Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

27 August 2009

They Still Ring Church Bells In Italy

They still ring church bells in Italy; their changes float from belfries up and down the Serchio Valley. I try to rest in the sun in Chiesetta’s soothing garden. I read a little but then remember the raspberry bushes that grow on one of the terraces at the far end of the garden. They are loaded with fruit, fat, pubescent, pink and subtly flavoured. They’re ready to come off the canes but the first one I pull sets off a convulsive rustling in the bush. I jump back wary of a viper but it was probably one of the lizards that wriggle in the garden. The raspberries are morish and abundant; I make a pig of myself.

Later, some of us go to Castelvecchio Pascoli, a hamlet north of Barga, to inspect the house of Giovanni Pascoli a poet of renown. He lived with his sister, Maria, at Casa Pascoli from 1895 until he died in 1912 (they’re both buried here) during which he wrote much of his most important work. The house is now a museum very much as he left it. 

Three old ladies in black, ravens sunning themselves on a bench in the gravel forecourt, point to a concealed bell-push. The door is opened by a lugubrious, overweight, uniformed, pasty-faced ‘guard’ who admits us, charges us ten Euros each, insists that I leave my camera bag in his cubby hole (but I’m allowed the camera and tripod) and then gives us a conducted tour around gloomy, mouldy smelling rooms with high, frescoed ceilings. There are six thousand books and carefully indexed archives. Pascoli obviously rates in Italian literature but one suspects that he is given additional status to enhance tourist income. In one of the rooms are his desk with his quill pens and other objects in situ. The walls are covered with photographs, drawings and paintings: Pascoli and family, prominenti - including Garibaldi with Pascoli - and local scenes.

Apart from a sunny, collonaded balcony on the first floor, from which we can see Barga, the gardens of the house, and the river valley, I find it cold and uninspiring; I wonder what his poetry was like? Indeed, I wonder what was his relationship with his sister for there’s a hint of illicit propinquity about their connecting bedrooms…
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.