I flew to Rome once, without money. I didn't know anyone there and had not been there before, I didn't even speak Italian.
Somehow I found my way towards the city center from the airport , I don't know what part of the city it was but it was quite busy, two or three story houses and shopfronts. It got late and it was winter, the streets emptied, it was going towards zero, and the only warmth was the now gated steps down to the subway. I slept sat on the steps, for the warm air that occasionaly rose from the underground station.
It is well known and reminded, that you get hungry if you don't eat. I had my guitar with me, so I started busking. For a week or so it went on like that, just earning enough to buy the occasional snack and the like, all day crowds and traffic, at night sat on the steps. Eventually I decided I had to leave the city, and walked and walked one night. I had to find countryside, and the streets turned to suburbs and the suburbs to waste land, and the sound of motorway. The city must have been ringed and it seemed like an insurmountable wall.
So I found a bed of concrete under a sort of abandoned workyard iron dispenser tower, put some grass down to lie on, and went to sleep. It was cold. It was really cold. I remember waking and "You have to move. You have to move !" I tried but could not, I wanted to sleep. Again "You have to move", and I managed to pull myself up and warmed up walking back to the subway steps.
From there, everything went better. I don't know how it is, but in company everything seems easier, there is never shortage even though everyone is making as much as when alone. I met other street people, characters, misfits, drop outs, adventurers, rejects and more besides, but real people all. We would meet up at certain places and times, knew where to find each other, share what we had made, busk together or sometimes someone would carry a hat for me and we would share anything earned . I could not remember half the places I slept, but I remember Piazza Di Spagna.
There was a second floor hairdressers that had closed down, fifty metres from the fountain and steps, and a band of maybe twenty of us would sneek up silently at night and go straight to sleep in the large but empty decorated appartment it had been housed in, and as quietly leave in the morning. One morning though there was a sound of shouting, and of a guitar being smashed up, a Dutch friend's, then past our doorway go two policemen. They look in and see us already packing and carry on. So we all get rounded around a police van outside, have papers checked, are told not to sleep there again but no fuss otherwise and respectfully treated apart from the guitar.
I remember then sleeping in an iron fenced outbuilding of the Colosseum, I remember the water from the public fountains that was like light , I remember playing away and two people standing a metre away watching transfixed and one saying "genius" and me wondering what they were hearing or seeing, I remember a Japanese blues slide guitarist, I remember the pizza café we bought our food at, I remember a hippy who was doing the hat going announcing to people flamboyantly "We are the counterweight" , I remember getting stopped jumping trains and emptying out coins lost in the lining of my jacket to pay for the ticket.
More, much more, went on in those weeks, but eventually people moved on, and I felt it was time to return home to Spain, which was my original destination. There was no other way than by jumping trains. In Italy it was a fine to pay later at one point, past Tuscany and eventually a stop was made in Nice for a few weeks. That was different from Italy, and though I knew france from childhood, not the south. It was the same sort of adventures there also, but the city was not so lively or relaxed.
For example, one afternoon I am sat at the edge of a fountain eating a sandwich, and a policeman and worker march up to me out of nowhere. The worker is carrying a spray pack . "If you please" says the policeman, and I get up, and the worker sprays where I was sitting, only where I was sitting. Then they march off as quickly as they had arrived. I mean, I wasn't best dressed but always kept clean. I understood though.
A friend had suggested a public dorm once, so I went there to find out what that was about. Everything worked in silence, with people herded around by alarm bells, the walls tiled, the dorm a neat row of iron beds in a long hall. It felt like a prison must I think, and so I didn't return. Not to criticise though.
Sea air and a boulevard, those were for me.
I remember a corner warehouse in the old town grinding coffee delivered in hessian sacks. I remember the celt and his friend, I remember looking down at the table while sat in front of him at a meal, and then looking up straight into his eyes which were fixed on me with their deep glow, and he saying "You know" . I remember playing a carbon fibre electric guitar of a guitarist from a well known rock band, who lived in a one by four metre studio full of amps.
There was one busker though that didn't fit in with the crowd. The flautist. He wasn't unfriendly, was quite young but more self contained and less for a laugh, it made it seem he always kept a distance because of that . He had a new rucksack, was always well dressed and coiffed, I think he stayed in hotels and his busking was like a planned tour. He played classical music on boehm flute, sort of reminds me of James Galway now I think of it. The last I remember of him, he was wearing a large jacket and standing playing on a wide avenue lined with old stone buildings. The trees were empty of leaves, the sky grey and it was cold. There was no traffic, there were no pedestrians. Just him standing there playing. It might sound comical when written, but all I could feel towsrds him was respect.
I didn't stay too long there, and set off again alone to the station, with destination home in south of Spain.
When a suitable train stopped, I found an empty cabin. The seats inside were two benches facing each other, and under the benches was space for luggage. So guitar went on one side, and I on the other. As the train made stops, people boarded and the cabin filled up slowly. The door would open, some feet appear and someone would sit down opposite or above me. The atmosphere became quite jovial, several people chatting away. Then the mood changed suddenly and they all went completely quiet. Someone said something in a sort of whisper, a bit panicked. A stunned feeling went through the air, more excited talking, then a face came into view over the seat looking right at me "Ça va?". "Oui" I nod, and crawl out from under the seat. Someone says "It's OK", that the conductor had already been by. Apparently, when they first noticed me, they had thought I had been dumped there.
Eventually I was in Spain, and change of train was needed at some remote station in the north somewhere. It was an empty village, and there was either frost or snow on the ground. No sooner had I boarded the ongoing train than the conductor appeared and asked me to climb off. I don't even remember there being a platform, I was standing by the side of the tracks just staring at the train, and my look must have been a lost forlorn. Then I notice someone waving behind a window of the carriage in front. Waving, waving me over excitedly , two or three people doing so. So I leap up onto the train, rush into their compartment and start looking for a space under the seats without saying a word. Spanish trains are different though, no space under the seats. They understood. They motion me to sit at the end of the aisle, under the window, and pile all their luggage on top of me. The train sets off, the conductor passes by, and they uncover me. Cake ? They offer me cake, and are singing and playing, already celebrating a marriage in Morocco they are going to. The festivity goes on until all are asleep, myself included.
The following morning, and we are already in Algeciras.
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