Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

02 September 2009

Shopping in Lucca

A Typical Street Stall

By mid-morning Pat is shopping for suede in Lucca’s Via Fillungo.

Italy is famous for leather goods, and the pelleteria with its narrow doorway flanked by seductive display windows is a typical leather shop. We are the only customers and receive the limited attention of two girls, both brown-eyed and slender with lustrous dark hair falling to below their shoulders. They speak no English. Out come the phrase books and Pat starts work on buying waistcoats for our girls and something for herself. The shop girls move slowly as if reluctant to disturb some fragile part of themselves. Each time they go to a rack to get something they catch sight of themselves in the full length mirror. While one of them ‘sells’, the other one stations herself before the mirror to flutter her eyes and make moues as if seducing some imaginary Adonis. She is like candy floss, all promise and no substance: give me older women!

At length, a Mastercard docket laboriously hand written, we have two waistcoats (panciotti) and a jacket for Pat. With barely controlled impatience the girls see us out and immediately bolt the door behind us. It’s one o’clock: siesta.


Next day: Pat’s suede jacket has a small hole in it. She wants to change it or get a refund. Oh dear! Another trip to the pelleteria. The vacuous girls are still making love to the mirrors, but today there’s a man, too, a lean character with hairy ears and hairier nostrils, in charge like a pimp is in charge: the girls are nobodies. He looks at the jacket and jabbers hard in Italian. I tell him ‘No parlamo bene Italiano’ but he rabbits on anyway, raising the volume (I thought only the British did that).

He doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with the jacket. Pat points to the small hole. He pokes at it with his finger tip, trying to push its edges together in the hope that it will magically fill in. Pat says she wants a replacement. The silent sirens pull all sorts of jackets from the racks but none of them is the right shape or colour. The man prods Pat here and there trying to make the jackets fit and waving his long, bony fingers over them like Mickey Mouse’s wizard in ‘Fantasia’, as if to make them change hue. The girls, expressions beatific, look vaguely sympathetic towards us but he’s not having any of it. In the end Pat flourishes her Mastercard chit and says she wants a refund.

‘No. No. No’. He flings his arms in the air: he cannot refund Mastercard; not possible. Plumbing the very depths of my Italian and waving my Berlitz phrase book like an evangelist, I tell him you can; you simply write out a refund docket.

‘Not in Italy.’ he shouts, triumphantly.

I tell Pat we’re not going to win; she’ll either have to keep the old jacket (which he has been treating with something from a tube) or take a replacement.

‘I don’t want a replacement; I want my money back.’

The girls have gone out of focus by now; they look like Jersey cows ruminating.

In the end - after ages during which nobody else has entered the shop - we leave with a replacement. Lesson learned; examine the goods industriously. Which is exactly what Pat does when we get to the shoe shop. Shoes everywhere. It’s hot and I hate shopping. Fortunately it’s siesta time again and we leave the shop with some nice black shoes and find a little place for lunch, a few tables under a cool, blue and white striped canopy fenced from the street by little boxes of shrubs.

Alan later tells me that Italians are all hospitality except when it comes to money; at that point they often find themselves in the unbreakable grip of parsimony.

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.