Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

28 September 2009

Tuscany: Peasant Women, Café Men

Where do the solitary old women come from who, dressed in black, walk the back roads of Tuscany? It seems that whenever one drives in the country, at some point on the journey, at some time in the day, there will be one around the next bend, sometimes miles from any visible habitation.

Old fashioned women. Peasant women. 

Are they widows? Or are their men those who sit at the tables outside Barga’s Bar Onesti or similar village bars and cafés, reading tabloid newspapers, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and covertly appraising the luscious young raggazzi who toss their heads knowingly as they pass on the street?

Café men and walking matrons: I imagine them at home, couples living lives of grunted communication, each to their duties, love and lust spent, children grown and gone. They part company after breakfast, she to walk, he to male bonding at the café, both to return at day’s end to more grunts and a matrimoniale whose springs stopped groaning for joy years ago.

Some men retire early in Italy. I remember a young-looking chap whom we met, with his attractive wife, at the restaurant ‘La Mocchia’ who told us that he was retired from his job as a salesman at the age of fifty. He explained that once you’ve done thirty-five years of work you may retire no matter how old you are and collect a state pension. If that’s correct it’s a way of solving youth unemployment but what does it do to the psyche of the pensioner? Most people who retire don’t know what to do with their earned leisure; they and their minds wither.

But then again, early retirement may explain the intensively worked terraced smallholdings on the hills around the Garfagnana. I doubt that, ordinarily, they’d be payable propositions but if they serve to keep the retiree occupied, to supplement income, and to put home-grown food and wine on the table they make good sense. I think the master of Chiesetta No. 1, may have fallen into that category: he worked his slopes assiduously, especially those overlooking the pool of No. 2 around which the Inglesi women laid in the sun…

One sees some still-together pairs travelling side-by-side, sitting bolt upright in the confined cabs of Piaggios, those narrow three-wheelers low-geared enough to negotiate any track, any gradient. They’re used for everything, to carry goats, sheep, groceries, kids, tools, machinery - I’ve been held up behind one whose tray was so full of hay that it looked in imminent danger of overturning on the slightest bend but, like a mobile Leaning Tower of Pisa, made it all the way!

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.