A visit to Perugia, Pt. 2

Stranieri

Universita per Stranieri di Perugia and the road leading up to the apartments of Sollecito also Guede

Perugia was the final stop on a trip I took to several sites in central Italy. The last time I was in the country was several years prior, long enough ago that I haven’t had to understand spoken Italian and had some difficulty understanding what people were saying. When I first landed in Rome I had difficulty making out almost anything, but over the week and a half before I got to Perugia it started coming back to me and I was able to get around, order, understand the train announcements, and get the sense of what people were saying.

 

When I was in Rome I looked for books on the case, thinking that it wouldn’t be difficult to do and there may be some local books I wasn’t aware of. I stopped by a bookstore and asked a store assistant, giving the names of the people in the case and asking about “caso meredith,” the label given in the newspaper headlines every time there was an update. The first staff person I asked had little recognition when I said the names of the defendants and the victim, even when I wrote them down. We went to a second assistant at the checkout who recognized the names, but could not recall any specific books. The first assistant checked in the system and found one book (I think I recall it being Raffaele’s), but we couldn’t find it in the store.

In the US, due to the media cheerleading for Knox, there is at least some name recognition when you mention her name (though most people would look at you blankly if you said “Meredith Kercher”). In bookstores they definitely would be able to know the case, if not be able to recall specific books. And this was even before the current phase of popularity for true crime, due in part to the successes of the podcasts Serial and My Favorite Murder.

Guede article

Guede declares his innocence

Unfortunately I did not find any books while I was traveling in Italy. The only media I encountered on the case was a brief mention of Rudy Guede in a magazine I was reading while in a cafe in Perugia,  where Guede declared his innocence. Despite the lack of media I was still able to understand a bit of the Italian perspective while visiting Perugia.

 

I spoke to a shop clerk in Perugia about the case. After asking about some unrelated books, we started speaking in English and I asked if I could ask a few questions. I said I was visiting the town, since I had been following the case for years. I asked about the Netflix documentary, which had been released three months prior.  The clerk was unaware that the documentary had come out, but recalled when some filmmakers came to town a few years prior saying they were going to do a movie on the media reporting around the case; the clerk was surprised that the movie focused on Knox.

Security

Signs for security cameras in town

Even nine years later, I saw the difficulty and pain the case had on the clerk and the town. The clerk spoke of the negative media attacks on Perugia that were published internationally. The negative media publicity changed the town, and they felt this every time the media came to town to report on the trial and the case.

 

In my conversation it was clear to me that in Perugia, this isn’t a trial about Amanda Knox. Perugia remembers the death of Meredith Kercher, a British exchange student who was brutally murdered in a house she shared with three other girls.  Perugia remembers the death, but they also feel the judgment of the international media on their city. The city is still recovering from both.

 

Fountain christmas

Perugia, just north of Piazza IV Novembre

 

 

 

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A visit to Perugia, pt. 1

Via dell’Acquedotto

A year ago, I traveled to Perugia, Italy. I’ve been to Italy on many past occasions. When I was in college I decided to go on my own to a town in Italy and take language lessons-like Amanda, except for me it was Florence. I was not on a program arranged through my school- I had a semester off and decided to go. My original interest in Italy was not completely out of the blue, as I I had met and briefly dated an Italian woman while I was visiting England one year. The trip to Perugia was my third or fourth trip to Italy. On past trips I stayed primarily in the north, visiting Venice, Pisa, Trieste, Bologna, and, of course, Florence. This was my first time south of Florence.

Perugia Mini-Metro

Researching online, I wasn’t really able to understand how to get to Perugia by train. To get there from Rome required a transfer, and then the Perugia train station was some ways outside of the town center. Arriving by train, the first impression is of anything but a “medieval town,” which the English language media loved to call it. The buildings and the city looked quite modern- and sprawling.  The vision we get of Perugia throughout this case is really of only the city center- the older part of town on the top of the hill. I recalled Amanda’s story of having to walk a long way, then hitch a ride, to get into town, and I wondered where she actually got off the train, because luckily, there is the mini-metro to take you from the station, under the center of town to the other side, where its a short walk to the city center. The mini-metro opened in January 2008, four months after the girls arrived in Perugia.

Yes, this “medieval village” has its own little metro rail! Its cute; its self-driven, and the cars spend the day traveling from one end of the track to the other. There’s an automated turntable at either end of the track that spins the car then sends it back the other way. Interesting fact- if you instead ride the metro away from the city center to the end of the line, you arrive right next to the Questura!

View of Perugia, looking north along the historic town center. In the valley at the top is the house; the British girls lived center-right; Raffalle and Rudy lived in the upper left

I started following this case about nine years ago, and during that time I’ve looked repeatedly at the the online maps like Google and Bing. But even reading the descriptions and seeing the maps, I still don’t know if I was quite prepared for the city. I really didn’t fully understand the topography from those maps, although with Google’s 3-d view its easier to see now.  The main road along the top of the hill running south to north is primarily a pedestrian-only way. Its somewhat like an upside down J. At the north end, going down the hill takes you to the nook in the valley where the four girls lived. On the inside of that J (on the right in this photo)was Patrick’s Bar, Le Chic, and where Meredith’s British friends lived.  The path Meredith took home on the night of the 1st was on the street that circles the hill, which made a lot more sense once I was there walking the streets: the easiest path from the British girls house to the house Meredith and Amanda lived in was not up and over the hill, but around the short end of the “j”.

One thing I was immediately struck by as I took this route is that there is a grade school almost right above the house. The plaza behind the grade school is the one with the metal stairs directly above the parking garage right next to the house! Meredith would have walked past the school on her way home her last night. The nearness of the grade school to the house in which Meredith was murdered surely worried local residents, and I would not be surprised if we learned that the proximity to the school, AND to the center of town, increased the pressure on the police to solve the murder.

From the house you can walk almost directly up the hill straight into town, and its an uphill walk!  I did this walk several times during the time I was there as I was getting a feel for the town. As I spent time walking around town, I reflected both on my own impressions of the town and the events and stories of both Meredith and Amanda when they first arrived. Over the next weeks, I will be looking how my trip to Perugia helped with understanding aspects of the case.

While I saw these sites, though, I also got to know the city center for my own. I ate some great pizza, I hung out and talked to one of the wine bar owners, I shopped in the bookstore.  Perugia is a lovely place, and I hope to get back there again soon.

While I traveled I didn’t get too much of an opportunity to speak to people about the case. I was surprised when I stopped in a bookstore in Rome to ask about books on the case, I didn’t get an immediate recognition from the clerks. I spoke to two or three people, and finally found one that had a recognition about the case, but then they had to look up in their computer if there were even actually any books written.

The other conversation I had was in Perugia… and that will be in my next post.

Perugia metro and apartment buildings