian bombing, and ethnic cleansing. The drama of the final years that turned erstwhile perpetrators into victims has deeply engraved itself in people’s minds, since it cost many lives and scarred even those fortunate enough to survive’’ (Introduction – Narratives of German Experiences).

One has to say the author’s prime quality that runs throughout all three parts of Broken Lives (I – Pre-war Childhood, II – Wartime Youth, III – Post-War Adulthood) is surprisingly key as well as lucid here, which Norman M. Naimark, the author of Genocide: A World History makes resoundingly clear: ‘’How did Germans who witnessed the worst of the Third Reich and the best of post-war Germany try to understand their own pasts? In Broken Lives, distinguished historian Konrad Jarausch answers this question by exploring scores of memoirs of the Weimar generation, Germans born in the 1920s. Along the way, he also insightfully analyses the complex process of recording memories of past events.’’

Naimark’s words ought hardly take-anyone off guard, especially given the fact that Konrad H. Jarausch is the Lurcy Professor of European Civilization at the University of North Carolina. His many books include: Out of Ashes: A New History of Europe in the Twentieth Century and Reluctant Accomplice: A Wehrmacht Soldier’s Letters from the Eastern Front. As such, this altogether ‘’sustained look at unexceptional lives therefore dissolves the grand story of calamity and reconstruction into countless individual tales of survival and recovery that reveal the irresistible impact of political conflicts that ruptured peaceful existences but also offered new opportunities.’’

The compelling result of which is instead of concentrating on the usual trajectory of high politics, said reverse angle all-the-more illuminates the human dimension; thereby revealing an extraordinary mixture of devout suffering yet surprising happiness.’’

Humbling. Eye-opening. Disturbing.

David Marx

Russia in Flames

Russia In Flames –

War, Revolution, Civil War 1914 – 1921

By Laura Engelstein

Oxford University Press – £25.00

****

Nobody’s hands were clean.

                                                          (Introduction)

Always having an enemy, insisting on the incompatibility of positions, the need for sharp distinctions and clear divides – these had been Vladimir Lenin’s political calling cards from the moment of the party’s inception. Through relentless propaganda, the organization of language and ideas as well as institutions, the party continually simplified and clarified: who we are, who we are against, ‘’who [bests] whom’’ – kto kogo, in Lenin’s brutal shorthand. Now the party was the state, acting upon society, to conquer its resistance and reconstruct it from the inside out, erecting a new state structure ad a new form of power.

                                                          (Introduction)

Finland, the Baltic states, and Poland were all recognised as discrete parts of the Empire and granted special privileges, to one degree or another. Their special status, which could of course at any time be revoked, encouraged their political classes to develop a sense of nationhood. By contrast, there was no single Ukrainian province in the Empire. There had never been a politically defined Ukrainian state. Situated between Catholic Poland and Orthodox Russia, nine imperial provinces were inhabited by a largely peasant population speaking a Slavic language related to but different from both Polish and Russian.

                                                          (‘Ukrainian Drama, Act 1’)

Definite, defined, dense, exceedingly well-researched and written – what more could one ask from a history book?

There again, we are talking about the American writer, Lauran Engelstein, who specializes in Russian and European history, whose previous books include The Keys to Happiness (1992), Law and Disorder on the Narova River: The Kreenholm Strike of 1872 (1995) and Slavophile Empire: Imperial Russia’s Illiberal Path (2009) to name but three.

As such, it ought hardly be surprising, that I came away from this altogether majestic book with far more understanding on the many complex issues regarding its inflammatory subject matter, than I ever thought imaginable.

Hence, the (first part of the) title, Russia In Flames – War, Revolution, Civil War 1914 – 1921 which alone, puts everything into crystal clear context.

After all, the third of the above quotes already does much to clarify ones’ thinking as to what it is that is overtly wrong with today’s Ukraine. The political trajectory with regards there never having ‘’been a politically defined Ukrainian state,’’ surely accounts for what is continuing to take place in said country – along with surely neighbouring Belarus – as I write.  

A nationalistic as well as contextual problem, that might be considered all the more exasperating within a cauldron of so-called euphoric simplicity; especially when Engelstein continues with: ‘’Even contemporaries disagreed on what to call the region and its inhabitants. As the historian Alexei Miller puts it, ‘’In the nineteenth century the territory of modern Ukraine was made into the object of a real terminological war […]. Like the Poles, Ukrainian-speakers were found on both sides of the Russian-Austrian border. Together with the provinces of the Polish Kingdom and Lithuania, the Ukrainian lands were home to the Empire’s largest concentration of Jews, most of whom were confined by law to residence in the so-called Pale of Settlement. The Ukrainian provinces were essential to the imperial economy, which depended on them heavily for the production of wheat, rye, and sugar, as well as coal and iron. In 1914 the Ukraine alone had produced over three-quarters of the Empire’s grain exports […]’’ (‘Ukrainian Drama, Act 1’).

