Off the beaten track: Art and Culture in the heart of Northern Italy

There is a unique beauty to the way the Italian landscape lends itself to the strive for higher understanding of the human condition. It’s as though its hills are soaked in the sweat of a thousand dukes, working to stake their claim to the greatest centers of art, of culture, of civilization itself. The understated opulence of Northern Italy is steeped in a History both long and bloody, but to the weary traveler, it might be easy to miss some of the historic greats the region has to offer in lieu of making a TripAdvisor bucket-list work.

In December 2018, my husband and I decided to get off the beaten track, away from the bucket-list must-do’s and the less thought-provoking tourist-traps, to a deeper, more personal experience of Northern Italy, both the Northern Italy of today, and the historic one. We flew to Milan, rented a car, and started driving. A short fifteen minutes into our drive, the Italian landscape already started offering up some of its secrets. It knows things unfathomable. It has survived so much that cannot be archived or displayed in museums and tourist attractions. It is both Italy’s greatest monument to its rich cultural tradition and its most unvisited holy site.

With the magical Alps in the rearview mirror (they turn pink in the dusk!), we made the first stop on our journey: Piacenza. Literally translating to “Place of Rest” or “Peaceful abode”, it is hard to believe the initial walled city of Piacenza was built amidst a siege (between the Romans and the Gauls) over two thousand years ago! But as it began that way, it is not that hard to believe that this city would endure conquest and rebuttal for the rest of its history. And yet, its greatest asset lay not in its great thinkers or artists, or any of the great houses it hosted over the centuries, but in its peaceful hills, where the simple folk planted the vineyards and crops that would ultimately turn Piacenza into one of the richest trade-cities in Medieval Europe.

Sticking to our plan to veer away from the traditional method of travel, i.e. rushing from landmark to museum and eating at Internet-approved vendors, we disregarded our host’s suggestions of the top landmarks (there are some great ones, definitely worth the visit for the more traditional traveller), and set out to get a feel for the streets, the locals and the way they live and eat. We visited one of the many tobacconists to find out about an international calling card and bought pastries that speak of divinity from a bakery so small that three men couldn’t stand astride inside it. We had magnificent pizza with the locals at a pizzeria that wouldn’t show up on TripAdvisor or any other travel site (but had a whopping 127 pizzas to choose from!) and we drank the local sparkling red house wine, somewhat to our distaste, while crunching breadsticks and listening to Italians disagreeing about which sports team was the better to support. We weren’t doing anything special. We may as well have been at home. But we weren’t. We were doing the normal, everyday stuff in this place, where a 1700 year old basilica is still in use today, where the Council of Piacenza proclaimed the First Crusade nearly a thousand years ago, where the Sforzas, the Farneses and the Habsburgs all once held courts. This small town of rolling hills and young families walking the streets at night vibrated with historic energy and a culture of kindness so deeply ingrained that we felt oddly at home here and not like tourists at all.

The next day, on our way to Parma, we did a drive-by of historic sites in the Old Town while reveling about the way modern Piacenza’s people had this old-time vibe about them. No one in Piacenza had seemed rushed. Families had walked together to work and school, holding pastries from their local corner shop. The butcher and the flower-shop lady each stood in the doorway to their shop, exchanging pleasantries with each other and passers-by. The easy comfort of it all was deafening in the quiet, sun-lit streets.

We had been to Parma once before, for about an hour, to buy the sought after Parmesan cheese and Parma ham (prosciutto), both of which can be bought anywhere in Parma and enjoyed anywhere in the world. If you’ve tried the local Parmesan product, no trip to Italy can ever be complete without it again, so we opted for another afternoon stop in Parma, mainly in pursuit of local gourmet. The cheese tastes better in Parma and the ham is an offering from the gods that should not go unappreciated or ignored! Pair it with Balsamic Vinegar from nearby Modena, Genovese Pesto and locally baked bread, and you might find yourself longing for simpler times, when bread was broken with family, in small gatherings filled with love and laughter and little else.

What kind of a town must Parma be, we wondered as we pulled away from a local shopping center, if its people could take something as banal as cheese and ham, and make it remarkable? What kind of a place produces food that makes you crave the simplicity of country life? The answer, perhaps, is not in Parma’s governance or economy or even its great educative history, but in a deep respect the locals hold for heritage and culture, and its magnificently beautiful countryside. We will have to find out properly later, however, because even though we’ve been to Parma twice, we’ve never “visited”. When we finally do, I’ll be sure to tell all about it here!

