Come to Italy. Get the Story.

Amanda Knox enters the courtroom in Perugia, June 1, 2010. Photo by Wendy Murray. Copyright©Wendy Murray 2010. All rights reserved.

In Court Again

The second phase of Amanda Knox’s ongoing troubles

by Wendy Murray

Having had the opportunity to meet with Amanda Knox’s stepfather, Chris Mellas, when he visited Assisi to talk with my IJSA students (see stories below); coupled with my remaining in Italy after the IJSA students returned to the U.S.; I thus had the opportunity to go to Perugia, along with my friend and translator Valentina DiMaggio, to watch as a new phase of the murder case unfolds. (Amanda was charged and convicted of the 2007 slaying of her roommate, Meredith Kercher, which the family is appealing; see stories below.) I stood directly behind her stepfather, Chris Mellas, as Amanda was escorted into the courtroom and snapped the above picture. In the instant afterward, her stepfather called to her and she looked up and smiled at him.

This hearing was the first phase of the criminal law suit the Italian police have filed against her for claims she made about them during the interrogation process. The family requested that a new judge be placed in charge of this trial, since the judge assigned had already made a ruling against Amanda at an early stage of the case. The same judge, by Italian law, cannot oversee two aspects of an ongoing case once he or she has already rendered a ruling. As a result of the family’s request, the hearing lasted only a few minutes and will reconvene on June 17 as the court considers the family’s request.

For a clear description of this complicated process, you can read more about it here.

(Photo by Wendy Murray for IJSA; Copyright©2010 by Wendy Murray. All rights reserved. This photo may not be reproduced in any form without written consent of the owner.)

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A Springtime Lament

Amanda Knox Waits, the Kerchers “Keep Going”

by Wendy Murray

and the students of the International Journalism Seminar – Assisi (IJSA)

[Copyright©Wendy Murray, 2010. All rights reserved. No portion of this work can be reproduced in any form--print or electronic--without written permission of the author.]

Assisi, Italy, May 2010

It is a new spring day in Umbria. The season of rain seems finally to have been overtaken by the region’s signature sapphire skies. Morning mist hangs low over the mountains and birds in collective urgency sing the sun to its rising. Spring has returned to central Italy, and with it all the animation and hopefulness the season portends. Whereas in a quiet prison cell on the outskirts of Perugia a young woman waits, spring and its hopefulness instead echo only a lament. And more so for the another young woman–or, more to the point, the family she left behind when she left Britain optimistically in the fall of 2007 to study in Italy and never returned. The murder of Meredith Kercher (then age 21) isn’t exactly “old news” in this the third spring since her death, as much as it is a story so sad that all its respective players–Italians, Americans, British and even Africans–simply can’t sustain an ongoing conversation about it. It is an excruciatingly complicated story that carries all the elements of every person’s worst nightmare: movements in a dark night; use of force; attempts at escape; fear; confusion; disorientation; a feeling of being trapped; and in the end, a dead body that nobody claims.

Meredith — or “Mez” as her family and friends called her–came to the Umbrian town of Perugia in the fall of 2007 to complete her degree in European studies. During the night of November 1st, that same fall, she was sexually assaulted and brutally murdered in her home. She shared a flat in a small cottage outside the city center with three others: two Italian women and one American. The “American girl” (the irony is not missed by the Americans), Amanda Knox, soon to be 24, was convicted of the murder by an Italian court in December 2009, which likewise convicted her (then) Italian lover, Raffaele Sollecito and a third man from the Ivory Coast, Rudy Guede.

Knox sees the coming of her third spring from the confines of her prison cell in Perugia, where she is serving a 26 year sentence. Her immediate family, consisting of a biological father (Curt Knox), his wife Cassandra, a biological mother (Edda Mellas) and a stepfather (Chris Mellas), have taken out real estate in Perugia; have purchased a car and registered it in Germany (to evade the unrelenting parking tickets in Perugia) and rotate their stints taking up residency there so that on the six days a month when Amanda can receive visitors, a family member is always there.

This is a sad story. In fact, it carries at its essence the elements of the saddest of all stories. It is so complicated, confused and visceral that human sensibilities are not sufficient to navigate objectively its many twists, turns and heartbreak. The lives of families from multiple countries are forever changed because of the events that unfolded on November 1, 2007 in a small cottege in the Italian hill town of Perugia.

In Memory of Meredith

(Stevie Bittner)

If Amanda Knox is the fox of the Italian justice system, then Meredith Kercher is a mouse. The unceasing controversy surrounding Knox’s involvement in the 2007 murder often overshadows its victim, leaving Kercher’s memory primarily noted in her death.

Meredith Kercher, a 21-year-old British exchange student, was found with her throat slashed, bruises all over her body, and proof of sexual assault two days after Italy’s Halloween. At the time, Meredith had been studying abroad in Perugia for two months.