Two issues, Jews and being ‘’essential to the imperial economy,’’ which at the time, were clearly and comprehensively mired in both stupor and difficulty. Slavic essentialities, which (luckily) for historians, remains a fraught subject that Engelstein is not in the least afraid to tackle and address head-on. As is the meticulous case time and again throughout these 632 pages (excluding Introduction, Notes, Acknowledgements, Bibliographic Essay, Index).

For instance, what with the more recent claim that Vladimir Putin was responsible for having clandestinely ordered the killing of Americans in Afghanistan – to varying degrees admittedly – treachery has nigh always been (m)aligned with Mother Russia.

Yet another uncomfortable subject, very much brought to bear in this book’s final chapter ‘The Revolution Turns Against Itself’ where the authoress writes: ‘’The Red Terror was based on the premise that treachery was always lurking, that any collective action which escaped the regime’s control was a potential threat to its existence, that no social identity was what it seemed, no group or person incapable of turning colours, and therefore that repression must be not only pre-emptive but arbitrary. The events of February to March 1921, which closed out the period of the Civil War, replicated the dynamics of popular mobilization that set off the revolution to begin with. They proved that no front was safe in a war without fronts.’’

Furthermore, here’s something to make the socio-politico reader think: ‘’On the question of the revolution’s ultimate purposes, Lenin envisaged the future socialist state not as a parliamentary democracy but as a republic of soviets, resting on the power of the armed people, which would nationalize the land and institute social equality […]. A group of thirty delegates was sent to Petrograd to explain their demands in the factories; they were arrested and disappeared’’ (‘The War Continues’).

Social equality?

Rousseau still has a lot to answer for with regards everyone being in chains…

The countless ups and downs and colossal amount of turbulence contained herein is what partially substantiates this book’s intrinsic value. As Laura Engelstein herself states at the very outset: ‘’A hundred years is a long enough distance from which to question the terms in which to consider these world-shaking events. This book tells a story in which all the categories are inevitably laden with moral and political judgements – Proletariat, Counterrevolution, Red Terror – and in which such judgements cannot be avoided, but a story that must be told with some degree of detachment from the ideological positions that animated the revolution in the first place. We live at a time in which the democracy that the trans-Atlantic world has come to take for granted since the end of World War II and the defeat of fascism may be seriously endangered. The great historical moment between 1917 and 1921 in which the cost of democracy’s failure became all too apparent deserves our renewed attention.’’

Just four days ago, former US President Barack Obama addressed America on the very notion that Democracy itself could well fail if Donald Trump were to be re-elected this coming November.

If it has not already done so (might I add).

To which Engelstein’s courageous caveat could be somewhat altered to inherently read: ‘’the great historical moment between’’ 2016 and 2020 ‘’in which the cost of democracy’s failure became all too apparent deserves our renewed attention.’’

In the words of Ziva Galili, Distinguished Professor of History at Rutgers University: ‘’Russia in Flames is a monumental intellectual and writerly achievement, offering a bracing view of the Russian Revolution, from the catastrophic collapse of state and societal institutions to their reconstruction in the Bolshevik state. In a sustained narrative that combines the breadth and depth of an all-encompassing history with the clarity and force of an extended essay, Engelstein tells the great and terrible story of the Revolution in prose luminous with intelligence and irony, untied by a powerful interpretive arc.’’

All that is left for me to write is that this mighty book ought to be deemed monumental, sweeping, and all things to all revolutionaries.

David Marx

Brooklyn: The Once and Future City

Brooklyn: The Once and Future City

By Thomas J. Campanella

Princeton University Press – £30.00

Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs…

              (Shakespeare, Richard II ‘Death and the Picturesque)

I’d like to take a

Sail on Jamaica

Bay with you,

And fair Canarsie’s Lakes we’ll view…

              (Rogers and Hart, Manhattan ‘Port of Empire’

Everything changes; the light of Brooklyn remains… long-shadowed horizontal light, revealer of form, Dutch light, the light of Vermeer, if you will, suffused with the presence of the sea, slanted, immanent, revealing.

             (Pete Hamill – Epilogue: ‘Under A Tungsten Sun‘)

Brooklyn truly is fab.