Our next stopover was in the heart of the wonderfully musical city of Bologna, home of the other leaning tower.

As capital of the Emilia Romagna region, Bologna is the quintessential hub of the region’s culture and cuisine. Like most other cities in the region, Bologna predates the Roman Period and is essentially Etruscan in origin. Bologna is also home to the Western world’s oldest (continuously operating) University, an institution that to this day is at the heart of this city’s unique culture. In fact, I would go so far to say that walking in the old-town was like being on a vast, ancient university campus, surrounded by happy, confident students and modern comforts.

The night-life in this city was vibrant, in an old-worldly kind of way. Young people congregated in its squares and many restaurants to discuss concerts and plays. Its exceptional cuisine and local gourmet was visible and obtainable from stall-like shops which stayed open late, serving passionate Italians and curious visitors every kind of delicacy the north has to offer. Street-musicians of exceptional quality made offerings to the public on street corners. Bologna was buzzing with life, and as the richest city in Italy (and regularly voted the city with the highest quality of living in Italy), we could see why.

At the very heart of this city of modern chic and ancient opulence, the other leaning tower, the Garisenda, leaned away from one of the busiest streets in Bologna (as well as another, taller tower, the Assinelli). Looking upon the two towers for the first time was both a marvel and a great consternation. To me they seemed impossible; one for its height, the other for having remained upright for hundreds of years despite leaning so very, very much. But they are remarkable. So remarkable that Dante Alighieri, who himself was once a student at the University of Bologna, immortalized one of them in his seminal Divine Comedy:

What an incredible feeling, visiting this ancient city and sharing an experience with the Supreme Poet! After seeing the two towers, we were tempted to revert back to the old bucket-list experience and rush around Bologna, trying to soak it all up in record time, but we didn’t. Instead we visited a local luthier and heard him play one of his wonderful violins, we watched through a shop-window as women rolled out and hand-cut pasta and we asked one of the locals to parallel park our car in the narrowest two-way street known to mankind. We also had something resembling Bolognese, which was underwhelming and somewhat overpriced, after which we opted for a much better received pizza. We drank the local sparkling red wine, which had something on the Piacenzan variety and we walked all across the old town to visit a Christmas Market, and then a local food market, both of which offered the very best of northern Italian culture and cuisine. In this process of avoiding the tried and tested, we stumbled upon beautiful discoveries: the kindness of strangers, the magnificent architecture of ancient Italy, and an inherent culture of appreciation for life and all its finest things – art, music, food and time spent with friends and family. Had Dante’s Bologna boasted these traits?

The last stop on our trip was a place so majestically beautiful that it is an artwork in and of itself. The old town of Mantua, or Mantova in Italian, is a UNESCO World Heritage site that has been lovingly maintained and protected and as such remains virtually untouched by modernity.

Mantua is an ancient city in every respect. The first evidence of habitation in the vicinity of modern-day Mantua dates back to the Neolithic period, in the 5th millennium BC. Just as the other centers we visited, the village of Mantua was initially settled by the Etruscans around the 6th century BC, before eventually becoming a Roman colony.

To enter the ancient city of Mantua, we had to cross one of the three (remaining) artificial lakes and natural defenses that still surrounds it today and pass through the time-space continuum into another century. After buying a time-stamped parking pass from our hotel (as a World Heritage Site, motor vehicle traffic in Mantua is strictly controlled), we set out for a walkabout through the old town. First stop, somewhat conveniently located next to our hotel, was the Piazza Sordello, the square on which the Mantuan Ducal Palace sits.

The Ducal Palace on Palazzo Sordello in Mantua.

The Duchy of Mantua (read House of Gonzaga), was once one of the great duchies in Europe. It not only enjoyed a heritage rich in the arts, architecture and music, but also cultivated among its constituents a fondness for this heritage that can still be seen and felt in its streets and buildings today. This was evident on the Piazza Sordello, where the palace of old watches quietly as modern Mantuans go about their day, visiting the small but beautiful cathedral with its impressive facade, one of the many restaurants in the area, or the underground archaeological excavation of an ancient Etruscan home, complete with mosaic floors and sub-divided rooms.

