Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

22 August 2009

Girasole: The Sunflowers

All Umbria is yellowed by sunflowers and I have not yet photographed one. I ask Rita whether she knows where, nearby, there might be a field of sunflowers. She translates my question to Marco but he already knows it:

Girasole? He wants girasole? You want sunflower? Come.’

He gestures to me and to his friend Roberto to join him and walks briskly to his VW Golf Turbo. We take off through the gate, crashing over the metal cattle stop, leaving a spray of pebbles and dust behind. We scream down the lane as if trying to outrun the hound of heaven, Marco quietly dragging on a cigarette, arms extended to the steering wheel totally at ease in true Nuvolari fashion taking each bend as if we’re on a one-way street. At the earthquake house he brakes, arresting like a fighter landing on an aircraft carrier, to pick up a black-clad widow woman - a real, live solo black crow - to whom he murmurs in neighbourly fashion until we reach the lower outskirts of San Gemini whereupon he stops dead again.

I make to get out of the car to open the door for the woman but Marco restrains me, ‘She will make you talk.’ he whispers. No sooner is her door shut than we’re away, tyres squealing, to curve around the main road below the town out into open country on the road to Terni. At length we take a bend and there, to the right, and extending to low hills in the far distance is an ocean of yellow sunflowers.

‘You want girasole? You got girasole!’ Marco laughs and Roberto, too. ‘You come tomorrow morning. Beautiful pictures’.

I creep down the stone stairway. The garden air is night-cool. My sockless feet in smashed old boat shoes are wet with dew off the long grasses of the unkempt lawn. I run the car downslope until as far away from the house as possible then start the engine. Only then do I slam the door and drive through the rapidly lifting mist of the valley bed. Bells are ringing from several churches.

In the still air I photograph a sea of sunflowers running to a distant hedge of oaks against wooded hills. They are a surreal intensity of yellows and they seem to have an odd intelligence about them which is almost intimidating as they stare unblinkingly at the sun. ‘Girasole’ - turn to the sun - a word as beautiful in Italian as sunflower is in English. The blooms are enormous, perhaps up to forty-five centimetres in diameter, each identical to its neighbour with a fringe of frivolous petals around the geometric seed head which is the business of the flower. The bees are up early; some of my close ups will show them at work.

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

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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.