As well as HUGE.

It is in fact, a city within a city, where I once lived in the Park Slope area – with the F Train being my regular subway into Manhattan.

Alas, I no longer live in the borough, but I do have to say, this book is perhaps the next best thing to having a piece of Brooklyn in my own home.

Indeed, Brooklyn: The Once and Future City almost has a welcome home quality to it.

Its 465 pages (excluding Acknowledgements, Notes, Select Bibliography, and Index)

are nothing less than an exceptional overview of everything Brooklyn has to offer; along with all the meandering uncertainties the wayward visitor/traveller does not get to see nor hear about. The book’s author, Thomas J. Campanella, already makes as much crystal clear in the book’s Introduction: ”This book is about the shaping of Brooklyn’s extraordinary urban landscape. Its focus is not the celebrated sites and landmarks of the tourist map, though many of those appear, but rather the Brooklyn unknown, overlooked and unheralded – the quotidian city taken for granted or long ago blotted out by time and tide. In the pages that follow I hope to breath fresh life into lost and forgotten chapters of Brooklyn’s urban past, to shed light on the visions, ideals and forces of creative destruction that have forged the city we know today.’’

The key words herein are ‘’creative destruction.’’

For as wild and as hip and as gritty and as urban as Brooklyn invariably is, there is, suffice to say, a colossal dark-side; which the important film-maker Spike Lee brought to the fore in his altogether magnificent film, Do The Right Thing (1989).

Likewise, Campanella in the chapter ‘Book of Exodus, where he wholeheartedly writes: ‘’There was, to be sure, no shortage of racial hatred in Brooklyn; working – and lower-middle-class whites, especially, resented the influx of African Americans from the South – a demographic shift that began in the 1920s, but reached a fever pitch following World War II. But if racist loathing of the Other drove some to abandon the old neighbourhood, it was the calamitous unravelling of the borough’s social fabric in the 1960s – especially the rise of violent crime – that turned what might have been a trickle into a full-scale exodus.’’

[…]

 ‘’The clouds of change above post-war Brooklyn were nowhere more highly charged than over that other landscape of summer delights, Coney Island. There, racial lines were quite literally drawn in the sand that ultimately spelled the doom of that American Tivoli, Steeplechase Park, Brooklyn’s oldest and most venerated playground. Though the great weekend crowds of the Depression and war years were long gone, Coney Island did well enough all through the 1950s – despite the steady loss of much of its patron base to the backyards of suburban Long Island and resplendent state parks like Jones Beach. To some extent, the losses were offset by a new source of patrons; arriving from African American, Puerto Rican, and West Indian residents

were just as excited as whites about Coney Island’s famous beach and amusements.

And if the expanding regional highway system spirited many old patrons off to the suburbs, it also brought new ones from far away.’’

I myself, remember how very excited I was when I first visited Coney Island – where everything from visiting Nathan’s Hot Dogs (the first hot-dog venue in the world) to the very idea that Lou Reed named an album after the area (Coney Island Baby) brought in all home.

As such, it is rather hard to even know where to begin reviewing this most fascinating of books. Replete with numerous maps, (black &white) photographs and replicas of posters; hey, even the layout of the contents page is funky!

Interestingly, the whole book thing cannot help but draw you in. Rather like the borough of Brooklyn itself. There again, it is easy to forget just how much the borough has to offer (and just how very influential it has been over the years).

Is it any wonder therefore, that ‘’America’s most storied urban underdog, Brooklyn has become an internationally recognised brand in recent decades – celebrated and scorned as one of the hippest destinations in the world?’’  

Luckily, Brooklyn: The Once and Future City very much ensures the record is put straight: ‘’Spanning five hundred years of history, the book’s scope encompasses the built as well as unbuilt, the noble and the sham, triumphs as well as failures – dashed dreams and still born schemes and plans that never had a chance. The book casts new light on a place as overexposed as it is understudied. It is not a comprehensive history, not one driven by a grand thesis, but rather a telling that plaits key strands of Brooklyn’s past into a narrative about the once and future city. It is a recovery operation of sorts, a cabinet-of-curiosities tour of the Brooklyn obscure, of the city before gentrification and global fame – that ‘mythical dominion,’ as Truman Capote put it, ‘against whose shore the Coney Island sea laps a wintry lament.’’

Thomas J. Campanella (whose previous books include Republic of Shade and The Concrete Dragon) has herein written an altogether magnificent book on his home borough.

As well as being very readable and almost un-put-downable, it is also lucid, thorough, comprehensive, and oddly welcoming. Quite possibly one of the best books on Brooklyn you will ever read.