As in Piazza Sordello, so the rest of the old town bustled with life and signs of this city’s great artistic tradition. Advertisements for everything from informal music evenings to professional opera and theatre were abound in hotel lobbies, souvenir shops and restaurants. Around the back of the cathedral, we unexpectedly came upon (the fictional) Rigoletto’s House, which in actuality is a small building housing the local information center, as well as an exhibition of photographs of Mantua. Here we were told about the local Christmas Market (on Piazza Virgilliana, named after the great Virgil, who was from Mantua!), and how to get to it, so after stopping at a souvenir shop for our very own Rigoletto keepsake, we headed down the cobbled streets of Mantua to check out how locals celebrate Christmas. We were not disappointed. As European Christmas Markets go, Mantua’s Christmas Village is a must visit. It was a cold night, and late at that, but the athmosphere in this place couldn’t have been more inviting had we been surrounded by our own friends and family. The kids ice skated on the makeshift ice rink in the center of the village, while Mantuans enjoyed hot drinks and Italian street food and shopped the array of high quality hand-crafted items. Art too, of course.

With bags full of Italian goodies to try and to take home with us, we headed for a restaurant we’d noticed near our hotel. Built into the alcove of the original palace stalls and servant quarters, the Duke’s Tavern boasted a menu of Mantuan gourmet, specializing in the local delicacy, donkey meat. As donkey stew was a bit above our budget, we opted for another local favorite, sweet pumpkin and ricotta ravioli, served with a flavorful citrus oil that both surprised and delighted. Along with it, we ordered antipasto and the local wine, which was definitely the best we’d had on the trip.

The next morning, after being served the two best coffees I’ve ever had the privilege of tasting (at Il Trovatore), we headed to the Ducal Palace for a bit of history. We visited the queen’s rooms, the most fascinating exhibit on inlay art (A MUST SEE!), the king’s quarters and war room and the gardens. The Camera degli Sposi (painted by the massively talented Mantegna) is undoubtedly one of the greats the Ducal Palace has to offer, and it came to us as a gift, as we had purposefully done no prior research, hoping each town would invite us in and show us the way. Mantua lead us straight to its magnificent palatial complex where we were awed and fascinated in equal measure not only by the artistic achievements championed by the Duchy of Mantua, but also by the complexity of its history.

After visiting the Ducal Palace, we walked through town, sightseeing in the true sense of the word. As in the other centers we’d visited, perhaps even more so, this town spoke of a spirit of conviviality and a vitality that can only be achieved where the underlying emotion is one of happiness, or at the very least a great sense of contentment. Which brought us to the great question: were the inhabitants of these towns privy to a well-kept secret, the greatest secret in life, perhaps? That to achieve true contentment, it is necessary to surround yourself with great art, excellent food, and perhaps above all, a history and tradition worth monumentalizing?

We did not have time to visit the Palazzo Te, Mantua’s answer to Italian art, but I include here a video by the wonderful Michael DeMarco about Giulio Romano’s Room of the Giants (Sala dei Giganti), a whole room in Palazzo Te dedicated to Ovid’s Metamorphoses. I look forward to visiting it on my next visit to Mantua, and so should you!

You will notice that I barely name attractions or artworks in this post. This is not because we failed to see any or to remember them, but because this is not a travel blog as much as it is a perspective on traveling. I want to encourage you to attempt this kind of traveling, to experience the road less traveled, to let your destination open itself and all it has to offer up to you. You may make new friends, learn unexpected things and see the little things no one ever dares to look for.

Good luck on your journey. May your path be filled with great new discoveries.

Special thanks to Michael DeMarco. Read more about him here and be sure to subscribe to his very awesome art/lit video log here.

Romance, masochism and the lure of misogyny in the romance novel

For as long as I can remember, the month of February has been associated with romantic love and its celebration. Every year, Cupid, St. Valentine and Hallmark conspire to make people the world over feel guilty for not making enough grand gestures or declarations of everlasting devotion to their partners, crushes and/or secret lovers. It would seem that love is a thing universally craved, and even those who have it want to be reminded regularly that they still do. But are love and romance really that simple?

This week, the day of love, St. Valentine’s Day, will be widely celebrated and women (and some men) across the globe will read more romance novels than any other genre out there. They will read Contemporary Romance, Romantic Suspense, Historic Romance, Gothic Romance, Regency Romance, Paranormal Romance, Erotica and a host of other sub-genres to do with the topic of love. This is also true all the other weeks of the year, as Romance is the most read genre today, by a fairly large margin. But what makes Romance such a popular genre for (predominantly female) readers, and why is it that they just can’t seem to get enough?

