Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

23 September 2009

At Bagni di Lucca

Bagni di Lucca in Tuscany’s middle Serchio valley, moulded by the confining, forested hills either side of the Lima River is a town of gracious villas, spas, hotels and slab sided houses three or four storeys high whose walls plunge like pastel cliffs to the stony river bed.

‘The Baths of Lucca’ where mineral-rich hot springs well out of the rock, have been used for therapy and luxury since Roman times. Emperor Frederick I praised the town in 1245, I guess he wallowed in one of the pools for the gout or poxy pustules that had been wished upon him by Pope Gregory IX to go with his excommunication. He must have been a bit of a lad, Fred, because he not only became Emperor of the Germans at age two, and King of Sicily at three, he also managed, in his fifty-six years (during which he earned the title ‘Stupor Mundi’ - Wonder of the World) to get himself crowned King of Jerusalem and throw all Italy into turmoil when he made war on a couple of popes. He lost, and his family, the Hohenstaufens, went into an irretrievable decline.

When Fred took the waters in the thirteenth century the road up the Serchio Valley was probably just a mule track so I guess the hot pools were mostly used by the locals; but Napoleon’s sister, who also liked a wallow, had a decent road made from Lucca in 1805 and started the town’s tourist boom.

In a shaft of sunlight that illuminates the soup plate leaves of the plane trees we see four young nuns walking briskly, in step, two by two, jolly, waving their arms in conversation like something out of ‘The Sound of Music’. You don’t see nuns much these days, let alone young ones. They look beautiful; pink, virginal faces trapped in black and white frames. I wish I could stop the car and photograph them - but I’d never ask, I’d make a terrible paparrazzo!

There’s always a key shot to illustrate an article; as Bagni di Lucca is a river town it’s a view upstream from the main traffic bridge, Ponte di Castruccio. Nearby there’s a café, where Pat says she’ll be happy to sit under a sun umbrella and drink cappuccino while I go over to the bridge and set up the camera and tripod. Just as I frame the picture the sun shuts off so I have to wait. I hear a warbly whistling and looking below and to one side I see on the balcony of one of the houses an ugly looking fellow with a wall eye and tattoos trying to attract my attention. Behind him an old, black-clad woman sits in a rocking chair, her eyes closed like a basking cat. Whistler’s mother.

He shouts to me but I can’t hear him for the noise of traffic over the bridge. I shout back ‘No parlo bene, Italiano. Sono da la Nuova Zelande’ but he goes on chattering away, mostly inaudibly, and making gestures, then he asks me if I’m German.

‘No. No No. Nuova Zelande.’
‘Nuova Zelande. New Zealand!’
‘Si, Australiano.’ That’ll do, thank God for Sydney Harbour Bridge.

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.