Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

06 September 2009

The Bicycles of Lucca

Having forsaken the fountains of Rome, the palazzi of Florence and that teetering Pisan tower I spent a happy hour in Lucca, sitting in a kerb-side café, sipping espresso and nibbling una brioche while I watched the cyclists go by. At last I was face to face with real Italy at street level. Two things about this charming Etruscan city in northern Tuscany make it a bicycle town: its narrow streets and the complete absence of hills. It’s as flat as a slab of Carrara marble.

It didn’t take me long to realize that here there is no better form of everyday transport than the bike. Unless you’re sight-seeing, walking is too slow; motorists and bus drivers suffer stop-go misery in Lucca’s pinched and writhing one-way system, and the elsewhere ubiquitous three-wheeled two-strokes with their blue smoke and noise are plainly unwelcome in these airless alleys.

As I watched, it struck me that no matter whether old or young, large or small, Lucca’s citizens are bred to the bicycle: it fits them like part of their anatomy. They negotiate the cobbled thoroughfares and flag-stoned piazzas effortlessly and with complete disregard of the one-way signs. There’s an air of tranquility and confidence about them and a readiness to call a buon giorno to friends and strangers alike. They fear not neither do they give way to larger vehicles and their only concessions are to pedestrians, lesser beings for whom they tinkle their bells more as entertainment than as warnings.

Observing the passing ‘cycle-cade’ I could see that in Lucca the bike is no guide to socio-economic standing. There are no two-wheeled status symbols, no Ferraris or V6 Alfas. These machines are modest, neutral, purely practical. Well-dressed matrons flashing diamonds lost no dignity as they pushed their pedals, they looked as elegant in the saddle as on foot. Bankers, priests, businessmen suffered no loss of prestige in trouser clips. In handle-bar baskets, small dogs travelled contentedly in company with Florentine leather handbags. Two lovers met, wheel to wheel, and managed, while still astride their bikes, to touch hungrily and with an unashamed passion. A pair of toddlers passed trustfully poised on custom-made saddles on the cross-bar of grand-dad’s bike avoiding a gaggle of small boys who tilted at danger, taking that extra risk by standing upright on the parcel tray as they and their friends, sometimes three to a machine, bounced and rattled over the mediaeval granite stones.

I reflected that the transport needs of the historical centre of Lucca (that portion of the city which lies within the 4.2 kilometres of its third fortified wall, dating from 1645) would have been satisfied without the invention of the internal combustion engine and goods would have been carried just as effectively by horse drawn carts as they are today. The great leap forward would have been the bicycle and that’s where technology might comfortably have ended.

Lucca, in common with the rest of the world, traded horse manure for exhaust fumes but the bicicletta is above reproach and perhaps it is the confidence that they derive from their innate understanding of the appropriateness of the bicycle that made observing the endless stream of Lucchese cyclists such a source of enjoyment for this tourist.

From ‘Antipasto’ random samplings from various writings made over a few years of visits to a ‘New Zealander’s Italy’



Blog Archive

Hits Counter


Loaded Web

Blog Directory for Albany, New Zealand


Blog This Here

Blog Flux

Commentary blogs


  • <$BlogCommentAuthor$> // <$BlogCommentDateTime$>


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.