Urban Haunting

I'm in Rome now for the month of June, living across from a prison near the banks of the Tiber, listening to seagulls, on a fairly awful and inexplicably expensive wireless internet connection, fearing that I might only be able to post every few days (unless TIM suddenly super-boosts its mobile signals).

In fact, my early morning attempts to find domestic hotspots – putting my computer near the windows, or moving books and papers just a few more feet away – reminds me of stories I've read about high-end audio equipment aficionados, people who purchase arcane bits of scientifically dismissible, wildly overpriced stereo attachments in the hopes that they can affect, clarify, or otherwise improve their home-listening experience.
Pieces of piezoelectric crystal, or unsustainably harvested rain forest wood milled into odd shapes – combined with bizarre new alloys imported from metallurgical research labs in southern Germany – all wired up to $7,250 cables, are placed around your home stereo, like a deviant altar. Where consumer goods meet Arthur C. Clarke's 3rd law.
But is there an equivalent for wireless internet connections?
You put a small piece of copper near your USB port, hoping for magical cross-interference, or, in a fit of antihistamine-influenced mania, you rewire your whole house, splicing electrically unnecessary strands of tellurium through the switchboards inside the walls.
Or why not take the Ghostbusters route and construct a whole building as an urban antenna, an architectural attractor for that strange wireless haunting that allows you to Google things in foreign cities from a desktop that isn't yours.
In other words, are there micro-practices of wireless superstition that people engage in so that they can achieve, or believe they achieve, stronger wireless internet signals?
You implant rods inside all of Rome's statuary, and inside the ruined walls of the city's periphery, in order to boost your home internet access. A conspiratorial geometry of antennas that no one else recognizes, pulsing with airborne data.
Rome, reconceived as a counter-Vatican of wireless downloads. Catholicism of the megabyte.
It's what might happen if Telecom Italia opened an urban design wing after reading too much Aleister Crowley.
In any case, while the internet is still functioning here, I also wanted to thank everybody who came out to see Thrilling Wonder Stories last week at the Architectural Association. My own talk was something of a jumble, to be honest – sorry about that, especially for those of you who were meeting me for the first time – but the rest of the day really impressed.
For those of you who missed it, participant Jim Rossignol has a great write-up of the event on his blog; Rossignol's account of Francois Roche is well worth a read. Here's an excerpt:
    Then the most extraordinary storm of science-madness came from Francois Roche (of architects R&Sie) whose thick accent masked incredible phrases: “strategies of sickness,” “protocolising the witch in the forest,” “the necrosis of the building,” “the penis of the wall”… He talked about feeding death and traditional fairy tales into design, and about creating a machine that would build an un-navigable glass maze in the courtyard between buildings, into which people would wander, and then die, unable to escape without GPS. “They die to become part of the building,” he said, grinning, and propping expensive sunglasses on his styled bonce. He talked about a building which would be constructed from vast, moulded versions of bullet holes on wet clay, covered in rotting vegetation collected from the Korean de-militarized zone by a purpose-built “witch” robot, referencing Tarkovsky’s Stalker on the way.
With any luck, the whole of Thrilling Wonder Stories will soon be made into an AA publication by the end of this summer.
So expect more posts soon – and if anyone has tips for obscure archaeological sites in Rome that need to be visited, let me know.

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Blogger mandaya said...

I think maybe you should visit the Capuchin crypt of Santa Maria della Concecione in Via Vittorio Veneto, if you haven't done so already.
In case you have not, I'd suggest you surprise yourself by just going there without first researching it via Google or guide. It's quite a sight.

June 02, 2009 6:57 AM  
Blogger Chris Hardy said...

I just spent 4 months in Florence with a TIM cell phone. I wouldn't count on their service getting any better. But here's to hoping.

If you get a chance there is a small cafe a couple of blocks south/southwest -ish of the Pantheon. Incredible coffee.

June 02, 2009 4:29 PM  
Blogger Worth Dayley said...

Do a google search for "wi fry". A simple strainer and an external wifi adapter (USB) can double or triple your signals. I'm studying abroad in Moscow this summer and had the same problem and solved it with a USB wifi adapter and an IKEA strainer. Here's the blog post about it: http://studyabroadovich.mutatedjellyfish.net/2009/05/internets.html

June 02, 2009 4:49 PM  
Anonymous james said...

off-topic - have coffee at Sant Eustachio if you can and check out what vandals did to the ara pacis

June 02, 2009 7:28 PM  
Anonymous A_D_E_ said...