DM

How The Hell Did This Happen?

How The Hell Did This Happen?

The US Election of 2016

By P.J. O’Rourke

Grove Press – £14.99

We the people of the United States, in order to dissolve what unity we have, establish injustice, insecure domestic idiocy, provide for the common offence, promote the general despair, and secure enmity toward ourselves by our posterity, do ordain and establish this obnoxious political spectacle, the election of 2016.

              (‘Preamble’)

Donald Trump is a flying monkey. Except that what the flying monkeys have to say – ‘’oreoreoreo’’ – makes more sense than Trumps’ pronouncements. Better the she-ape of neo-Marxism than the flying monkey’s king on his 757, going to and fro in the earth, with gold-plated seat belt buckles, talking nativist, isolationist, bigoted, rude, vulgar, and obscene crap.

              (‘I Endorse Hillary’)

The war is not between Republicans and Democrats or between conservatives and progressives. The war is between the frightened and what they fear. It is being fought by the people who perceive themselves as controlling nothing. They are besieging the people they perceive as controlling everything. We are in the midst of a Perception Insurrection, or, depending on how you perceive it, a Loser Mutiny.

              (‘The Revolt Against the Elites’)

‘’An essential take on the stranger-than-fiction (and stranger-than-fact) 2016 presidential election from a quintessential voice on American politics and culture.’’ Indeed, P.J. O’Rourke is responsible for a number of exceedingly readable and amusing books – Modern Manners, Republican Party Reptile and Parliament of Whores to name but three – with these 213 pages (excluding Author’s Note, the aforementioned Preamble and Acknowledgements) being absolutely no exception.

And with this being another election year in the US, now could not be a better time to read and absorb this book in preparation – as if any were needed.

As is usually the case with O’Rourke’s writing, it is possible to flick through How The Hell Did This Happen? The US Election of 2016 and stop on any page at random, and be bequeathed something very bemusing, readable, gritty, funny and, unfortunately for many, many millions of  Americans, true: ‘’The American government is of the people, by the people, for the people. And these days America is peopled by 320 million Donald Trumps. Donald Trump is representative of all that we hold dear: money. Or, rather, he is representative of greed for money. We common folk may not be able to match Trump’s piggy bank, but even the most high-minded and charitable among us can match his piggishness.

The Clinton Foundation accepted a $500,000 donation from the government of Algeria.

To cite, Amnesty International’s 2014/2015 report on Algeria:

Women faced discrimination… and remained inadequately protected against violence… Impunity prevailed for perpetrators of gross human rights abuses… and acts of torture.

And the other thing we hold dear is us. We, ourselves. In this era of the great and cherished self, admiration for which has become so fundamental to Americanism that self-esteem is taught in our schools, we can all match Trumps’ opinion of his own worth […]’’ (‘The Abominable Showman’).

I recently watched American children berating Trump and his vile antics on Facebook, which, in a round-a-bout way, substantiates why this book needs to be read – even if just for Trumps’ inexorable childish antics. A mode of highly inappropriate behaviour that not only beggars belief, but, from a trickle-down perspective, has become increasingly more influential and infectious within the US.

One need only listen to the thousands of Americans who just last week, equated the wearing of a mask with communism…

There again, as O’Rourke shares with us herein: ‘’Donald Trump got most of his campaigning done on the cheap by making a public spectacle of himself. He set his pants on fire knowing that reporters and camera crews would have to cover the blaze.’’

Nothing short of essential, courageous, and brilliant.

David Marx

 

Boom Cities

Boom Cities –

Architect-Planners & The Politics of Radical Urban Renewal in 1960s Britain

By Otto Saumarez Smith

Oxford University Press – £65.00

Renewal at the centre is vital and has a special claim above the claims of all other parts of the city. The city centre is the public home of the community, a place worth coming to, a daily meeting place, and a place to receive guests; a place too, where a wide range of people are encouraged to live; one designed for great civic occasions, for personal recreation, fun and adventure.

                  (‘Planning for Affluence’)

Looking at the way politicians thought about architectural production may not provide us with any particularly profound insights into buildings themselves, but it can nevertheless help us to understand not just something about the history of taste but about the way modernist architecture was able to articulate ideas about British identity, the future, and about Britain’s relationship with the world.

                    (‘The Trajectory of Central-Area Redevelopment’)

Controversial, free-thinking, risqué and the sort of book which needs to be updated at an exceedingly alarming rate, Boom Cities – Architect-Planners & The Politics of Radical Urban Renewal in 1960s Britain is best be described as an ultra-invigorating read; especially if the perplexed planning of my deplorable hometown of town of Swindon is anything to go by.