The answer, according to Sarah Frantz Lyons, is that:

“Women write and read romance heroes to examine, subvert, discuss, revel in, and reject patriarchal constructions of masculinity…” (see “More on the business of Romance novels” in Further Reading at the end of this post.)

While this statement is certainly true, it also massively simplifies the way the romance novel is received by the average reader. Not only does the romance novel not belong strictly to female authorship, but it isn’t strictly written for women, and never was. The romance novel isn’t simply about gender roles or sexuality either. There is an expectation of the genre, now more than ever, to also allow the reader to change their mind about their own boundaries and expectations of romance, love and/or sex, and perhaps on a more subtle level, of sex in the loveless relationship. And while not all romance novels concentrate on the sexual aspects of a relationship, it is inevitable that even the most demure novels in the genre must affect a reader’s sexual sensibilities, or in the very least, their expectations regarding intimacy within the constraints of a relationship.
But what of the novels we don’t normally speak about: the BDSM, the 50 Shades of Submission, the novels of forbidden desires?

Since E.L. James’ iconic 50 Shades series, erotica has made a comeback unlike any other genre in our time. Women feel empowered by it. Relationships have grown in ways sex therapists can only dream of achieving with their customers and the Internet has exploded with offspring novels on all manner of erotica, vanilla or taboo. And while true connoisseurs of erotica would call the 50 Shades series closer to vanilla than taboo, it is hard to discredit what the novels did for the Romance genre, and for the perception of sex in general.
But why now, and why this, when erotica is in no way new to the game of literary escapism?

According to Wikipedia, (where all legitimate research is spawned 🙂 ), mainstream society simply didn’t care about erotic texts and art until the invention of the printing press in the 15th century. Even after the invention of the printing press, printing was only obtainable by the rich and culturally discerning, and as such, erotica was supposedly a rare commodity afforded only by the truly sordid, or sexually eccentric (male) patron.

In actuality, this is probably quite far from the truth. From the histories and mythologies of almost every continent, it is clear that human sexuality was at the forefront of the ancient mind. In fact, erotica has been around for a very, very long time in some form or another, as is evident from the countless ancient artifacts to do with the erotic human body and behavior. The devout Christian may turn to their Bible for some of the earliest surviving sensual texts (see Songs of Solomon). The very first book of the Bible even points out the state of sexual tendencies in its time through the mention of Sodom and God’s extrication of Lot and (some) members of his family. Here we also get a first glimpse of the misogyny that can be traced alongside the history of the erotic act, as though they go hand in hand. Did Lot not throw his teenage daughters into the crowd of sodomizers in order to facilitate his own escape?

This sodomy that the Bible refers to likely stemmed from the prevailing Greek and Roman world view that the human body was beautiful to look at, and should therefore be celebrated. Such “celebrations” had a tendency to take on orgiastic proportions, and no sexual act, apart from kissing in public, was considered too salacious for the likes of the Greek or Roman patrician. But earlier still, the sexual nature of the human body was exalted in text and art (and thus likely also physically) from Egypt, through the Middle East and India and as far as Japan. Some of the earliest works of erotica, such as the famed Kama Sutra, remain popular today, even in its unchanged form.

On Masochism and Misogyny

In my personal experience, the full spectrum of the Romance genre can be sub-divided by three hero-types:

The brooding bad boy (or misunderstood sadist?)
The well-to-do millionaire/duke/prince/king
The strong-ish female lead (or sexually inexperienced career-woman?)

In some of the more successful, if not well-written modern romances, these hero-types may be combined, or all may be present at once. And after reading a great deal of novels from almost every sub-type within the genre, I have come to the conclusion that the most successful romance novels will present at least two of these hero types. Interestingly enough, the two most financially successful romance stories in recent history, The Twilight series and (dare I mention it again?) the 50 Shades of Grey series, present with all three. But what about the romances that paved the way for these modern versions of the genre? Surely they have something in common with their modern contenders?

