Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

30 September 2009

Tuscany: Castiglione di Garfagnana

From Castelnuovo di Garfagnana a highway strikes directly north to climb the Apennines, crossing from Tuscany into Emilia Romagna to Modena, where that delicious balsamic vinegar comes from. From the map it’s obvious that in the old days, when life was just one long series of punch-ups between neighbouring tribes, it provided access to coveted territories. It doesn’t take much to imagine the fear and misery that the peasants would have suffered as the ebb and flow of piddling but murderous conflict regularly wrecked their lives. Their crops would have been raided after harvest (bastards who fought mediaeval wars always waited until the harvest was in), their goats and cattle slaughtered to feed mercenary task forces and their daughters - and a few sons no doubt - raped in the name of some scrofulous duke or count bent on adding his coloured pins to the European map.

The fortified town of Castiglione di Garfagnana lies a few kilometres north of Castelnuovo high on the Modena road which climbs steeply in linen-folds to the walls of the town. It would have been difficult to assail from the south, there’s no cover, attackers would be in view over a long distance and the garrison would have had ample time to brew up vats of boiling oil ready to be poured through the macchicolations - the gaps below the battlements specially built for that purpose. The 12th century pentagon of curtain walls which surrounds the town is remarkably intact. Its longest stretch includes the main gate, the Porta Principale, whose stained tower has a white clock face with delightfully naive Arabic numerals painted on it; they look as if they’ve been lettered by amateurs but fit very nicely into the slender tower which has a strange, pyramidal metal canopy, painted a rusty pink; something from Disneyland or towered Camelot.
In the 15th century Castiglione was capital town of the Garfagnana but none of the meagre histories I’ve checked gives it an origin more precise than as a settlement of the ‘Liguri-Apuan’ folk who, in time, were rolled over by the Romans. The first dated historical documents mention the founding of the church and monastery of San Pietro in 723 AD by Longobard brothers Aurimand and Gudifrid. The Lombards were Germans from over the alps, a bunch of prototypical lager louts who spread themselves around northern Italy putting the boot into what was left of the Roman Empire. They must have started the love affair Italians have with Germans that still goes on to this day…

Aurimund and Gudifrid couldn’t have been that bad because the church of San Pietro is still standing, tucked hard up against - and looking in better shape than - the later fortified wall. After the Lombards (Longobards = ‘long beards’: at least they weren’t skinheads) the town was kicked around by all and sundry - Pisans, Florentines and the Lucchese from down the valley who flattened the place in 1227 and so impressed the townsfolk that it became a devoted outpost of Lucca until, in the 19th century, it passed to the Duchy of Modena.

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

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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.