PISTOIA – a sound collection of travel moments

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Stories by the “Creative Curious Travellers 2017” about the city of Pistoia. Thanks to: Giorgio Tesi Group | Discover Pistoia | NATURART | La Sala | FAI Giovani – Pistoia | BrickScape.it | Brandini – Pistoia | Comune di Pistoia | Pistoia Italian Capital of Culture 2017.

“The pleasure we derive from journeys is perhaps dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to.” The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton

PISTOIA My travel in this Tuscan city concentrates on the collection of sounds. From the quietest streets to the busy market day, from the city underground to the top of its mountains; with my travelling mindset I will share some of my beautifulCCTravel” moments around Pistoia with you.

Piazza della Sala, Pistoia 2017 | photo by Elena Mazzoni Wagner

The lazy afternoon

The sun is shining beautifully. After already experiencing the first signs of the coming autumn back in Germany I’m very pleased to be enjoying these burning afternoon moments in the sun. Pistoia is quiet, it feels like time has stopped. After visiting Pistoia Sotterranea and learning a lot about the local history, I’m just wondering around the city, getting lost in its narrow alleys, checking out what’s going on in La Sala, what people is doing around… while I’m here with my thoughts listening to the urban sounds.

How can I record silence? How can I capture this warm, cosy, lazy, out-of-time-and-reality-moment? Why do I even want to capture it, where is the need? I’m feeling open, curious, happy about walking alone, observing my surroundings way more than I ever do back home. Somehow everything of life feels so much simpler and clearer here. I think Alain de Botton has a lot of truth in his writing about travelling:

“Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than a moving plane, ship or train. There is an almost quaint correlation between what is in front of our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, new thoughts new places. Introspective reflections which are liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape. The mind may be reluctant to think properly when thinking is all it is supposed to do.


At the end of hours of train-dreaming, we may feel we have been returned to ourselves – that is, brought back into contact with emotions and ideas of importance to us. It is not necessarily at home that we best encounter our true selves. The furniture insists that we cannot change because it does not; the domestic setting keeps us tethered to the person we are in ordinary life, but who may not be who we essentially are.” The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton

My attempts in capturing the sounds of the combination of this sunny afternoon in Pistoia and my reflective travel mindset aren’t very successful. Not until I reach Piazza del Duomo, where I sit down on the stairs by the Baptistery. It’s 4pm. Two quite young boys, who I encountered earlier at another spot in the town, have moved here with their guitars. They start to play some mellow tunes. Ten minutes of sitting in the sun, just breathing in, breathing out, listening to my surroundings… This is my first travel moment of this journey.


The Market

On the contrary to the previous day, on Saturday morning the city is full of life. Market stalls – in Piazza della Sala and all the surroundings streets – are filled with clothes, food, bags, toys, household utensils and much more. Anyway, to be honest, the market doesn’t appeal to me that much. The stuff they sell here isn’t anything special in the end. But what does fulfil me again is the people-watching, wondering around the stalls and tasting the market atmosphere.

On my walk around here I hear beautiful piano music coming from somewhere near. Is there a street musician around? The music really attracts me, and so I start instinctively walking after the sound. I end up to a narrow side alley, where I discover the music is coming from higher up, from an apartment. It looks like somebody is practising.

I stay under the window, opposite a trash bin, and just listen to these magnificent and dramatic tunes. I can’t help but to start imagining how the person behind the piano looks. Is he or she alone? Is happy or sad? Is practising or playing to somebody? Does the listener appreciate his or her amazing talent? In my imagination the musician turns out to be a 50-year-old, quite skinny man, wearing a sweater and chino-style pants. Being melancholic and playing alone in his living room, diving into the music and moving his head slowly along with it. Whoever is, it actually doesn’t matter anymore. This moment of imagining the piano player is another memory that stays in my mind.


The Luigi Tronci Foundation

My third travel moment is actually a collection of various peculiar sounds listened and recorded at the Luigi Tronci Foundation. On Saturday afternoon, Luigi Tronci himself is happy to give me a private tour in his music museum that hosts an incredible collection of percussion instruments. This old, charming and funny guy gives an enthusiastic and sympathetic impression from the first moment on. On the contrary to the many other elderly people I’ve met in Italy he also speaks good English. “It derives from my various travels in different kinds of international music industry and instrument fairs”, he explains. I’m impressed. The tour starts with a brief introduction to the history of the instruments’ artisanal manufacture. Shortly after the beginning, two Italian ladies pop into the room. Curious minds as well, I assume. They join in and the tour continues in a funny mixture of Italian and English talk.

Two small rooms and a courtyard filled with a big number of instruments in all possible sizes and from all around the world. With this amount one could easily fill in a whole real museum, I think. Cymbals, drums, percussions, organs, xylophones, theatre sound machines… At some point I lose count. The booming of varied sounds in multiple frequencies takes over me and together with the enthusiasm of Luigi Tronci, with his pure love for the things that he has been working with since always, for his whole life, astonishes me and makes me happy. His passionate voice becomes part of the sound collection making this third travel moment.