June 02, 2009 8:42 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

A curious "BLDGBLOG" site could be the artificial Testaccio mount. The site, just south of Aventine Hill was used as a dump for amphoraes during the roman era, thus Monte Testaccio was formed.

You have to book the visit in advance: http://www.info.roma.it/associazione_eventi.asp?ID_evento=80

June 03, 2009 4:44 AM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

I had to re-format a link in Nicola's comment - this was left on June 2:

"as for internet connectivity i can imagine rome being pretty difficult but, in terms of radio power, the local vatican-based radio maria station has a rather impressive (and creepy) potential. their power antennas are known to be dangerous for the health of people in the vicinities. (i'm sorry i coulnd't find an english link)"

Thanks, Nicola! Amazing story.

Thanks, as well, for the other recommendations - the Testaccio mount is already on the list, and I can't wait to check it out. I'll hope to report back about that, as well.

Also, Worth, I'll rewire all our kitchen utensils into a vast antenna and see what signals I begin to pick up...

Meanwhile, Rome continues apace.

June 03, 2009 4:37 PM  
Anonymous geosynthetics said...

the text under the image is very nice

June 03, 2009 5:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The image is not the Vatican, that's the Colosseum.

June 05, 2009 3:23 AM  
Anonymous Dymaxion said...

Any chance of the video archive of Thrilling Wonder Stories going online? I was unfortunately in the wrong time zone to catch much of it.

June 05, 2009 3:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sure you already went to Trajan's Market, which is the my personal favorite, but do it when the sun sets if you get a chance.

June 06, 2009 2:54 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The ancient harbor at Ostia is quite interesting. It's now well inland and surrounded by homes. I'm not sure how one is allowed access, having seen it as part of the Centro/ICCS program years ago.

Following the remnants of the Aurelian wall is also a great way to put the city into context.

June 06, 2009 4:33 PM  
Blogger Vitolino said...

Ciao Geoff, happy to know you are now staying in the city I leave in since 1982..
First let me tell you that free wifi access is hard to find, but you can try to check http://maps.fon.com/ or http://www.romawireless.com/comefunziona_eng.htm. Forget private wi-fi (they have all wep key by default) and hotel wifi access are too expensive. TIM high-speed signal is sim based and have good coverage..unless some areas are hard to cover due to ancient building structure (big walls) or geographical position (your are facing one of the 7 hills surrounding Rome). Are you using an high speed device or phone ? Let me know, may be I can give you more advices.

June 06, 2009 8:35 PM  
Blogger Vitolino said...

Now that sunny days are constant, you can hire a bike in via del corso and go visit the center from piazza del Popolo to piazza venezia with detours to piazza di Spagna and of course Trevi fountains site.
Then for a walk, start from Campidoglio, along Fori Imperiali reach Colosseo, then ahead to Circo Massimo. Near there ask for botanical Rose Garden, then climb the Aventino mont look for the 'key hole'near S.Alessio church (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiesa_di_Sant%27Anselmo_all%27Aventino)..
Other secret sites found in http://www.romasegreta.it/link.htm

June 06, 2009 8:54 PM  
Blogger Vitolino said...

About your comment on Nicola's article, well, the article you link to describes another situation (a school near italian Rai repeater..of course it isn't healty).
Vatican Radion Maria is within Vatican borders (you can see it near vatican museum entry) and of course it is powerfull.. Rumors said that when you push the door intercoms of apartment near there you can listen to the radio !
But food is healthier than in most other countries of the world, don't you agree ?

June 06, 2009 9:08 PM  
Blogger Briseño said...

While not right in Rome, 20km from it, is Hadrian's Villa. It is a must see. The road leading there contains the Travertine quarry used for the Getty Museum. Also a good visit if you can get in.

June 07, 2009 12:20 AM  
Blogger take a way said...

if you try to sit under the Colonna Traiana carrying your notebook, including a look at the so-called "typewriter" Altare della Patria, or at the top of the "Lantern of the crickets of the small church built by Della Porta, which overlooks the Imperial Forum, accounts and how many columns remained standing of the Basilica Ulpia, realizing that the Via dei Fori Imperiali is nothing but a huge deposit of archaeological or turning our gaze to the temple of Mars you realize that waving a flag of the Templars Sacred Order of the East, your PC receives a signal strong and powerful that allows you to connect with the world without spending a cent. hello.

June 07, 2009 10:17 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

what about the keyhole of the orange's garden, the domus aurea, the S.Clement's basilica, the architecture's house in the roman acquarium...:)

June 09, 2009 3:55 AM  

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