In the case of the Twilight series (and most paranormal romance), a comparison can be drawn with the great gothic novels that inspired them. Due to the author’s careful placement of Wuthering Heights within the series, it can be assumed that the classic novel was, at least in part, responsible for inspiring the brooding monster (Edward), the all-consuming relationship (Edward and Bella) and the tragic choices the heroine (Bella) makes, for better or for worse. There’s even the classic love-triangle (Edward – Bella – Jacob) that the Bronte sisters were so fond of. The resolution, that the child born from their union instills in all connected to the couple love and hope for the future (and forgives all past wrongdoings), is truly Victorian in spirit.

The books make use of the tragic (read brooding) hero, who happens to also be a millionaire who cannot die. This seems circumstantial, but it isn’t. It is an important construct for both the author of successful romance and the reader of romantic fiction: an invincible hero, who has the means both to protect and to provide. And because of these things, because for centuries women have been indoctrinated with the importance of finding a protector and provider, readers of romance do not acknowledge the misogyny in this construct: that women need protection, and to be provided for, and that men may therefore offer those services to them in return for a lifetime of submission.

The 50 Shades series, which in the author’s own words were inspired by the one and only Twilight series, draws on these same elements. But in deepening the sexual nature of the relationships, E.L. James also heightens the level of misogyny the books portray. And yet, women the world over swoon for Christian Grey. He is powerful, is he not?

To illustrate the way that masochism meets misogyny in romantic fiction, it is necessary to go back. Way back. To Leopold von Sacher Masoch and his Venus in Furs, which is perhaps better explained, in the context of the art and literature of its time, by Michael DeMarco in the excellent video below.

Perhaps the most interesting, and certainly most noticeable aspect of von Sacher Masoch’s Venus in Furs, is the role reversal that takes place here. Not only is the author male, but the protagonist is male too, and in juxtaposition to him, a female in position of power and financial stability is given the task of domineering and dominating the relationship. But she does not receive that power implicitly. She is made to do it, almost coerced into the agreement, on the basis of her ineffectiveness as an equal partner and lover. This ineffectiveness is mentioned in many guises by Severin, the masochist male protagonist, throughout the book. Severin, in his appearance as a doting and devoted lover, is also a true misogynist. He points out that if he cannot own his wife in all things, then he would rather not marry at all. The opposite excites him equally, perhaps more; he is to be owned by his mistress, and mistreated a great deal, to his extreme pleasure. This is not a form of respect for the woman he loves, however. In fact, despite her repeated pronouncements that she is not interested in the kind of relationship he proposes, Severin does not take into account her needs and wishes for a fulfilling relationship. He disregards her wishes completely, even in becoming her devoted slave. This kind of “loveless” love seems to be a common theme even in modern romance. In 50 Shades of Grey, Christian Grey decides that he has to have Anastasia Steele at any cost, as long as it is on his terms. Her wants and needs are provided for, so long as they remain domestic in nature and not emotional. In erotica, women are bribed, coerced, tricked and even dared by friends to participate in the kinds of schemes that fulfill their male counterpart’s fantasy, even if it goes very much against their own moral codes. Again, these are not the acts of love. And while such a love-interest’s overbearing presence might often be very carefully disguised as loving or at least caring, in reality any rational person would label such behavior as selfish and narcissistic.
But the prevailing thread that runs through romance novels throughout time, is the substantiation of the patriarchal construction of masculinity that makes romance readers swoon and feel cherished and imagine great, strong men sweeping them off their feet. In reality, their misogynist origin is often cleverly disguised in the old positivity-sandwich, as Severin’s statement does here, but it is equally often propagated by the female character’s own thoughts and decision-making, as we will see a little later on.

“In woman and her beauty I saw something divine, because the most important function of existence –the continuation of the species- is her vocation.” – Venus in Furs, Fernanda Savage translation, page 32.

This statement also explains something about the nature of sex and love in romantic fiction, and perhaps how it came to be thus. Women are not expected to admit to enjoying sex, as Wanda does at first. In doing so, they become immediately wanton creatures who participate in promiscuous activities, or who are suspected of being willing to do so. As Severin suggests here, women’s primary “vocation” is supposed to be the continuation of the species. Therefore they are expected to be inexperienced or virginal (unless they are already mothers of many children), they should want relationships that create a safe haven for them to fulfill this “vocation”, and they should do so in a “loving”, submissive way. Those of them who do not comply with this set of rules are considered cruel, ineffective partners who are only good for engaging in off-balance relationships and sexual deviancy. In the romance novel, the true measure of love is inextricably tied to eventual marriage, and children. This is the ultimate outcome of the “Happily Ever After” model.

