Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

20 August 2009

The Faded Signora…

I take the cameras into Barga and roam the steps and alleys taking ‘cameos’, shots of little details that intrigue - a barred window, a crumbling wall, shuttered windows edged with geraniums, niche statues, door knobs - I always feel happy when I’ve shot some frames; work ethic pushing through, I suppose.

With the camera on the tripod I wait for the light to be just right for a shot across the terra cotta roofs of the centro storico towards the Apuane Alps. It’s a long wait, the clouds move infinitely slowly. On one of the park benches sit two women, a mother and daughter, the mother bent and bird-like, trembling, grasping an ebony stick, her ivory knuckle bones about to burst through their fragile vellum skin. The daughter is a middle-aged lustreless blonde. I nod to them across the rose beds and turn to lean on the parapet waiting for the moment.

As the shadows chase patches of distant sunlight over the river valley I’m aware of a footstep beside me. It’s the blonde. Scuffed. Faded. Worn. She’s like something out of Coronation Street, an Elsie Tanner well past a best that might once have been voluptuous. She starts to talk in a soft monotone and doesn’t stop even when I tell her I speak very little Italian. She flutters her eyes and makes some provocative moues and it dawns upon me that she’s chatting me up. Gin fumes waft on the heavy air. I imagine that Barga, while being a delight to us holidaymakers, must be a cold bed of suburban neuroses, a place of frustrated wretchedness for a woman of a certain age, her happy times bedded in history, left now to shepherd her old mother and hopeful of lust from the odd stray tourist. She must be desperate to solicit an old joker like me.

Sudden sun flattens the seams of her face, and floods the landscape. Just what I’ve been waiting for. ‘Mi scusi, signora.’ I turn my back on her and thumb the cable release for a series of bracketed exposures. When I’ve finished I’m relieved to see her and the old woman taking pigeon steps out of the park.

From ‘Antipasto’ random samplings from various writings made over a few years of visits to a ‘New Zealander’s Italy’




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By Don Donovan

About Me

My photo

Don Donovan: Biography

I was born on 20 January 1933, nine days before Hitler came to power in Germany, I grew up in south London. Although evacuated during the phoney war and the quieter times I lived in and out of air raid shelters during the blitz and experienced both V1 and V2 attacks on London. Left grammar school in 1948 aged 15 substantially undereducated. I wanted to go to art school but because of family ‘poverty’ joined a commercial art studio in the West End. I was, thereafter, variously a messenger boy, commercial artist and typographer. I was in the Royal Air Force from 1951 to 1953 when the only useful thing I did was to take part in King George VI’s funeral parade.

In 1955 I married Patricia O’Donnell, a RADA graduate, at that time playing opposite Derek Nimmo, they were juvenile leads in a touring repertory company. He went on to great success because he had a funny voice.

We came to New Zealand in 1960 where I worked in advertising. At length I became managing director of one of the companies of whose holding company (the largest domestic advertising complex in New Zealand) I was also a proprietor and shareholder. I left the industry in 1990 when my company was bought out by American interests. My timing was brilliant, at that point my first book had been published and the next was on its way.

We have two daughters and four grand-children.

Now, apart from writing, I function as a self-educated grumpy old man.

Books & Writings

‘New Zealand Odyssey’, with Euan Sarginson, Heinemann-Reed, 1989.

‘One Man’s Heart Attack’, New House, 1990. (A special edition of this book was purchased by CIBA-Geigy for distribution to NZ doctors).

‘Open 7 Days’, Random Century, October 1991.

‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’ by Saint Publishing in 1995 followed by:
‘New Zealand House & Cottage’ in 1997. (Saint Publishing have also published calendars for the years 1994 to 2004 using my watercolour illustrations).

‘The Wastings’, my first novel was published in July 1999 by Hazard Press. Although an international subject it had very limited distribution, only in New Zealand, and the rights have reverted to me. (Colin Dexter read 'The Wastings' and wrote to me: 'I enjoyed and admired "The Wastings"... a beautifully written work... a splendid debut in crime fiction... More please!'.)

Also the texts of photographic books:
‘Colourful New Zealand’
‘New Zealand in Colour’
‘Top of the South’
‘Above Auckland’
‘Hauraki Gulf Destinations’
‘Bay of Plenty’
and a compilation of photographs and quotations titled ‘Anzac Memories’ 2004 all published by New Holland.

My written and illustrated book, ‘Country Churches of New Zealand’ was published in October 2002 by New Holland, who also published ‘Rural New Zealand’ 2004 (photographs and text), and a series of four humorous books of photographs and quotations in 2004 and 2005 titled ‘Woolly Wisdom’, ‘Chewing the Cud’, ‘Fowl Play’, and ‘Pig Tales’. My most recent book was published in August 2006 by New Holland, titled ‘Political Animals’.

Over the years I have written for NZ Herald, Heritage Magazine, Next Magazine and various local and overseas travel and general interest media.