Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

13 September 2009

Florence, dog shit and Donatello

Distance, of course, lends enchantment. There was never a truer saying - especially about big cities. Florence is one of the cities I like least. Its atmosphere is clogged with traffic fumes eating inexorably into crumbling masonry. The pavements are traps of dog shit. The crowds press, bug-eyed and weary. The shopkeepers and restaurateurs fleece like skin-nicking shearers. The centro storico is so old and tired that it’s impossible to get a whole shot of most of the notable buildings because they’re in constant states of repair, clothed like seaweedy rocks with green mesh netting or corseted by scaffolding, some of which looks as if it’s been in situ longer than the buildings themselves.

By rights I should like cities. I should be in awe of them: repositories of great art and architecture. But the potential joy is destroyed by the numbing wait in serpentine queues that lie in tight folds outside the galleries. It’s simply not worth that pain to see Botticelli’s ‘Primavera’, or Michelangelo’s ‘David’. (I wonder about David - his hands are too big). My indifference to cities comes from being a Londoner, growing up in a metropolis that one wears like an old overcoat - no awe, no fear - total familiarity. The flip side of the country boy who’s dumbfounded by the city, I am forever astounded by the country.

Not that I care nothing for great art. One of my most memorable confrontations was in Florence, at the Museum of the Fabric of Santa Maria del Fiore, the ‘Opera del Duomo’, where I gazed, disturbed, at the 1450-ish ‘The Magdalen in Penitence’ by Donatello, a free-standing, life-sized wooden figure of a woman in rags - enduringly poignant. But oddly, for some sort of an artist myself, it’s art in engineering that impresses me most: especially that marvellous dome of Brunelleschi’s which was finished in 1463. Double-skinned, the substantial inside supporting the shell of the outside, it was built without steel scaffolding, high-rise cranes, electrical hoists, reinforced concrete, chemical solvents or adhesives, or computer-aided design: just art, experience and inspiration. Timeless.

No, not timeless, nothing lasts for ever, as Osymandius’s statue discovered, and in a country where earthquakes (terremoto) are common and many national treasures have been pulverised into history, the dome of the duomo could topple any time (as could the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I wonder how many cameras will capture that event? Perhaps it’ll happen at night. It will happen. I can’t think of any other country in the world where the Leaning Tower would have stayed upright for 650 years; only in Italy…)

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.