With investigation at its forefront, these 173 pages (excluding Introduction, Bibliography, and Index), are stellar in that they inform and question at the same time, although Otto Saumarez Smith (now there’s a name) vehemently asks the right questions. All of which are clearly informed.

As well as concerned and controversial – both of which can only be a good thing.

Thus, making for a most informed and stimulating read: ‘’The rebuilding of British city centres during the 1960s is arguably among the single most dramatic moments in British urban history. It is certainly one of the most controversial. This moment drastically affected the built form of urban Britain, including places ranging from traditional cathedral cities through to the decaying towns of the Industrial Revolution. Instead of focusing on the experience of any single city, or attempting to make a survey of all cities affected, this book instead uncovers both the planning philosophy and the political, cultural, and legislative background that created the conditions for these processes to occur across the country’’ (Introduction).

Indeed, from Bolton to Northampton, West Ham to Liverpool, Boom Cities traverses the country in its entirety, whilst on the way, revealing the good, the bad, and the sometimes immensely ugly role (and varying results) of the architect.

A most terrific book that should, in all honesty, have been written years ago.

David Marx

Cancun, Cozumel & The Yucatan

Cancun, Cozumel & The Yucatan

A. Harrell, R. Bartlett, S. Butler & J. Hecht

Lonely Planet – £15.99

Few Mexican destinations can dazzle you with ancient Maya ruins, azure Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico waters and colonial cities all in one fell swoop. Actually, there’s only one – the Yucatan.

             (‘Welcome to Cancun, Cozumel & The Yucatan’)

I first came to this part of Mexico, well, the island of Cozumel to be exact, over twenty years ago; and to say it has changed somewhat, would be something of an understatement. Not necessarily in a bad way mind, but tourists to the island have clearly increased beyond reckoning.

Thanks in part, to the popularity of the cruise industry.

When I initially came, I stayed at a sea-front hotel, wined, and supremely dined in the local bars and restaurants, as well as caught a ferry to the Mexican mainland to visit the magnificent place that is Tulum. This time round, I was myself, working on a cruise ship; so was merely on the island for an unspeakably short amount of time. But what immediately struck me upon disembarkation, was the veritable onslaught of tourist shops – primarily selling tat and (literally thousands of different) T-shirts.

Not a bad thing perhaps, but I do have to say, said tat has invariably replaced a lot of the island’s aforesaid innocence and quaint charm.

All-the-more reason then, to be sufficiently well armed with all the information one is going to need, in-order to re-discover what Cozumel – along with Cancun and the Yucatan in general – has to offer.

Far away from the madding crowd.

Lonely Planet’s Cancun, Cozumel & The Yucatan provides the traveller, as well as the curious reader, with everything one will essentially need to know to get the most of out of their visit. From culture, fun and history, through to beaches, nightlife, transportation and of course, Chichen Itza: ‘’Ever since Chichen Itza was named one of the new seven wonders of the world, for better or worse, it has become the Yucatan’s hottest bucket-list item. The massive El Castillo pyramid, Chichen Itza’s most iconic structure, will knock your socks off, especially at vernal and autumnal equinoxes, when morning and afternoon sunlight cast a shadow of a feathered serpent on the staircase. While Chichen Itza is wonderful, other ruins are too. Each has its own distinct idiosyncrasy and often (unlike this one) you’ll have the place to yourself’’ (‘Top 16’).

Along with a pull-out regional map and some startling, colour photographs at the outset, Cancun, Cozumel & The Yucatan covers all eight regions of the area (Yucatan State & the Maya Heartland, Cancun & Around, Isla Mujeres, Riviera Maya, Isla Cozumel, Costa Maya & Southern Caribbean Coast, Campeche and Chiapas & Tabasco) with equal amounts of informative finesse and chutzpah. My elongated soft spot for Cozumel being no exception: ‘’Fascinating for its dual personality, Cozumel offers an odd mix – quietly authentic neighbourhoods, existing alongside tourist-friendly playgrounds. Leaving the tourist area behind, you’ll find garages that still have shrines to the Virgin and a spirited Caribbean energy in the air. And, of course, there are epic experiences to be had, such as diving at some of the best reefs in the world.’’

Indeed, you would be hard pressed for a more beguiling and fascinating holiday, and I haven’t even mentioned the word tequila (along with its cousin, mezcal). So if you’re going, be sure to pack this terrific travel guide alongside your passport and sun-lotion.

David Marx