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narrativa e di portafoglio

narrative and portfolio of Ian Siegel

Tonight we visited a jazz festival at one of the contradas (a contrada is a Sienese neighborhood, and as the Palio horse race between the contradas approaches, the neighborhoods host a series of events and parties like jazz shows). It was a smooth swing quintet; a piano, drums, string bass, guitar, and saxophone. I didn’t realize how much I missed listening to jazz—especially live bands. A few of us are looking forward to checking out the jazz shows at the other contradas over the next week or two.

When everybody went back to the dorm, I felt like visiting the Duomo again. I’m not quite sure why; perhaps because I have been here for almost two weeks and I’ve only been there twice (which is probably more than the average tourist to Siena, who visits it once in a lifetime.) I don’t know, there was something about it that called me to it.

I figured there would be nobody there while I was visiting. Maybe that’s what I wanted, just solitude in the presence of an architectural marvel, and one representing God at that. Perhaps that was all I was after.

My route was straight from the Campo, the street at the forty-five degree angle to your left if you stand at the center point (the Great Drain, as I feel it should be called) with your back to the Palazzo Pubblico. This route took me up the stairs past the Baptistery, which has been dear to my heart ever since I took the time to sketch out a rather detailed elevation of the Baptistery façade.

When I arrived at the level at which I could enter the church (if, of course, it wasn’t 1am and the building wasn’t closed) I was surprised to find a group of Italian-speaking kids, roughly my age, walking past the basilica. I wasn’t alone as I had expected and, based on my little bit of disappointment, I guess I had hoped for.

I walked around the Duomo to face its primary elevation—I’d guess it was the west elevation, since it was the side on which one enters the basilica—and sat on the seating surface built into the wall in the small piazza opposite the basilica. No sketchbook, no photos, nothing to document my time with the architecture. Pure observation.

While I sat I noticed a few small groups and couples walk past me. A few cars, too. I followed them with my eyes but remained primarily fixed on the Duomo. I was hardly out to figure the building out; I just wanted to feel like I had experienced it.

Before I had sat in my seat for five minutes, I watched an emergency vehicle pull up next to the stairs of the church, about 75 feet away from me, containing two officers. I couldn’t tell if they were cops or ambulance drivers; I assume cops because their vehicle was a four-door coupe and not an ambulance. Their lights weren’t on and they shut their engine off after idling for a minute. Now it was just me, the Duomo, and two cops.

I wasn’t out to hurt anyone, myself, or the building. I just wanted to sit and look. The presence of the two officers surprisingly didn’t bother me; in fact, I think I focused harder on the Duomo because I knew there was nothing to keep an eye on in that piazza but myself. I found myself wondering whether they were there to protect me or surveil me. Either way, I sat and stared at what I had come for. The Duomo of Siena. I didn’t care; we were alone.

Once I got lost in staring at the intricate ornamentation of the façade, the bell tolled twice and shook me awake, back into reality. I checked the time on my phone: 1:20. My heart was racing from the shock of the sound; I guess I had gotten lost in observation, as I’ve done so many times before, but had never been shaken out of my entrancement so abruptly as that. I’m ready to go home now.

The cops were still there, sitting at a distance in their coupe, speaking to each other every couple of minutes between gaps of silence. I stood up to walk home. Unless I felt like taking a longer route back to the dorm, I would have to walk past their car.

So I stood up and took a wide turn so I didn’t need to get too close to their vehicle. I was curious about what they would do once I left and the piazza was empty. I was curious as to whether they were even looking at me in the first place and would notice that I was gone.

I wasn’t sure, but I think I saw one of them look at me as I walked past. I raised a hand to them in a sort of casual wave, acknowledging their presence while I was there in adoration of the place. He waved back—“Ciao,” I responded, unsure of what to do from there. I almost accompanied the “ciao” with a “grazie,” but I didn’t for two reasons: one, I never could tell whether they were actually there with the intent to protect me; and two, he never responded to my ciao, which leads me to think that they were just there to make sure I didn’t try to damage or graffiti the Duomo. No grazie for you.

Pleased, however, that I had some sort of reciprocation, I continued on my way, past the car toward the stairs back down to the Baptistery. Moments after I passed the vehicle I heard its ignition and listened to it pull away. They were waiting for me to leave.

I just had to tell this story; I’m not quite sure what to make of it or what it was about. It really just needed to be told. I’m not even quite sure how to end this story, other than with the statement that I plan on visiting the Duomo again at odd hours—I think our trip to Venice this weekend turned me on to the notion of visiting cities and spaces while they are unoccupied. After all, that is when you can study its form without the distraction of watching it in use. The most pure hypotheses can be drawn from observation during these odd times.

Or, like I said, maybe it’s just a desire to feel closer to what the building stands for, and not so much a closeness to the building itself.

Ciao for now, buonanotte.

I didn’t take any pictures at the Duomo, but I liked this view of the tip of the tower of the lit-up Palazzo Pubblico and the moon between the buildings.

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