Considering that Venus in Furs was first published in 1870, at the height of the era of the Victorian romance novel, it is important to note the underlying trend in this novella. This is a romance, written by a man, and it is likely meant as a warning of sorts for other men of its time. It is meant to be a book about love, but there is hardly love in the actions of either Wanda or Severin. The only time love is potentially exhibited, it goes hand in hand with the sexual nature of their relationship. Wanda repeatedly claims to love Severin, but she is unwilling to marry him and be faithful to only him, because he is not “man enough” for her.

“I can easily imagine belonging to one man for my entire life, but he would have to be a whole man, a man who would dominate me, who would subjugate me by his innate strength…” she explains when Severin asks her to become his wife. And furthermore, if he manages to win her by being this kind of man she would become his wife, and a wife “who will conscientiously and strictly perform all her duties.”

So what constitutes the proper level of masculinity in her opinion, is a man who is known for cruelty and mistreatment of others. A rich man, no less, and this is the kind of man she chooses over the man she claims to love more than anything in existence. And it is almost as though this added status, him being a man of means and/or position, excuses his cruelty (50 Shades comes to mind here). This sexist view of the male-female relationship goes exactly against Wanda’s early pronouncements about her own pagan beliefs of pleasure without pain, and yet, like every heroine in every romance, classic or modern, this rich, cruel man, who will dominate her in everything she does, is the man she eventually chooses. Not only does she choose him, but in her submission to him, she also gains power for herself. She allows her husband-to-be to beat her lover and she praises him for it and humiliates her lover by laughing at him. Ultimately, she receives this power over her lover by becoming a masochist herself. Yet, in the end, Wanda suggests her cruelest act was also her greatest declaration of love and devotion for Severin, because she wanted to free him of his masochism.

The most surprising realization, for me, is that while masochism claims to hand over power to another, to victimize the masochist, physically and emotionally, it achieves just the opposite. Because masochism gives consent, it gives the masochist a greater power, even, than their dominator. All acts committed against them are in aid of their pleasure and all ill treatment of them is by their request and expectation. As Leopold von Sacher Masoch shows in his Venus of Furs, the agreement with his Venus not only empowers him to receive the treatment he so desperately craves, but it entitles him to it. And what does he give in return? Nothing. His misogyny towards his Venus prevents her from having true power in the relationship, to claim that which she craves above all: uncomplicated love. She can only receive this power by becoming a martyr, a masochist, herself.

It would appear that there is nothing uncomplicated about love at all. Especially where the romance novel is concerned. But then, whoever said that love was uncomplicated? No masochist, I suppose. They suffer in love.

The Masochism Tango


About Leopold von Sacher Masoch:

While Venus in Furs was a work of fiction that, in any day, would have won the author great admiration for his understanding of the human condition and the psychology behind masochistic tendencies, that admiration quickly dwindled among his peers when they later learned that von Sacher Masoch himself, was in fact, a masochist. Just like in the case of Marquis de Sade, von Sacher Masoch’s name will forever be tied to his “perversion” – masochism.

About Michael DeMarco:

Michael DeMarco is a Massachusetts litigation attorney who specializes in child welfare and consumer protection. His practice is in Norfolk County. In 2017, he self-published a work of historical fiction entitled Redemption Lost, which follows a Dutchman through the global economic network of the 17th century. He now produces YouTube videos in which he discusses various artistic, musical and literary works from Milton’s Paradise Lost to Maria Callas’ interpretive performance of Bellini’s Norma.
You can subscribe to his YouTube video log here:

Further reading:

Get your copy of Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher Masoch here:

More on the business of Romance novels

More on Ancient Erotica

More on BDSM

Special thanks to Bragi Thor Valsson for the suggestion of the Masochism Tango.

New Kids on the Blog: An interview with Michael DeMarco (@HanlaBooks)




“I consider Paradise Lost to be the greatest achievement in all of English language literature.” – Michael DeMarco


This week I had the wonderful opportunity to get to know a little more about the inspiring Michael DeMarco. Wearing many hats, Michael is an author and Lit-vlogger who wants to revolutionize the way young people experience classic literature. By day, he takes on the world’s wrongdoings, but after hours, he’s a superhero championing the finer persuasions in life (Literature, Music, Art!). His Youtube Vlog is a must-visit for any book lover (see links below) and his commentary on how classic literature can be applied to modern life is a unique take on the power and influence of great books.  Michael isn’t just someone whose videos you’ll want to watch and whose book you’ll want to read, he’s someone you’ll want to get to know on a personal level. And now you can.

