On a useless evening of October I start going through the titles that Netflix has chosen for me.
Movie posters line-dancing under my thumb while machine-learning algorithms hit me with coming of age movies, teenage dramas and cooking shows making a display of recipes I will never be able to replicate.
Then a pair of piercing, spiking, puncturing blue eyes suddenly halts the swipe. Everyone who lived in Italy in the late 2000s has encountered Amanda Knox’s stare and can allegedly testify to the story it tells.
Problem is, body parts don’t tell stories as much as people do and I can’t possibly see those eyes stripped of the metaphorical, spooky makeup applied over the years by an arsenal of media-savvy eyeliners and sensationalist mascaras.
Amanda Knox – the American documentary Netflix is trying to feed me – looks like a chance to revisit a journalistically exhausted story with a different perspective.
I watch it in one sitting and walk away from it with the acquired knowledge of two details that have me strongly identify with the infamous “Foxy Knoxy”.
Detail number one: Amanda and I share a passion for the French movie Amélie. The same movie she dispensed to love interest and future suspected accomplice Raffaele Sollecito on the night before Meredith Kercher’s body was found inside their shared house in Perugia.
The second detail is both microscopic and huge, majorly underreported by Italian news outlets and insufficiently highlighted throughout the documentary itself.
Before getting to it, though, we need to talk about my sex life.
Flashback #1 – The Things He Said
It’s a cold October morning in 2011 Germany.
Just like twenty year old Amanda Knox, I wake up in a foreign country flaunting promises, admonishments and traps that I’m slowly starting to glimpse.
The body I find in my bed is somewhat unfamiliar but very much alive, snoring physical evidence of a mischief committed with the one-drink-led-to-another M.O. that has been plaguing Berlin for years.
The unexpected motive: a reckless quest for love.
Soon enough, the body turns into a coffee-drinking entity, then a showering human and finally a fully dressed person leaving me by the door with three words that make my heart swell with joy. With his charming American accent, he says
See you later
The Things She Texted
On the night before her life derailed, Amanda Knox was supposed to wait tables at a small bar in Perugia. The plan changed as a text from the owner of the bar, Patrick Lumumba, informed her that her shift had been canceled.
Before resorting to an alibi-less “Amélie & Chill” night, Amanda answered Lumumba with four words that would later make her sink and drown in the darkness of the events that followed. In her tentative Italian, she said
Ci vediamo più tardi
Flashback #2 – The Things They Don’t Teach You In School
When I close the door on my one-night stand, I can’t believe he wants to meet me again that night.
“If this goes well” – I tell to myself – “we’ll book a holiday together, move into a cute apartment in the hippest neighborhood, adopt a toy poodle, merge our bank accounts and eventually die spooning each other like that old couple in Titanic”.
Except I will not meet him that night or any night after that.
The four-syllable sentence that ignited my romantic hope on that fall morning – See you later – had been ambushed on its journey from my ears to my brain and replaced with its literal Italian translation, Ci vediamo più tardi.
In Italian, that represents an absolute commitment to meet before the end of the day. It cannot mean “I’ll see you tomorrow” nor a simple “I’ll see you around”. It’s a promise. A plan that doesn’t leave space for ambiguity.
The English version, on the other hand, is conveniently vague and can mean “I’ll meet you after dinner” as much as “Maybe we’ll run into each other at the post office one day”.
That night, in the stubborn muteness of my phone, I untangle the linguistic conundrum that led to my heartache – the so-called “false friend” – and wonder if there’s anyone else in the world who suffered because of it.
Stories That Make Sense
A few days after Meredith’s death, Raffaele and Amanda were called in for interrogation.
At that point the international press was covering the story daily and the country was starting to get suspicious of the free-spirited American doing drugs (a.k.a. smoking weed) and having non-marital sex with the Italian boy she’d just met.
The need for answers was pressing.
Amanda, who was twenty at the time, entered the interrogation room with a version of the facts that started shifting after almost two hours of intense questioning. Around 2 A.M. , Knox started recalling – “in flashes of blurred images, like a dream” – memories of someone killing Meredith Krecher.
The someone in question, coincidentally, was the same person she unknowingly promised to meet on the night when the murder took place (“Ci vediamo più tardi”, remember?)
That gruesome, flashy piece of murder mystery was suddenly the story of a black immigrant killing a girl and intimidating another into silence. All pieces seemed to fall into place on the day Patrick Lumumba was arrested,
Stories That Don’t Make Sense
I wish I had a cent for every time I heard someone claim that “they’re really good at reading people”.
Even though it irks me, I know this belief is rooted in evolutionary truth. Think how cognitively exhausting would be to live in a world where we can’t sense that someone is aggressive/doubtful/excited by the tone of their voice.
Our well-being as a species relies on our ability to interpret each other.
The problem comes when a group of Italian police officers question a scared American girl who claims she spent the night at home but also wrote “Ci vediamo più tardi” to her boss.
That doesn’t make sense.
So we take those puzzle pieces and force them into place until the bad guy is in jail and our cognitive dissonance can finally rest in peace.
Except the bad guy turns out to have an alibi and when we look at the puzzle one more time – in true blue dress/gold dress fashion – it is now showing the portrait of a man-eating, twisted, dangerous girl coming from a far-away, possibly deranged land.
As an Italian male, subscribing to that narrative wasn’t difficult.
Senses That Make Stories
Truth be told, that second half of 2011 is probably the loneliest I’ve ever been.
As the temperatures in Berlin dropped by the day and the wind became merciless, I started to get homesick and questioned my whole existence in Germany.
In those days, crafting imaginary love stories out of flings wasn’t just easy, it was natural. I was able to inject meaning into every ounce of attention of every guy I met because I really, really needed to feel loved.
Just like that, in 2007 someone re-wrote Amanda Knox’s story based on the values, lessons and admonishments they wanted it to represent. Our culture needed someone to embody Eve, the seductress, the siren who almost sings Ulysses’s ship to wreck. And since the meaning shapes the events just as much as the opposite happens, the evidence that would later incarcerate Amanda Knox started popping up.
It took almost ten years on the roller coaster of the Italian judicial system for the so-called “evidence” to collapse like a trembling house of cards and reveal itself for what it really was: a dangerous injection of meaning.
The story of the See you later/Ci vediamo più tardi misunderstanding, so instrumental to everything that happened, never made it into the public eye because it wasn’t a story at all. There were no heroes or villains, no making or breaking of values, no shakespearian dramatic conflict. All the facts were there, but the cultural meaning wasn’t.
I found it hidden under some crumpled, morning-after sheets and thought I’d write it here, today, in case someone ever needs to hear it.