Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

13 September 2009

Florence and The Arno River

I want to go to Florence for one photograph which I missed in 1992 and 1995, a view of the city and the Ponte Vecchio from across the Arno River. From the map it appears that at late morning, with the sun very slightly east of south, the best vantage point will be the Piazzale Michelangelo.

For once in our lives the traffic jam is on the other side of the autostrada - all Florence is heading for the beaches. It’s marvelous to be able to travel at 130 km/h without having a speed camera hidden in the bushes; the wonder of it is that even at that speed we are constantly overtaken by smart machinery doing well over the ton (160 km/h) - big Mercedeses, Alfas, Lancias, the occasional Jaguar, Ferrari, Lamborghini or even the odd Saab 9000 like mine. Fat chance I’d have of doing 160 kays in New Zealand. Italian motorway discipline is superb, everybody stays to the ‘slower’ right hand lanes except when overtaking, and if there is somebody in your way they move over if you flash your lights to let them know you’re behind them. At home that would induce road rage!

We arrive at the north bank of the Arno River and cross on the Ponte della Vittoria to wind our way up the leafy avenue of the Viale Michelangelo near the Boboli Gardens. For some strange reason the Viale Michelangelo becomes the Viale Galileo only to revert once it leaves the Piazzale Michelangelo - our destination. (I think the Italians like changing all these names because they like saying them. This is the most treasured language I’ve ever heard and everybody seems to luxuriate in its pronunciation; it’s the language of people born to poetry).

Piazzale Michelangelo is one damned great car park with hundreds of people milling about. A monster replica of Michelangelo’s David glares at peasants licking ice creams and wearing stupid hats. I get the feeling that it wouldn’t take much for him to suddenly come to life and piddle all over the crowd. Souvenir stands abound selling maps of the city, guide books in Italian, French, English, German, Japanese; straw hats, cotton hats, plastic hats; tee-shirts; ‘David’ pencil sharpeners; paperweights of Brunelleschi’s cathedral dome in snowstorms; brass or plastic ashtrays; buttons, badges and patches. Tired looking stallholders with cancerous suntans have the shifty, narrow-faced eyes of old shafters. Every race under the sun is here with point-and-shoot cameras, flashes going off in all directions in direct competition with the sun; videotape recorders… I hate the place instinctively and, what’s more, the shot I want isn’t here, there’s too much foreground, I want to get over it all and see the Arno, the bridge and the city without a cluttered foreground.

On a terrace below the piazzalle we find an open air café. I walk to the edge of the wide viewing parapet. There is The Shot - it’s got everything, good foreground with a gorgeous jumble of terra-cotta tiled roofs, deep angle into the river, bridge and city all in excellent light. I set up the camera interchanging telephoto and wide angle zoom lenses to take a series of pictures; happy that I’ve got what I came for.

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.