Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

27 September 2009

Barga: The Money Changer

We go into Barga to change some travellers cheques. Just off the square, the Banca Toscana is near the Tamol petrol station. (Angela the vivacious pump operator, small, dark eyed, her face deeply tanned by the Tuscan sun, always gives me a big smile even when I’m not buying petrol. Benzina in Italy is expensive but I find it easier to pay for when purchased from Angela.) 

But to the Banca Toscana… to gain access one presses a button outside a narrow, curved glass kiosk the outer door of which slides open to admit one only, then shuts. Once inside this vertical coffin one presses another button to open a similar internal door. The operation takes about a minute. In other words if there are five customers waiting it’ll take the last one at least five minutes to get in. Inside there are queues of people who stand in silence or talk in low whispers and wait, with infinite patience, for the mills of the banca to grind; exceedingly slowly.

I am ushered to one of the queues where I wait and wait until I am confronted by a female automaton who checks my passport while I sign enough TCs to get me 500 000 lire - about $NZ500.00 - of ready cash to see us through the last few days in Italy. La bella signorina sends me to the back of another queue where, at length, I come face to face with a spotty youth with a fag in his mouth. He grunts smoke at me past half-closed eyes, checks my passport again, takes my TCs, counts them then enters something into a calculator which spews a faint print-out which he gives me with a flourish. I scrutinize it and discover that I’m about to receive 950 000 lire!

Hitherto our language has been Italian; well, mine was Italian, his could have been anything. But when I look at the print-out and say aloud to myself, ‘That looks like a jolly good rate of exchange’ he stands, leans forward and snatches it from my hand.

‘Umf umf wumf umf’ he says, his cigarette flapping up and down in his lips.

Mi scusi?’ I ask.

He takes the cigarette out of his mouth and admits, reluctantly while reddening, ‘I made a mistake.’

‘Indeed? You surprise me.’ But I think my sarcasm was lost on him.

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.