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narrativa e di portafoglio

narrative and portfolio of Ian Siegel

What a way to begin!

I will warn you that this is a longer post than I had anticipated. I always had a feeling my storytelling was on the longer-winded side.

The excitement of today—and there was very, very much of it—began with an assignment to locate, visit, and graphically document a specific monument. I was assigned the Palazzo delle Poste, designed in 1932 by Adalberto Libera, an Italian Modernist whose place in architectural history bored me as I skimmed his Wikipedia article prior to leaving. (Sorry, Italian modernism)

Let me be honest—I was slightly disappointed to be assigned to a 20th century building while some of my peers were assigned buildings with greater epic stories and more romantic places in ancient history than my 1930’s Post Office. I would have enjoyed had the chance today to begin to explore the heart of the ancient Roman city.

Looking back on today, I should never have been disappointed.

Google maps said the Post Office was about a 30 minute walk from our hotel. While I was planning my route I noticed that it took me past Piazza Piramide, which piqued my interest enough to wonder why it might be called that. Then I noticed a large stone pyramid along the route, called the Cestius Piramide, which turned out to be a funerary/burial monument constructed between 18 and 12 BC for Gaius Cestius Epulo, a major player in the church at that time. A few years later, the Roman emperor would decide to fortify the city with walls which would run straight through this pyramid monument. This was the Rome I had been hoping for. And this was the Rome I would see today.

I took note of the general route I should take to find it, threw my sketchbook, camera, and water bottle into a backpack, and left my room.

In the hotel lobby I met a group that was taking off for a Metro station to purchase 7-day tickets, a task I also had on my welcome-to-Rome to-do list, so I decided to put off visiting my dear Post Office until after I ran this errand.

And so I started off-course. As a group we wandered toward where we thought the Metro station was; eventually we found train tracks that led us toward a building whose arched roof looked familiar to me from the Google maps research I had done earlier in the day (Eureka! I finally think I know where I am…) and out in front of this possibly familiar building was an entrance to the Metro. We descended down into what we thought was the entrance, but was actually a twisting tunnel that extended quite some distance and eventually threw off my sense of where I was in relation to the streets above my head. Somehow, however, we ended up at street level again (the streets’ changes in elevation in this city contribute a great deal to the city’s beauty, but sure can become confusing) and at the entrance to the Metro station.

After we purchased our tickets my time came to fly solo for a while; my monument was a great enough distance south of all the other assigned monuments that it did not make sense for me to take the train with them.

So there I was in a Roman Metro station—I don’t even know which one—and I needed to find my way to my Post Office.

Oh, and I forgot my map in my hotel room.

Standing awkwardly in the middle of the Metro entrance I faced the overwhelming situation of how to find my way. All I knew was that I was in a Metro station, somewhere, and if I needed to I could follow the tunnel back to the (possibly) familiar building. Again, I only saw an aerial photograph of this building on the internet; I could very well be confusing buildings. Should I walk all the way back to the hotel to grab my map? Even just to take the route I had originally planned? Wait, there’s another Metro station in Garbatella, where the hotel is…but I don’t know how to get to the hotel from that station stop. What stop am I even at now? This was part of the reason I wanted to do this assignment without a group, to learn to navigate a city on my own without help.

There were no signs indicating which Metro stop I was standing in, so in (very) broken Italian, I somehow managed to ask a woman selling magazines. “Piramide,” she responded.

YES. Piramide meant Piramide of Cestius!

I should also mention that I do not speak Italian. A lot of the French I took in high school quickly came back to me over the course of the day, in fact I found myself thinking in French for most of the time I spent walking through the streets. Almost smiled and said “Bonjour” to a few people along the way, too. Maybe our three-hour connecting flight to Paris had a deeper impact on me than I thought.

For the first time, I followed my instincts, which led me to a crowded traffic circle, which felt familiar to me from Google maps. I did not know which way to go, but there was a castle-looking structure opposite me from the train station exit. Let’s check it out.

I approached it slowly, making sure to dodge buses and moped drivers as I crossed busy streets. My guess was that it was an entrance into what used to be the walled Roman city. Now, I could read that it was a museum, “Museo della Via Ostiense,” which I still have yet to look up. In the meantime, I’m sticking with my guess that it was an entrance to the city.

On my way toward the then-city gate, I noticed a large pyramidal stone structure—the pyramid! I was in the right place! And there was no need to backtrack! This affirmation was more refreshing than any of the fresh water-spewing fountains throughout the city at which I refilled my canteen. On my own, I navigated Rome! (some of it, at least!)

Excitedly, I made the turns necessary to arrive at the Post Office. While it was a bit exciting to finally arrive and begin observing the front of the site, I still found it less than satisfying. Curious, I wandered to the back, where I found a public garden (inside of which I found a tree covered in toilet paper, which was somewhat amusing).

However, the Pyramid and the wall of the ancient Roman city had already won my heart, and I found myself eager to return to them…when it came time to find my way home, I felt obligated to spend more time gazing at the Pyramid, wondering how it had once stood in a city long gone, and imagining the surrounding wall when it had once been brand new. Without planning or any hesitation, I found myself walking along the wall, admiring its battered and rugged qualities, intrigued by how it withstood the test of two millennia. Also, at the top of it, I had noticed trees and plant life growing along the edge, and found a strong desire in myself to find a way to the top to explore this wall as much as I could. Eventually, without finding the means to scale the wall, I consciously decided that it was time to head back toward familiar territory—namely, the hotel—yet found myself walking further along this surviving historical artifact.

Ian, come on, it’s time to head home. But I am too fascinated by the history to even listen to myself…

Just when I decided that I had had enough, I stumbled upon something new in the wall—it had begun to turn a corner when a steep staircase emerged along the wall’s edge! Curious, I looked up the stairs. Aside from the narrowness of the stairs, there seemed to be no signage or anything of the like to discourage me from climbing. So I did.

Half of me expected to emerge in a private backyard or property, with no choice to turn around and walk back down to the familiar street level.

But there was nothing at the top but another cobblestone sidewalk…and another street. I was at the top of the wall, the space that just minutes ago I had only wished to occupy. As a writer, I scarcely do the experience justice, and as a reader, you would be lucky to experience only a third of the excitement that overcame me at the opportunity to stand so close to the inside of what had once been the interior wall of Rome some two thousand years ago. As I walked along, I could only imagine Roman soldiers and watchmen standing at the narrow openings in the wall, which today offered views down to the street from which I had come.

I walked and walked in awe of the artifact that walked beside me for some ten minutes, occasionally finding myself seduced by brick arches and stairways on the opposite side of the street that begged to be explored—so I did, to find myself in semi-private streets onto which private apartment buildings opened. While these cozy back streets were beautiful, nothing impressed me nearly as much as the Wall. So I would always find my way back.

Eventually, the brick wall ended where I noticed it had begun, just across the street from the stone Pyramide monument that had fascinated me first. I emerged into the piazza once again, this time with the satisfied, beautiful experience I had hoped to bring home from the beginning of the day.

This much excitement, and I have yet to wander the center of Rome. Let us see what tomorrow brings.

Ah, and photos are on the way.

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