In Search of Simplicity


Sheffield, England
November 24
QDS Carpentry & Joinery
I'm a woodworker. My goal is to build beautiful, ecological houses for the poor. Right now I'm learning, and running a small business.

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OCTOBER 19, 2008 5:19PM

Travels with my Trumpet in Italy

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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.

Brescia doorway, false perspectiveBrescia doorway - false perspective

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!

Gondola in Venice

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.

La Rotonda by Palladio

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.

Orvieto Cathedral (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!

Circus festival, Palano

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.

The Pantheon

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.

Dogs on a balcony in Palermo

In Naples I had a delicious pizza, naturally.

Seafood pizza in Naples

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.

Via delle Tombe, PompeiAmphitheatre, Pompei

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.

Palermo Cathedral

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!



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I think you might be leading my ideal life. Playing music and traveling. What could be better? Your photos are beyond gorgeous. Thanks for giving me pictures to add to my dreams of visiting Italy.
This is a wonderful travel tale . The dog photo is beautiful - the textures are so very much Italy........I love Italy - I've driven by Orvieto on my way from Rome to Vienna. Thanks for the tip - it's now on my short list for Europe when and if the euro comes down.

And the Pantheon! What a marvel. I think I could stand in the middle under the dome forever.
Fellow trumpeter. I don't play pocket trumpet, I play a Martin Committee and Yamaha Silver Plated and I can only imagine traveling Europe and playing music to the delight (or non-delight) for those of another culture. Living the dream my friend. BEAUTIFUL pictures.
I hope to be able to make a journey like that one day. Just walking with the gig bag, popping in the Harmon Mute and playing some Miles Davis.

The Life...
Nice pictures! It sounds like a great trip; I've been to some of the places you mention, and your descriptions and pictures brought back great memories.

chariot racing amphitheatre

Circus Maximus?
Wonderful tale and beautiful pictures. The spirit of adventure is so strong and I especially loved the part about waking up in a field of jugglers.
Thankyou so much for all these comments, it kind of warms my heart that my little story has struck a chord with people! But of course, who couldn't like Italy?
Great post and pictures. One thing I noticed when I was in Italy was all the graffiti - not just on new buildings but old ones like your first picture. I even saw lots of it on ancient Roman ruins. So sad, really.
Somehow I hadn't consciously thought about it but now you say that, I guess you're right. I think the famous, prominent buildings were pretty well protected from it but a lot of other beautiful ones were sadly vandalised by graffiti.

There was some grafiti, on modern blank walls, that I really liked though! i think it was in Naples, on the train going into the station, there was a long wall with loads of it on.
Hi, Trumpetmonkey, are you planning another trip? How about coming to Seattle, WA USA and busking your way down to San Diego, CA? Form a network of trumpeters down the west coast who can give you a hand and some you tips on good pitches and stuff when needed as you pass through. Seattle, Tacoma, Astoria, Portland, Eugene, Crescent City, Eureka, Santa Rosa, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Salinas, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Diego, and places in between... Then write an illustrated book about your adventures! Watch some soccer games here, too, along the way. Why not? Look me up at, and let's get you started.