By most accounts, Kercher is portrayed as the face of innocence: she criticized Knox for bringing boys to the apartment they shared and is known to have cut short social visits to attend to her academic duties.  It is likewise said that her death resulted in her refusal to have sex with one of three convicted killers, the Ivory Coast native, Rudy Guede.

The young British student hailed from Coulsdon, Surrey and was in Italy completing her Leeds University degree. She studied political history, and planned to graduate that year. Kercher worked diligently for the opportunity to study in Italy, finding two jobs the previous summer in order to save money. She chose Perugia because of their annual Chocolate Festival, which she attended with her apartment-mate. According to Knox’s stepfather, Chris Mellas, in an exclusive interview, Knox’s destroyed hard drive would have contained a video of the roommates enjoying time together.

Meredith’s sister, Stephanie, remembers how she loved to dance. In her teens, Meredith was involved in karate and ballet. Meredith also spent a good deal of time with her family and enjoyed their company; while studying abroad she telephoned and text messaged them regularly. (Kercher had planned to visit home with gifts and chocolates for her mother’s birthday the week after her murder.) In the mornings, she loved looking out at the beautiful Umbrian hills from her shared apartment. Like many young girls, she watched The Notebook with her friends, and took pleasure from shopping, reading, and writing poetry. Kercher was a diligent Erasmus scholar whose most wicked exploit may have been dressing up as a vampire for Halloween.

Meredith’s mother and father, Arline and John Kercher, arrived in Italy shortly after hearing the news about their daughter. Her father, a long-time journalist, learned about his daughter’s death from the foreign news desk of an affiliate newspaper. Upon arriving in Italy, John Kercher was unable to enter the morgue to identify his daughter’s body. “It would have put a full stop to my memory of her,” he said. Meredith’s mother, Arline Kercher, has grieved differently. “I still look for [Meredith],” she said.

The family has said on multiple occasions that in her last moments Meredith would have fought to the end. At the sentencing of Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, Meredith’s father lamented that the entire situation, “destroys me.” Still, the family acted with grace and dignity throughout the trial and today they maintain strict privacy. (Attempts by the writer to get in touch with the family’s media representative were unsuccessful.)

Three siblings, John, Lyle, and Stephanie, survive the 21-year-old and all have been actively involved in pursuing justice for their sister. The family wants irrefutable answers. Knox has said herself, “Meredith was my friend.” Regardless, on that tragic night, Meredith Kercher’s personal gifts, strength of character, and accomplishments could not to save her.  Now these qualities can only save her remembrance.

Who Is Amanda Knox?

(Dan Awad)

The Perugian court convicted three suspects in the rape and murder of British exchange student, Meredith Kercher, on November 1, 2007. They include Rudy Guede of the Ivory Coast; Raffaele Sollecito, an Italian native; and Amanda Knox from the United States. While the first two convicts have gradually lost the media’s interest, the sentence of Amanda Knox continues to provoke international confusion and controversy.

Born and raised in the organic, free spirited city of Seattle, Washington, Knox (almost 23) grew up in what seems to have been a healthy environment. Although her parents divorced when she was two, her mother soon remarried Chris Mellas and remains in a consistent stable relationship. Her biological father, Curt Knox (remarried to Cassandra Knox) stayed involved in Amanda’s life. She enjoyed playing soccer, and attended an expensive, private Catholic school.  According to her stepfather, Chris Mellas, in an interview with the IJSA, Amanda greatly excelled in her academics. School reports highlight her “academic excellence, community service, kindness and ‘total integrity in all matters, large and small,” as reported by Nick Allen of the Telegraph.  Allen continues, “She learned Japanese, German, Italian and Latin, acted in musicals and played football, dreaming of becoming a writer or an interpreter.” After graduating from high school she continued at the University of Washington where she focused on modern languages.

Knox is not a stranger to travel. Before coming to Perugia, she spent time in Japan studying the language and culture. Her exposure to and interaction with Buddhist monks elevated her interest in yoga and spirituality. Mellas said that, although Amanda does not adhere to any religious tradition, she is “quite spiritual.”  She showed no signs of aberrant behavior, enjoying bike riding, delving into literature, rock climbing, and working as a barista in the local coffee shop. Her friends speak highly of her, including a former boyfriend, David Johnsrud, who describes her as “one of the most warm-hearted individuals I’ve ever known.” Even so, her own family attests to her naivety–such as going on solo hikes or riding her bike alone at night through the worst parts of town–and Mellas himself told the IJSA that he worried about her decision to come to Italy to study (he would have preferred she go to school in Germany).

Knox likewise has been known for eccentric and sometimes bizarre behavior, a point which even her stepfather concedes. He resisted her idea of coming to Italy (noted above) At the early stages of the investigation, only days after the gruesome death of her roommate, witnesses (including some of Kercher’s friends) saw her performing cartwheels  and other gymnastic stretches outside the police station while awaiting her appointment with the investigators.