On the Mountains road

After two days in the city my travel takes me to the smooth mountains in the province of Pistoia, thanks to Elena who organises a car and drives me around. The roads are exactly how I thought – winding and narrow. I’m pleased I don’t need to drive, it would demand quite an amount of daring from me. Instead I gladly concentrate on enjoying the mountain scenery with all its colours, forms and details, forming a visual symphony. The roads are rather quiet on this Sunday afternoon. Once pulled up, I stretch my body and enjoy a little walk after a while of sitting in the car. Once again, it feels like time has stopped, it is quiet and peaceful anew. I listen to the sounds around me and realise that it is the first time I hear bird song on this trip.

Every now and then the silent is interrupted by the sounds of a passing car, but not for long – soon it is still again. The nature and these mountain roads give me my travel moment number four.


Following the road signs, direction Abetone, we arrive to San Marcello and its famous Suspension Bridge (Ponte Sospeso). With its 220 metres in length, it’s one of the longest ones in the world. We reach the place at the right time – lunch time – and the bridge is not too busy. Despite our fear of heights we make it to the other side. The gentle bounce of the bridge, the sun shining into the valley, children playing 36 metres under us, all this forms my fifth travel moment.


After this new immersion in the surrounding sounds, we go on driving until the highest village of the mountains; we want to have some food in Cutigliano. We sit outside an old style bar located in a little square with some trees. There is a small Sunday market. Locals and travellers like us have met here to have a coffee, chat and relax. We eat some pizza and drink a fresh cedrata Tassoni.

Castagno & Montecatini Terme

My travel around the province of Pistoia ends in Montecatini Terme. But first, on our way there, we visit a hidden gem, a tiny Tuscan village called Castagno, all made of stone and dating back to 1600 or maybe before. Someone told us it is an open air museum! It’s quite an effort to find it; we initially drive it past, we wonder around its train station and try to ask some help with no success. Just when I’m already thinking we should just continue our journey, Elena stops in front of a small church in order to look whether the sign there says anything. And here is an entrance: as almost if the village is hiding behind the church which conceals the narrow path leading in. After this discover, we enter and take a look at a collection of art works spread up along the village paths, small gardens and rocky walls. The atmosphere here is very special. The houses are built densely next to each other, that’s how the smell of food spreads around, as the sound of music does. I can’t help but wonder how much the inhabitants must know about each other’s lives. To me, it looks like it must be very hard to keep any secrets inside these little houses. After a short stroll and a nice chat with a local we leave the village with a smile on our faces. Funnily enough, it turns out the whole village complex consists only of one street: Via del Castagno.

After Castagno, the spa town of Montecatini Terme feels like a completely different world. All this Liberty architecture, old style hotels, tourist buses, trade-mark shops… Once a burgeoning destination, today it evokes its history in many ways. Anyhow, quite the opposite of its glory and blooming times, the current decadent and abandoned thermal buildings, next to the many closed or (anyway) very quiet hotels, create an absurd and somewhat melancholic atmosphere. Besides our quick visit to Terme Tettuccio, the oldest thermal baths of the area (the current neoclassical building was built between 1779 and 1781 but this place’s history starts in 1400), we stop at Terme Tamerici, another historical spa (its ancient source of healing water was discovered in 1843) but quite empty and definitely not active anymore. Today you can just have a sit in its garden. Its worn-out premises are full of hints from the past and I can almost see the tourists from different decades ago walking along the spacious corridors of this luxurious spa. At the same time I’m thinking how much I’d love to have this kind of building as location for my next theatre project.

I stroll around in Parco delle Terme – or Pineta di Montecatini – and watch children playing football. It has been a long but fulfilling day in the province of Pistoia. With all the impressions in my mind I watch how the last sunbeams change the colours around me. The children continue playing, their parents are beside. This combination of the park by the sunset, intertwined with the melancholic and the mystical atmosphere of the city will be my travel moment number six.


Back in Pistoia

Before travelling home I have a last evening to spend in Pistoia. After the fulfilling mountain trip consisting of a lot of silence I’m surprised to find a band playing amplified groovy covers in the old city centre, exactly in front of the Church of San Giovanni Fuorcivitas. This is the last thing I’d expect from Pistoia on a Sunday evening. It makes me smile secretly. Later, I will trace back in my memory the absurdity of this situation as the last travel moment from my Pistoia trip.


My four days in Pistoia have been full of activities, and yet silent and peaceful at the same time. The search for sounds has made my senses more open and delicate. My sound recordings themselves aren’t anything special; just some moments from the thousands we experience every day. Anyways, these are the ones I still remember, the ones which have formed my memory of the place, and in the end, the ones that matter.

“Instead of bringing back 1600 plants, we might return from our journeys with a collection of small unfêted but life-enhancing thoughts.” The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton

Now I’m working on having the same openness, curiosity and sensitivity in my everyday life. In the end, it’s just about staying in the moments only a couple of seconds more, in order to perceive their impact more deeply. I think this can be a valid homework for us all.

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