Some time ago I took my pocket trumpet (a smaller version) to Italy. I spent a month in the summer busking my way from north to south, and photographing and sketching the things I saw along the way. On my first night in Bergamo, near Milan, I made about 40 euros but I rarely made as much again. I'd only play for an hour or two each day.
After Bergamo the next stop was Brescia, with some interesting secrets hidden away. I particularly liked the false-perspective doorways.
Venice was gorgeous. I tried my luck busking, knowing it was likely to be tightly controlled. I positioned myself in an alleyway, began playing (sometimes I close my eyes) and I hadn't played 3 notes when a policewoman tapped me on the shoulder and advised me this was not allowed. She really seemed to come out of nowhere! Fair enough. I saw what I could, but only stayed a day, too expensive!
Elsewhere I managed to get a permit, but in many towns the police seemed happy for me to play in the public areas.
I noticed I usually got more from people in the smaller towns, where people weren't in a rush. Also, when people passed by who looked richer, if they gave anything at all, it was usually just a couple of cents! It's an interesting way to observe people.
Burt Bacharach songs were always popular.
I often stayed just a day or two in a town, but I stayed a few days in Vicenza. I found a good spot to play in the evenings, near the statue of Palladio and in the days I loved visiting the many buildings there by him. Beautifully proportioned.
A few towns later, in Bologna, I met a German guitarist who was also busking. He made his own electric guitars and he explained to me how he drilled holes for the strings right through the body of the guitar. They are then fixed on the back, making the whole body of the guitar resonate more. His guitar was an intense shiny red, with a funny shaped head. He was called Michael.
We jammed together right in the main square of Bologna, by the fountain, it was a warm summer evening and the sound bounced of the great stone walls and arches all around us. We played 'Summertime' and 'Sonny', and others, I don't remember. I kept expecting the police to come and stop us, especially when a group of drunken Poles came and danced and sung all around us. But the police left us to it and we had a great time.
When I got to Orvieto, south of Florence, I still had about a week to go until my flight out of Sicily, but I'd run out of money. I had stayed a while in Florence, seeing many beautiful things, but I couldn't earn anything. Orvieto was the furthest place I could reach on a 10 euro train ticket. And I wanted to go there because it is said to have the most beautiful cathedral facade in all of Italy. By the time I got there it was lit up by the setting sun, and I had to agree on it's beauty.
(I didn't stay there as long as I'd have liked. But when I met my wife a few years later it turned out she had also been to Orvieto, but not for as long as she'd wanted either! So that decided the destination for our honeymoon, and now I think we know every street and alleyway of this beautiful hill town).
Everyone seemed so friendly and laid back there. I played for a short while in an alley off the cathedral square and made 20 euros. Then I met some street performers juggling, eating fire etc. I didn't have anywhere to stay that night so they invited me to their tent at an international circus festival that just happened to be going on down the road in Palano. There was a world class stage show that evening, and the next morning I woke up to a field full of jugglers!
Rome was incredible, but another place more suited to spending than earning! But as I played 'Girl from Ipanema' at the edge of a great square that used to be a chariot racing amphitheatre (I've forgotten the proper name for it), one of the jewellery sellers gave me his card and suggested I team up with him the following summer playing the beach resorts (he played guitar). "Good money!" he said. I've not taken him up on the offer yet, But I've still got his number.
My favourite building in Rome was the Pantheon. I like the perfect geometry of it, how the dome of the roof is half of a perfect sphere, that if continued down would rest exactly on the floor. And the hi-tec lightweight concrete (mixed with pumice stone) used to build the roof, getting ever thinner until it reaches the open hole that lets in a shaft of light. This was built in the 1st century AD! And apart from these technical considerations (or should I say because of them?) it is also an emotionally impressive space.
As I went south, everything started to feel rougher, more eclectic, poorer certainly, in some ways more fascinating, and there were still many gems of Architecture.
In Naples I had a delicious pizza, naturally.
Pompei was truly fascinating. You could really start to grasp the reality of life in Pompei 2,000 years ago, it's day to day routines and dramas, and the ultimate drama of the volcanic eruption that left it preserved in ash. I visited with another young German who was staying at the youth hostel in Naples, an architecture student.
My final destination was Palermo, in Sicily. This felt very rough and eclectic. Dust, palm trees, litter and graffiti. There were many solid, simple eastern looking buildings dotted around, contrasting with others in a flowery Baroque style. The cathedral was an extravagance of eastern influences on the outside, but disappointingly conventional in it's classical interior.
I'd seen a lot and I was ready to go home when the time came, glad of all that had happened. There were many other beautiful places I visited I haven't mentioned, like Padua, Mantua, Modena, Amalfi, but I won't go on. Italy is so tremendously rich in history, art and architecture. And there is a quality of beauty everywhere (well almost!) so that even the humblest village square has something special about it.
I still like to play my trumpet on the main pedestrian street here in Sheffield from time to time, for the joy of playing in the open air to an audience of strangers, and, of course, in the hopes of earning a little spare change. It sometimes makes me remember places and people on my travels in Italy, as I play some of the same tunes. My only regret is that I didn't take more pictures of the people I met instead of just the buildings!