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Minor Urban Disasters
Trevi Fountain

Something about the Tiber River nearly breaching its banks and nearly submerging Rome in torrents and mud earlier this month reminded us of an antipode event last year. It's one of our favorite stories that entire year.

As reported by Reuters, “water supplying Rome's world-famous Trevi Fountain was cut off when a builder across town damaged a 2,000-year-old pipe.” Luckily enough for the carabinieri who might have had a riotous mob of tired, sweat-drenched tourists on their hands, the fountain didn't dry out; it simply recycled the water already in its basin. Unfortunately, “many smaller Rome fountains spluttered to a halt.” Equally unfortunate, we didn't hear too much of pissed-off Germans and English hydro-hooligans ransacking museums and pillaging nearby archaeological sites.

But what could have caused these minor urban disasters?

A search using a waterborne video camera through the ancient pipe tracked the blockage to a house in the high-end Parioli neighborhood on the other side of the Villa Borghese park, where builders were making a private underground car park.

A spokesman for the [local] water company said the builder had broken the pipe, then tried to mend it with concrete, but instead had filled it in.

Interconnected narratives of spaces, infrastructures, people, histories — all of that — all incredibly fascinating.

But we weren't satisfied with how the story ended (the water was temporarily diverted to a “younger pipe” while repairs were being done): so let's concoct some plot points for the pilot episode of, say, CSI: Rome. Let's imagine that a body has been encased in that concrete.

To solve this murder case, an obscenely photogenic forensic cartographer must map out the Eternal City's subterranean trash heap of functioning and disused aqueducts. Is it a simple mafia hit or is it something more deliciously sinister, a more expansive, twist-n-turny mystery that can be story arced through an entire season, even the whole run of the series?

“Follow the flow,” orders his supervisor.

However, he soon realizes that the technology at his disposable can't possibly do such a complex task. He calls 811, but no one answers, and it's not even lunch time. “So Italian,” he grumbles, in Italian.

Desperate, he makes a call to the Italian subsidiary of some leading global research company to see if they can supply him with advance technology. He knows that it'll be tit-for-tat, that at an unannounced later date, they will call in their favor and he will have to oblige them unconditionally, he is still willing to go into a bargain. Primetime televisual exposition requires that the company immediately procures for him exactly the right tools for the job: he is given a batch of RFID-tagged robo-spiders and dedicated access to their private fleet of spy satellites.

The mapping begins. Large sets of numbers are uploaded, downloaded and then crunched by supercomputers. Slowly, Rome's negative voids get digitally unearthed.

So begin as well those disembodied whispers, furtive glances from strangers in the streets, vague feelings that the contents of his office desk have been messed about. Up in those gilded residences of Parioli, a curtain parts slightly each time he comes by to conduct his investigation. There are forces working to derail him, but there are also others who want his map completed. But why?

During one espresso-filled night, he gets his first major break in the case: from out of that rhizomatic mess of ancient and modern hydro-infrastructure, a pattern emerges...

Ensanguining the Trevi
  • Anonymous
  • January 25, 2009 at 1:37:00 PM CST
  • I could feel the tension and hear the music as the plot unfolded.

    Add a tryst, some dark symbolism and a pyramid, and you have a best selling novel.

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