Read the interview below.


  1. Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a civil litigation attorney with my own practice in greater Boston. As of now I will be accepting appointments from the state to represent children and parents when there has been a removal made by the Department of Children and Families.

2. You are an author. Tell us about your book.

My book is a work of historical fiction, in four parts, taking place in England, the Netherlands, Indonesia, and finally Puritan Massachusetts. A Dutch prisoner of war is freed by a precocious young girl in search of her long lost father. While she seems to have freed him out of mutual interest, she makes an obsession out of corrupting him, sabotages the love of his life, while catapulting him up the ranks of the Dutch East India Company.

3. What motivates you to write?

A love of language and a desire to create.

4. What is your writer’s Achilles Heel?

My weakness as a writer is that my taste is very classical, and so my style is more formal and dense than what is found on the shelves these days.

5. Your book, Redemption Lost, is about The Dutch Golden Age, and more specifically the East India Company. What is your personal connection to this historic period/the characters in your book?

I was an Economics major in college and in my senior year I took a seminar level history course on Puritan New England. I am from Massachusetts and the story of European settlement in America fascinates people who live here. Redemption Lost deals with the machinations of the “first modern economy” centered in Amsterdam, the distortions of bear market saboteurs, and that colonial, geographic arbitrage that the Dutch used to acquire high value commodities from Asiatic trade. The climax is in Essex County, Massachusetts, almost too predictably I suppose, ending in a witchcraft trial, the description of which allowed me to draw upon my experience as a trial lawyer.

6. What is your favorite thing to discuss with your readers?

I enjoy hearing their own original opinions that had not occurred to me, sympathies where I had not intended them, or a relation to one of the characters (it is always to Louisa, the main female character).

7. What is the most annoying question you get from your readers?

“Who is your target audience?”

8. What are some of the life-changing books you’ve read, and why?

This would be a long list:

Moliere’s Tartuffe

John Milton’s Paradise Lost

Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther

Montaigne’s Essays

Plutarch’s Lives

Tasso’s Liberation of Jerusalem

I do not know that these books changed my life, but they evolved my thinking, each of them is full of little bits of wisdom for the reader to take away. Moliere in particular mocks everyone who takes things too seriously; arguing in every play, it seems, that to live well is the only true philosophy, and to try too hard to avoid calamity will bring it on you. Tasso is a series of allegorical delights. Plutarch is a tract pertaining to all life on earth. Goethe’s exploration of inner torment is so naked and confessional – and accurate — that it is difficult to wade through.

9. What is the one book you wish you had written, and why?

I hope I will write a comedy some day.

10. You host a Youtube Vlog about Literature. What prompted you to start Vlogging about books?

I’ve come to the determination that academics have ruined literature for young Americans. The purpose of my channel is to try to be entertaining; which is to say, I hope to extract the entertainment value from what is presumed to be dry material and show it to be comedic, meaningful, and even sexual.

11. What was the first book you Vlogged, and why?

I started with a series of podcasts on Paradise Lost because the core themes of that book were incorporated as homage in my own book. To put it simply, I consider Paradise Lost to be the greatest achievement in all of English language literature. It contemplates everything from domestic happiness, to his own theology, to his grapple with the correct relations within a free state. By the time I was done with the vlog, I realized I enjoyed the process. It is very clarifying to sit down and map out what I want to say.

12. What is your greatest passion?

I genuinely enjoy the practice of law and trial work especially. Reading, opera, classical music, the visual arts.

13. Do you have other talents or hobbies?

I get out on the bike for exercise during the summer and I ski during the winter.

14. What are you currently reading?

Maria Callas: The Woman Behind the Legend by Arianna Stassinopoulos.

15. Are there any new projects in your future? What’s next for you?

A Maria Callas video, the rest of Dante’s Inferno, and I must make a vlog on Moliere and Goethe!

16. And the question that everyone gets asked: Recommend one Netflix series I should watch:

Babylon Berlin


Follow Michael on Twitter @HanlaBooks or subscribe to his Youtube channel here!

If you are an author, book blogger or book reviewer and would like to be one of the New Kids on the Blog, contact me today!


Have a bookish weekend!