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narrativa e di portafoglio

narrative and portfolio of Ian Siegel

In a previous post I mentioned the definition of barbarian as one who does not understand. Today I found myself wondering about this term outside the context of the city. I’m just throwing my thoughts out there right now; I have no idea what conclusions I may draw over the duration of the post. If you’re more interested in what I did today and want to skip over the intellectual crap, that’s cool too, the daily report picks up after the five hyphens further down the page.

The first streets were paved because they were traveled frequently enough that the grass that once grew there was beaten to dust. As soon as a street is paved—it does not even have to be paved; a path of commonly-walked dead grass will also do—it not only serves as a connector between a start and end point, but the street itself becomes a destination, distinguished from the rest of the field or countryside, and defined as a place for one to walk. It is a place.

Now looking again at the concept of the barbarian. A city is an organized system of streets for a society to densely manifest itself. Despite the structure of the streets and all of the other systems at the play, a chaos often emerges from the layering of these systems. In that context, the barbarian is he who cannot understand how to navigate within such density of society. He has difficulty understanding the infrastructure and interacting with others to obtain what he needs to survive. (Which is why I referred to myself as “less of a barbarian” after accomplishing the simple task of purchasing shaving supplies. Tourists are barbarians on the wrong side of a language barrier).

In the context of the countryside, it is quite the opposite: the “barbarian” that comes to the average person’s mind wins. He is not confined to a system of paths set before him by an authority; he follows his wits in order to gather the things he needs for survival (One who follows his nose, wherever it goes). Here there is no society to impose its order upon him: he obeys only nature.

Is the city’s barbarian at home in the countryside? And does the countryside’s “barbarian” find solace in the structured crutch of society?

I wonder about these things as a result of two things: first, a walk we took this morning as part of the Stalker workshop, in which a small group of us wandered through the urban neighborhood of Monte Mario and watched it slowly dissolve into countryside. Avenues lined with restaurants and business, bustling with pedestrians and buses, fizzled into residential streets that are only for automobiles—and even those scarcely drove by. Eventually even the streets disappear, and the city limit is reached. Where there are no streets there is no city, and the countryside takes over.

The second thing that got me thinking is my interesting position between city slicker and gypsy squatter, living again in a hotel room at the price of having uprooting myself from a community I helped establish outside of center city. Where am I a barbarian? Where is my citizenship? Where I am most free is different from where I am most comfortable.


That’s all the deep stuff I’ve got in me for now. Quick recap of the rest of my day before I sign off for the night: we finished our walk from neighborhood to countryside and caught a train back into the heart of Rome to check into our alternate accommodations (yay for air conditioning and warm showers!!). Then Neil and I headed out to see the Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica. We hadn’t been in the square in front of St. Peter’s (which is actually oval-shaped…go figure) five minutes before being offered a tour of the Vatican collections, the Sistine Chapel, and inside St. Peter’s Basilica. All the things we wanted to see, and we only had about four hours before they closed for the day. I brushed the guy off before he said a word, so it’s a good thing Neil was willing to listen.

The collections were pretty cool, but most exciting were the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel (both on the ceiling and the Last Judgment fresco on the wall) and of course, St. Peter’s Basilica. We paid an extra seven euro to climb up to the top of the dome, for a panoramic view of the Roman skyline from the highest point in the city. The scale of that church is unfathomable, it felt unreal to stand in such a tall space.

Here’s a fun fact: I’ve taken 1,648 pictures this trip, as of tonight.

Sistine Chapel (where photography might be prohibited)

Is Neil leaning back, are the walls leaning forward? (We're inside the dome)

From the cupola (top of the dome) of St. Peter's basilica

Dome and baldacchino at St. Peter's Basilica

To end the day, we met Matt and Shannon at the Ice Club not far from the Colosseum: a bar where everything—the walls, the bar, even the glasses you drink out of—is made of ice. They provide gloves and an insulating cloak, but the place still gets pretty chilly after about 20 minutes. The place was pretty cool (in more ways than one. That pun was totally intended.) Plus, the ice was back-lit in colored lights that cycled through the full vibrant color spectrum every couple of minutes–it was a great nightspot for four architecture students. Then I got hit on by a gay guy, but I didn’t quite realize that’s what was going on until after we left. At the time I figured he was just a nice guy from Ohio who was excited as we were to speak to some fellow American travelers.

Well, time for bed now, I have a morning commute tomorrow. Buonanotte.

Random kinda cool photo of the day


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