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narrativa e di portafoglio

narrative and portfolio of Ian Siegel

which converts to about 4.8 miles.

This was only the second half of the day; in the morning I tagged along with Neil to visit his assigned monument, the Villa Medici, which we actually found ourselves locked inside of around 1:00. Along the way I also enjoyed my chance to see the Spanish Steps and Piazza del Popolo.


My day began with popping out of the ground at the Spagna stop on the Metro, named Spagna for its close proximity to the Spanish steps, a series of staircases (probably totaling close to five stories) that ascend to one of the many churches in Rome, Trinità del Monti. I couldn’t help but notice the symmetry of the stairs, along with its orientation along such a strong axis that it cut a street straight through the city fabric that runs all the way to the river. At the top of the steps was the first of many breathtaking views of the Roman skyline, which would only become even more beautiful as I would walk along the edge of the steep ridge toward Villa Medici.

Spanish steps from the piazza below

The top of the Spanish steps

At one point along that walk I could hear either three or four different church bells ringing from different locations in the city below me—bells signaling that Sunday mass had ended. Just the sound of one church bell would have impressed me, as it was a sound that I was not exactly accustomed to as a resident of New Jersey…but three churches at once? It was a perfect accompanying soundtrack to a view of St. Peter’s, the Vatican, and all the rest of Rome.

Moving on we approached the Villa Medici (Neil’s assigned monument for study), the home and art collection of one of Rome’s most affluent families during the Renaissance. The Medici family played a major role in Rome’s rich art history; they commissioned a countless number of works (they were a family of doctors whose salaries permitted them to spend a pretty penny toward local sculpture, painting, and architecture), many of which belonged to the church during the counter-reformation. It was hard to believe that such vast gardens had once belonged to a single family. And boy, did they have a view…

At the end of our tour of the Villa we began talking with a couple from Texas who had been vacationing for the past nine days in Italy, and they gave us some pointers on the best ways to see certain monuments and buildings. It was exciting to hear them speak of their experiences at the places we were itching to go; in fact, the woman mentioned that in the piazza out front of St. Peter’s Basilica, there were two limestone markers on the ground at the center points of the colonnaded circular arcades that define and enclose the space. When you stand on the markers, she said, the three or four columns in each row align and it appears that the arcade extends only one column deep—well of course, the two architecture students who had just high-fived at every cross-axis in the Villa Medici gardens began to drool at the thought of such a thing.

We talked for maybe 25 minutes, after our tour group had dispersed and the guide had disappeared, before we decided to exit the way we came in through the Villa—to find a closed and locked wooden door. Confused, the four of us tried everything, from pushing the door to pulling the door to playing with the deadbolt latches on the door’s bottom to just straight-up commanding it to open again, blaming invisible gypsies for casting a spell on it to trap us inside.

Then the woman from Texas hit a button next to the door and it opened for us as slowly as it did anti-climactically. We were free! (Not that we didn’t enjoy the thought of being “trapped” in an extravagant villa from 17th-century Rome). Eh, we got a good story out of the ordeal.

After our escape from the Villa we descended another series of staircases—these stairs were just beside the Villa Medici, and I suppose therefore less Spanish—down into the Piazza del Popolo, a large piazza containing a grand obelisk and four lion fountains at its center, and two identical, mirror-image churches flanking its main, south entrance. To the east was the steep cliff we descended from the Villa Medici, built into which were another series of arched monuments and fountains, providing several terraces for visibility to others. The rest of the street wall containing the piazza was filled in by four more nearly identical, mirror-image buildings.

Piazza del Popolo

We had a good time here, watching people and probably being watched as well (the concept of the urban spectacle). Here we observed a street performer dressed as the Statue of Liberty step casually aside to the corner of the piazza for a smoke break.

Statue of Liberty -- makeup reapplication and smoke break.

That was the story of the morning—afterwards we found a pizzeria for lunch (I feel the need to comment on how often I’m finding myself using the “Z” key on the keyboard) and took the Metro back to my beloved Piramide stop to check out a weekly Sunday flea market held in Piazza Porta Portese. We got there late in the day, as the few remaining merchants were packing their goods and closing up. Our most prevalent observation was the amount of trash in the street. We think that merchants couldn’t care less about disposal of the trash from their goods; they don’t own their retail location, and wouldn’t see it again for another week anyway. Why bother getting rid of the empty shoeboxes and tissue paper?

I was just along for the experience, didn’t plan on buying anything. But I did come by a pretty sweet pair of guido sunglasses that I haggled down to 2 €.

I'd Snooki-punch this kid in a heartbeat

We found our way (with a little help from a police officer, polizia) back to the Piramide Metro stop, but still decided to walk back to the hotel anyway. Neither of us knew a specific, concrete way to get back, so we played the it-feels-like-we-should-go-this-way-to-get-home game (a little bit like a dérive exercise, but with a set destination in mind), which led us on a zigzagged path that was anything but a bee-line home. See map above. Eventually though, we made it, sunburned and exhausted, ready for a shower and a nap.

Giorno due: buono.


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