Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

24 September 2009

Bagni di Lucca: A Place of Torture

No. 2 Via Della Chiesa is an unusual four-storeyed triangular building in Bagni di Lucca. The façade at the sharpest point of its triangle is comprised of three wedding cake tiers of pompous Corinthian columns topped by an open, eagle’s nest balcony adorned with plant pots of scarlet and pink geraniums. Once washed a mustard orange-yellow it’s now peeling with neglect and is filthy from diesel fumes. Two grimy marble plaques are inset into its walls. The first, installed in September 1974, commemorates the imprisonment and torture here of patriots by ‘Nazi Fascists’ during the second world war. One comes up short imagining the screams that would once have emanated from the shuttered basement windows…

Pause for reflection

I am intrigued by the words ‘Nazi Fascists’. European union demands that old enmities be set aside and that those who were once oppressed by Germany should avoid direct criticism of the German people. So, on war memorials, ‘Nazi’ is the politically correct word that describes the oppressors, neatly avoiding giving offence while leaving older Germans to decide whether or not any blame attaches to them for past atrocities. I first came across this form of tombstone diplomacy at Echternach, a small border town in Luxembourg, separated from Germany by a narrow river. German tanks had rolled across Echternach’s mediaeval stone bridge to invade Luxembourg early in the war and the town’s subsequent liberation ‘from the Nazi invaders’ by American forces in 1945 is recorded on a memorial plaque in the town. Clearly the Italians as well as the Luxembourgeois have taken the polite route when it comes to memorial texts.

… the second tablet records that in this building lived ‘Ouida’, Louise de la Ramée, ‘scrittrice Inglesi amante del’ Italia, amica degli animali qui dimoro negli anni 1904-1905’ which, I think, means that she was an English writer, lover of Italy and friend to animals.

Marie Louise de la Ramée was known as ‘Ouida’ because that was how she pronounced ‘Louise’ when she was a child. She wrote forty-five novels and was sixty-six when she died in 1908. I wonder what life was like here for those English litterati some of whom finished up in the neglected English cemetery up the road? I think the Italians took them to their hearts - otherwise why would they record ‘Ouida’s’ stay in their town with as much prominence as the torture of patriots by the ‘Nazi Fascists’?

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.