Fiction Time - Amandatown
Violetta Bellocchio is an Italian author and journalist and regular contributor to Vice Italy. Her debut novel, Sono io che me ne vado, talks about people who invent serial killers to attract tourists. It's very dark and very funny and it talks about murder a lot, so when she told us she was going to Perugia, we simply could not pass on asking her to write something about Amanda Knox and Meredith Kercher. And here it is. It's kind of halfway between fiction and non-fiction. Actually, we don't really know what it is. Enjoy!
Look. That's the bench.
The bench with the hobo. You don't remember? The bench. With the hobo.
I'd forgot about the bench. And the hobo.
I mentioned my Meredith Kercher fixation to a man who lives in Perugia, and now he's giving me the grand tour.
Turns out the hobo was sitting on the bench when he witnessed Amanda Knox and her boyfriend doing something odd right after the murder story broke. Maybe talking, maybe moving around stuff that didn't need to be moved. I'm too embarrassed to admit I forgot, so I just nod and go, Right, the bench.
We're in a small tree-lined square, well within the centro storico borders, no cars allowed. A couple minutes' walk to the Kercher/Knox residence. The bench is currently occupied by an Asian man in his forties. I take a picture. He doesn't move.
Perugian denizens aren't bothered at all when somebody asks them directions to you know, the house. If anything, they've become excellent tour guides. There's Meredith's favorite cafe, and there's the house where she was beaten, raped, stabbed in the neck, choked, and left to die a miserable, agonizing death. Moving on –
To me, the Kercher case was the ultimate when bad things happen to good girls scenario. A young woman had been killed in her apartment: one of the roommates was more than likely to have been a part of the deal. The dead girl was British, the other girl used to live in Seattle. US media was up in arms. Said we were savages to keep one of their precious girls in jail. Said we were supposed to set her free.
Do not care. At all. She did it.
The house: unassuming two-story building, small garden in the back, nice view if you'd manage to squeeze through the front gate. I've sat through countless live broadcasts from this narrow street, the gray house a background that never changed. I recognize it right away. There's a bend in the road.
A man tried to buy the house, a few months back, maybe last year – he wanted to set it up as an Amanda/Meredith museum. Money would've gone to charity. No deal was reached, but my guide says it was true. There really was a man, a local guy, a big fundraiser for Emergency, Doctors Without Borders. He was legit.
There's a dozen people, men and women, staring down at us and the house behind us. I take a picture. They move.
Everyone has them on a first name basis: it's “Amanda and Meredith” – like they'd just been evicted from the Big Brother house. Altough this stems from the over-familiarity with the media surrounding the case, rather than from an actual relationship with le ragazze. They are "the girls," never Kercher, never Knox.
Amanda had a MySpace profile (saw it before they shut it down), the Italian guy she had been dating for all of two weeks – hence, “the boyfriend” – kept a blog on MSN. There weren't many entries, but plenty of photos: him all dressed up as a mummy, playing around with a mannaia, a cleaver. (A friend in London found it splashed across the morning front page, headline screaming "DID HE KILL MEREDITH?" Sure he did. Had no social networking skills at all.)
Everyone here seems to have an opinion, too – no surprise – with the general consensus falling along the lines of “è stata lei.” She did it.
Many local murder cases are still open, and there's talk of hush money and favors being traded – like the Italian girl found buried in a field that belonged to the Catholic Church. No closure to be found. (But law firms are everywhere, with “blank checks” being the most frequent offense, followed by “squabbles between neighbors.”)
Amanda said she didn't know a thing, then blamed Congolese immigrant Patrick Lumumba, who operated a bar and was later proven not to be the guy. Lumumba was somewhat of a local fixture. Friend of many, tolerated by all. Until a lot of people started fearing he might actually be the guy. He did like women a bit too much. Malato di fica. Crazy for pussy. He could have gone to unusual lengths to get the girl, such as listening to Amanda, then a part-time employee of his, in the odd chance she'd name her roommate as the surest bet for a threeway. He could have been easy to trick.
Funny how American feminists debate whether or not Amanda is the victim of both our backwards way of life and plain old sexism, but they turn a blind eye at her breezing through the whole, “Yeah, the black guy did it” routine. (And I still can't fathom how somebody could be tricked in a rape/murder scenario, but this is a truly, irredeemably fucked up country, so there you go.)
I was reading Brian Evenson's The Open Curtain when her now-infamous “memorandum from prison” was leaked to a late-night talk show. My eyes flicked from the page to the TV back to the page again. Same words. Same narrative, same patterns. Same momentum. Either she'd been studying up on how to fake schizophrenia, or her symptoms were spot on. She wasn't real anyway.
You ask around, and that's what you get:
Amanda + boyfriend had ample time to get their stories straight, since local authorities moved way too slow;
Amanda did a lot of cocaine;
Amanda + Meredith fought every day;
Amanda was trouble.
Big trouble?, I ask.
Nah, Regular trouble.
No more than your average white girl cruising around like nothing can touch her, like this is Mexico.
(Two Italian girls were living in that same house at the time: both were back home for the weekend, both managed to avoid the spotlight. A small miracle.)
A local film festival caught a lot of flack for making a “special feature” out of a prison acting lab which involved Amanda. It didn't matter they had screened a video-diary for the lab every year since it started. News spread fast, everything came out warped, and a couple newspapers reported the film as a flat-out feature, a big prison movie, made with the support of area businessmen who fancied themselves as movie moguls. (Cute. Although we do need WIPsploitation to come back. Seriously, let's get pro-active for a second here.)
I'm walking with the guy who programmed that “special feature.”
"Did you know?" I ask.
Yeah. We sort of toyed with it. Audience expectations and all.
I mean, we knew we had a winner there.
She gives a super chilly performance, he says. About halfway through – she looks straight into the camera and goes all, “follow me in the secret room.” La ragazza è una professionista. (Girl's a total pro.)
The other inmates asked only their first names to be released; she insisted on being billed fully as “Amanda Knox,” all the way to the closing credits, like she's rebuilding, cashing in on her brand recognition even when there's no money to be made. She's gunning for attention whereever she can get it – from her wearing an “All you need is love” t-shirt to court, to her alleged pursuit of a young male cinematographer who helped shoot the prison doc feature (and then, I'm told, proceeded to freak the fuck out).
On the other hand, the Kercher case was hunted down by a variety of media outlets, some going out of their way to paint Perugia as the last place you'd want to be alone in, ever. In true “won't somebody think of the children?” fashion, a popular TV show threw pocket money at a bunch of Italian students in order to shoot an “unscripted” segment, with the boys describing the city as a 24/7 drug-fueled gangbang—a claim my guide states as “grossly exaggerated,” even though the local ERASMUS program's reputation as a party school isn't going to be debunked anytime soon and the heroin market has been enjoying healthy returns since the early '00s.
Another black guy, Rudy Guede, was later apprehended and chose the “fast track” trial for murder—pinning himself as the material perpetrator of the crime. Amanda was left to become the femme fatale. The instigator. The one who held Meredith down. The one who maybe was in a different room, definitely heard something through the walls, a girl screaming, but didn't call for help, didn't report the crime until some 24 hours later. The white girl. (OK, we're white, but they're white. Nobody in their right mind would call us as “white” as them.)
It gets dark, we walk.
An Anglo-looking girl runs past us, face red, might have been crying, might still be. Sweat runs down her neck.
Should we help her?
She'll be OK.
Not much you can do anyway.
She's running to a crowd, we just saw an impressive display of police force guarding the fountain back there. If something happened and she needed to report it, they would help. Maybe.
At 3 AM someone will start kicking at my door.