Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

18 September 2009

At Fiesole, Above the Smog of Florence

Fiesole is a hill town eight kilometres north of Florence where the familia Medici used to weekend away from the vengeful Savonarola and the smelly proletariat. Driving up the wide curves of the Via San Domenico past stately houses in terraced grounds I can feel the air clearing and see clarity emerging as the sunlight penetrates the thinning filter of Florence’s air. It gets prettier: the sloping green fields on either side silvered and shimmering with olive groves. Fiesole is older than Florence. It was founded by the Etruscans, who seem to me to have had it all over the Romans but don’t get quite as positive a historical spin.

In the plane-bordered, sun-beaten, sloping square there is one of the nicest statues I’ve yet seen of the much memorialized Garibaldi. On horseback in this 1906 monument he’s in expansive mood, greeting and meeting King Victor Emmanuel II at Teano, north of Naples, in 1860. They’re a genial pair, it must have been a great encounter for them: Garibaldi had conquered Sicily and Naples and presented Vittorio Emanuele with half of the kingdom which would come fully into being in 1870 when Italy, ending fifty years of risorgimento, became unified.

In the Zona Archeol√≥gica are the excavations of the Roman theatre where a guide tries to summon up the past to a group of visitors seated on the auditorium’s curved stones. I wonder how much history seeps up through their bottoms from the grey granite that must have supported thousands of others in its time? Beyond are the Roman baths and earlier, Etruscan, remains of a third century BC temple. Notwithstanding the age of the remnants I feel no ghosts here, just a pleasant park to walk in; but I’m grateful for Fiesole, it lifts my spirits after the miasma of Florence.

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.