Knox describes herself on a popular social networking site as neither a drinker nor smoker, yet her own behavior has clearly contradicted this. Sources show Knox as having a history with alcohol and drug use as well as an unusual sexual hunger. In 2007, shortly before leaving to Perugia, she received a hefty fine for hosting a wild party at her student home in Seattle. Her stepfather admits to knowing of Amanda’s marijuana use though it did not arouse his concern, citing that this is not untypical of Amanda’s age group. Her sister, Deanna, states that Amanda lost her virginity at age 19 and Knox disclosed, after her arrest, that she had been sexually active with seven different partners prior to her arrest at age 20. In a troubling irony, Amanda–an aspiring writer–wrote a short story during college about the violent rape of a woman by a man who had drugged her.

The Italian

(Suz Hoofnagle)

If you are not Raffaele Sollecito, a member of his family, a close friend, or even a close acquaintance, it is possible you may not have a conclusive answer about who he is. The only Italian in the tangle of heartache that marks the murder of Meredith Kercher, he alone removes the argument that the convictions arose from an anti-American prejudice. He grew up in the Italian town of Giovinazzo, in Bari and belongs to a prominent Italian family.

With factual knowledge of his past, his personal writings, as well as words about him from friends may offer a glimpse into the riddle of who this Italian man is, and likewise may lend understanding in the human element of Sollecito’s part in this modern tragedy.

Sollecito, the (now) 26 year old man and former boyfriend of Amanda Knox, was convicted along with Amanda of participating in the murder of Meredith Kercher. According to Chris Mellas, Knox’s stepfather, when he spoke to IJSA students, “Amanda and Raffaele are no longer in a relationship. They are still friends, they write to each other, and they are supportive of each other, but Raffaele is not Amanda’s boyfriend.”

His family–mother, father and sister– who reside in this town on the Adriactic Coast of Southern Italy–is tightly knit and fiercely loyal. Sollecito’s father, Dr. Francesco Sollecito, a urologist, bought his son a flat in Perugia, near the village’s University, where the son was enrolled. The flat’s proximity to the school allowed Sollecito to commute to class. As of the fall of 2007, Sollecito was working toward a degree in computer engineering.

Mellas says that when Amanda first described Raffaele to him and her mother (his wife) Edda, she likened him to J.K. Rowling’s fanciful and bespectacled and world-famous character: “She said he looked like Harry Potter. She wanted me to come visit her in Italy because she wanted me to meet him.”

Mellas echoes what Sollecito’s family and friends have already said about his interest in and passion for computers and video games. “Amanda thought I’d really like Raffaele. He’s a computer guy. I’m an IT guy. He’s a lot like me. I’m a lot like him. Raffaele and I write letters. He sent me a letter saying he hopes to move to Seattle after all of this and get involved in the video and computer game industry there.”

Sollecito had a knife collection, was fascinated with Manga (Japanese comic books), and on occasion smoked pot. He is also known for possessing a keen mind and generous heart, noted by his friend, Antonella Petruzzella:

I met Raffaele in the first year of high school. He was always . . . generous and friendly. . . . I recall a day in college [when] I had an exam in English and had some difficulty. He offered to help me translate texts. . .  Between translations we talked of friendship, love and important values.

Sollecito expresses his own thoughts through the diary he has kept since being incarcerated.

I’m trying to kill time and while I hear voices and screams of convicts who play football. . . . Listen and think, think hard, about everything that happened to me . . . . My brain these days seems a relentless machine that tries to reconnect and imagine . . . Then I stop, for going crazy.

In the same diary, he expresses his commitment to continue working out in his cell and staying physically fit. He mentions his unhappiness with the uncleanliness of his cell and bathrooms. He mentions in a later entry how he spent all day cleaning one bathroom top to bottom, and then expressing great joy in its cleanliness.

Through Sollecito’s diary entries and statements made by his father, it is evident the Sollecitos share a strong family closeness and fierce loyalty. Sollecito’s sister Vanessa, who at the time of the murder worked with the elite Italian military police force, the Carabinieri, lost her postion because an investigator who had tapped her phone, thought he heard her using her position to help secure her brother’s innocence.

Sollecito is clearly an intelligent young man with many different interests, hobbies and passions–traits of a kind that mark all human beings. He was 23 when he was accused of participating Meredith Kercher’s murder and 25 when he was convicted sentenced to 25 years in prison. Which brings us to the events that transpired on November 1, 2007.

November 1, 2007

(Elise D’Adamo)

November 1, 2007, the screams of Meredith Kercher could be heard only from a neighbor’s house. That night around 4p.m., Meredith arrived at a friend’s house in Perugia for dinner and to watch The Notebook. At 9pm Meredith left her friend’s house, saying that she was tired and was going to go back home. For the first half of her walk she was with a friend and then the rest of the way she was alone.

