Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

09 September 2009

Barga: The Ospedale

Alan and I go to the Café Alpini in Barga’s Piazza Roma to drink iced Campari. I do a pen sketch, from my chair on the boardwalk outside the café, of the street that goes towards the centro storico from the Piazza Pascoli. Alan is content to smoke and read. My sketch finished I order another round of drinks marvelling, yet again, at the Italian practice of not paying until everything has been finished. How the café owners, let alone their patrons, keep a tally of how many drinks and of what type, and whether or not there were cakes or savouries beats me; but practice is that one does not pay until after. Then one must be certain to get a receipt (una ricevuto fiscale) for fear of being stopped by polizia and thrown into a dungeon for lack of evidence of payment. I’ve never yet been stopped and asked for a receipt but they tell me it happens often.

A group of ripened middle-aged ladies in black silk, satin and crêpe chatters away at an adjacent table. They’re nearly all smoking. I’ve seen them before; they gather regularly. They’re locals, retired and probably widowed. One of them is totally different from the others. She blooms like an eager rose, pink, with ruby red lipstick, a hint of azure in her hair, and wearing the sort of spectacles that Sophia Loren might have modelled for Rodenstock. She has plump, white arms and stubby, jewelled fingers which she uses expressively. I catch her eye and she smiles. Alan, his back to her, is oblivious. After a particularly long diatribe rapidly pattered out in Italiano molto espressivo she leaves the table and, as she passes close to us, she says ‘Have a happy holiday’ in heavily Scots-accented English.

‘You’re very kind signora.’ I thank her.

Alan swivels around and smiles ‘Buona sera.’

‘Where are you from?’

I explain that I am from la Nuova Zelande while Alan is a Londoner with a casa in Barga.

‘Oh,’ she lights up at Alan, ‘Where are you?’


He explains where it is but there’s no need, she knows it.

‘I’ve just been trying to get the others to come to the protest at the hospital tonight,’ she says, pointing a thumb over her shoulder. Then dropping her voice conspiratorially she wrinkles her nose and says, ‘but they’re a bit apathetic. The authorities are trying to close it down.’

She taps me lightly on the shoulder: ‘Nice to have met you.’ and she’s away, bustling across the grass of the Piazza Pascoli.

‘Nice woman.’ says Alan. ‘Typically Barghigiani Scots.’

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.