Sunday, 23 October 2011

Cakes and literary references

Today's my birthday and this is the cake that Michelle McGrane has made to celebrate it. I'm beyond touched.

(And if you don't pick up the literary reference, click here. You know the next step.)

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

In Context

Rob Redman, founder of The Fiction Desk, has been asked to guest edit this month's blog for Context Travel, a 'network of architects, historians, art historians, and other specialists who organize over 300 different walks in 15 cities around the world', including Rome. He's exploring the relationship between travel and literature and he asked me if I'd like to talk about my experiences as an expatriate author. I was delighted. You can see what I said here.

The Pantheon (illustrated left) isn't mentioned in the article and doesn't feature in any of my fiction either. Which is odd, because it's my favourite building.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

CSI Perugia (not)

Well, it's all over, for a while at least. Amanda Knox is back in Seattle, Raffaele Sollecito is at his family home near Bari, Rudy Guedé is in jail and Meredith Kercher is dead. The screaming mob outside the courthouse in Perugia yesterday evening will no doubt be looking forward to reading the reasoning behind the appeal court's decision to absolve Amanda and Raffaele of the crime. No, I don't think so either. That isn't, after all, how screaming mobs work. According to Italy's Sky News, 61% of its viewers continue to believe in their guilt, despite the fairly robust dismantling of the original verdict and the so-called evidence, forensic and otherwise, on which it was based. I don't have any particular wisdom to impart on the case, other than to say that no conviction built on such wobbly foundations should be allowed to imprison two young people for most of their adult lives, regardless of their actual guilt or innocence. I know that if I were Amanda or Raffaele and innocent, I would be looking into ways of taking legal action against the shoddy and wholly inadequate work of the people who investigated, or failed to investigate, the crime scene, not only for having deprived me of four years of freedom but also, and primarily, for having made it impossible for me to prove my innocence in a clear-cut and effective manner. I'd find that hard to forgive.

What's struck me most is the reaction to the verdict here in Italy. I'm talking anecdotally here (and I'd include the Sky News poll in this), but the innocentisti certainly seem to be outnumbered, and significantly so, by the colpevolisti. (And if you can think of a decent translation for these words, I'd be grateful.) The latter fall into several categories. The most populated is the one that thinks Amanda is evil, based on her cartwheel in jail and the the fact that she did some shopping the day after the murder. Oh yes, and unsubstantiated but highly memorable accusations of witchcraft and a general whiff of diabolic sexiness about her that I, frankly, don't seem to be able to pick up on. But it's the second category that interests me most. It's composed of people who smell a rat (the Italian word for them - also untranslatable - is dietrologisti). In this case the rats are various. Some people think they've been acquitted because they're rich (not that surprising in a country where the richest citizen is so blatantly above the law). Others think they're free because Amanda's American and Italy has been trained to adopt a supine position the moment Uncle Sam clicks his fingers (vide, other recent events I can't be fagged to google). Others, curiously, claim that the fact that both defence lawyers have been connected at some point with the PDL (Berlusconi's party) means that the acquittal has some sort of political valency, and is yet another sign of the politicisation of the judicial system. (This is nonsense; apart from anything else, Bongiorno is one of the most notable defectors from the PDL in the past year). What they all have in common is the conviction that the system - any system - is a sham, and that the motives that govern its actions will never be revealed unless we prod and poke about to see what's underneath. It's comforting, I suppose, to imagine that there is a truth, even if it's hidden. The flag on the moon that doesn't move despite all that lunar wind must give someone, somewhere, a reassuring sense that what we see is never what we get. And perhaps this is to be expected in a country where so many murders and acts of terror remain unsolved, so many crime scenes are utterly contaminated through, at best, incompetence and, at worst, intent, and so many convictions are finally overturned, for lack of evidence or sand in the hourglass of legal time. But when we're talking about individual lives, and the possibility of horribly miscarried justice, it's sad that people can't allow for a little more wriggle room in their own convictions, a little more generosity towards two people, who may be rich, and foreign (or southern), and who may be unsympathetic, or cold, or inappropriately energetic, but who do not, for all these qualities, necessarily have blood on their hands.