Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

30 September 2009

Tuscany: Castiglione Revisited

Many years of peace make peaceful gardens

Since 1945 when the last German invasion of Italy ended, the people of Castiglione di Garfagnana have lived at peace. They don’t even have to worry much about internal strife because government goes on despite the annual changes of political masters in Rome, and it’s only down south that the mafia blows up judges. Over fifty years without fear. Now, instead of casting anxious eyes over the landscape they can look inwards at the bimbo shows on television and enjoy the comfort of washing machines, fridges, pop-up toasters, stereos, espresso machines, cell phones and three-wheeled Piaggios… their ancestors would have thought them the trappings of the devil.

In a tranquil, deserted but well tended little public garden there’s a memorial to men and women killed in the war. Italian soldiers don’t enjoy the best of reputations, appearing too fond of wine, women and song. The myths of Italian soldiery - they swapped sides readily; they strutted after Mussolini’s conquests in Ethiopia; they wore sumptuous uniforms and reeked of garlic and toiletries; they harboured cravens who hunted with the hounds and ran with the hares - overshadow the courage of resistance workers who fought Nazis in the hills above their native villages knowing that their families were being raped and singled out to be shot in reprisals while they themselves were in constant danger of capture and summary execution. It must have been hard. It is not forgotten: these shrines and memorial gardens exist all over northern Italy.

San Michele, Castiglione

Once my eyes adjust to shadow inside the Porta Principale I can make out a battered painted statue of Our Lady. Holding Jesus, she’s wearing a crown and is sumptuously dressed. Interesting how the Catholic church has rococo-ized the holy family; there’s something meretricious in the way the church has abandoned the simple country girl who gave birth in a stable.

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.