Fiddle Guitar Vocal duo the Summer Januaries– Sean Michael Robinson and Rachel Erin Robinson

Smells Like America

Busking duo the Summer  Januaries. Sean Michael Robinson- guitar and vocals. Rachel Erin Sage- fiddle, vocals

September, just prior to leaving Seattle. Photo by Una Simone.

For the past month Rachel and I had been giving some serious thought to the question of what we’d be doing with ourselves now that winter was finally coming. It isn’t just a question of comfort—there’s a practical limit to how cold it can get and still have functional fiddle fingers, and how cold our audience can be and still be interested in sticking around long enough to enjoy us. And as the warmth slowly seeped out of Italy, the question suddenly seemed even more pressing.

Our first instincts were to travel to Istanbul, a busking-friendly cosmopolitan city full of vigor and life and slightly warmer weather. But looking at the projected weather averages made it clear that even in Turkey we would be faced with many, many days of not playing at all. We’d have to write off any time spent there in the winter months as a loss. Read More

Where Did All the Summer Go?

Miniature busking in Napoli

One successful Sunday of busking in Napoli had lifted our spirits, renewed our hope, and raised our expectations. After so many failures, Sean and I had been prepared to throw in the towel and move on, but everything changed, now that we’d found the perfect place to play. It was tempting to return to our new-found busking haven at the top of the hill the very next day, but we managed to restrain ourselves. We were exhausted from our four plus hours of playing the day before and we wanted to save our energy for the more busk-able days later in the week. Besides, we couldn’t wait to visit Pompei! Read More

Balloons in Napoli

The Summer Januaries busking with Napoli buskers

Every time we told someone we would be traveling to Napoli (i.e. “Naples”) as the last leg of our Italian trip, we received virtually identical responses. “No.” “No, not Napoli.” “Non.” This last remark was said emphatically, with stern face and wagging finger, by a Perugian pizza chef, himself a Neapolitan intensely proud of his incredibly delicious Neapolitan-style pizza, but completely convinced that our traveling to his home town to play would be certain disaster.

Even our friend Vince Conway, an international busker on the hammered dulcimer and a man not prone to exaggeration, told us to watch out for “street kids.” A few nights before our trip to the city I did some ill-advised googling and spent the next three hours reading about Napoli’s problems with petty crime and street theft of all stripes—tales of roving gangs comprised of senior citizen pick pockets, ceramic tiles masquerading as I-Pads and sold to gullible tourists, and bags stolen in drive-by attacks on motorcycle or scooter. Rachel had to accompany me on a long walk so I could calm myself enough to go to sleep.

But of course, if you’re worked up about the thought of getting scammed or robbed, having a midnight stroll around Rome on a Saturday might not be the ideal antidote. I spent the rest of our stay there feeling vaguely uneasy, and spent an awful lot of time thinking about my body and pockets and the people around me.

Fortunately, the train ride was reassuring. The train was almost entirely unoccupied, and one of the few people we did meet was actually another busker. He was a balloon man from Argentina, and he very kindly gave us the rundown on the best places to busk in Napoli. We didn’t take his suggestions as gospel, since a place that’s good for a balloon man is not necessarily good for unamplified music—but just the fact of his existence, his friendly demeanor and his willingness to share a long list of pedestrian streets we could play on, was a tremendous reassurance.

And then we stepped out of the train station. Read More