It is widely believed that Meredith’s murderer entered the home at around 11:30pm. What occurred thereafter is disputed.  Amanda Knox, Meredith’s apartment mate, attests she walked into the house the next morning (after spending the night with Sollecito) to find Meredith’s door locked. She thought it strange, but didn’t think much of it. Upon walking into the bathroom, she discovered an un-flushed toilet and spots of blood. She took a shower and then left to go back to her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito’s apartment. When she came back police surrounded her apartment and an investigation team searching the home.

Once Meredith’s bedroom door had been broken down, she was found partially clothed under her duvet cover with her blood covering the walls, floor, and bed. Her throat had been slit with a steak knife and bruises appeared on her neck as if from strangulation. Her killer had stabbed her through her neck with a knife that was not present at the crime scene, nor found on the property during the investigation. The 40 bruises and scratches about her neck and hands, lent evidence that she struggled fiercely against her killer. Bruising and DNA evidence verified that she had been sexually assaulted. Two of her credit cards as well as 300 euro were stolen from her and her two cell phones were found in a house garden. The phones were the first bits of evidence, found by a concerned neighbor, who reported it to the police. It was then that they drove to the scene and discovered Meredith’s body.

After three years of investigations and reviews of the evidence, testimonies, and various other documents and clues, the exact details related to the crime that killed Meredith are still uncertain and disputed.

The Case Unfolds:

The suspects

(Anna DeCristofaro and Deborah Devenney)

What started out as a night of enjoyment for the young American college student Amanda Knox, and her new beau of two weeks, Italian student Raffaele Sollecito (25), ended in tragedy for the couple and also for the family of Meredith Kercher. For three years now, this heartbreaking night has been closely watched. Amanda Knox, in particular, has captured the public eye, having been named, arrested, and convicted as one of the accomplices in Meredith’s murder. Her (now) ex-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, and a third party, Rudy Guede (22), have been likewise convicted of involvement in the murder.

Amanda Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison and currently sits in her jail cell in Perugia anticipating the change to win back her freedom through appeals, and ultimately, a ruling from Italy’s Supreme Court. Raffaele Sollecito also remains incarcerated in a different location, sentenced to 25. Rudy Guede received a 30-year sentence.

It is inevitable that, as Meredith’s flat mates, Knox and the other two (Italian) flat mates would be brought in for questioning. The Italian flat mates were quickly dismissed because of their confirmed alibis. But Amanda’s story was not so clear cut.

Knox and Sollecito were taken to to police station for questioning on November 5, 2007, at first, as witnesses in the investigation. Police began growing suspicious of the two because they seemed to be behaving strangely in the immediate aftermath of this brutal crime.  The police interrogated Knox for 14 hours through the night. In her trial in November 2008, she testified to being verbally and physically abused by the police, even being hit by one female officer. (The police in time filed a lawsuit against her for slander; discussed below.)

Suspicion grew when Sollecito and Knox gave differing accounts of what they did on  the night of the murder. Sollecito said that he and Knox were at a friend’s house for a party and that at 9:00 p.m. Knox said she was going to meet friends at Le Chic (a bar) and that the two parted ways. He said he returned home to smoke pot, eat, and talk to his father on the phone, which he said occurred at about 11:00 p.m. Then he said he was home alone until 1:00 a.m. surfing the internet.

According to Knox, she did not go to Le Chic but instead went to Sollecito’s home and checked her e-mail. She also said they showered and then ate together around 11:00 p.m.

Scientists claim that computer records indicate that Sollecito’s computer was inactive for eight hours on the night of the murder and that phone records indicate that Sollecito actually spoke with his father at 8:40 p.m.

By the morning of November 6, 2007, Knox had signed a statement in the police department that she was in the room when Kercher was murdered and that Diya “Patrick” Lumumba killed Meredith. Lumumba, now 38, is a Congolese and local pub owner who until recently had employed Knox. Knox claimed Lumumba was infatuated with Kercher and was in her bedroom before her murder. Knox denied this in later statements.

With her signed statement, Sollecito, Knox, and Lumumba were arrested for the murder of Meredith Kercher. Shortly after his arrest, though, Lumumba was released for lack of evidence and an air-tight alibi: he was at his bar and was seen by hundreds of patrons and employees.

Sollecito and Knox, however, had a growing case against them with the introduction of physical evidence. Some of Knox’s blood was mixed with Kercher’s blood in their bathroom. Also, what police believe to be the murder weapon was a knife found in Sollecito’s kitchen. The knife contained traces of Kercher’s DNA on the blade and Knox’s fingerprints on the handle. Sollecito’s DNA was found on the broken clasp of Meredith’s bra strap.

Amanda’s stepfather, in an interview with IJSA, contested the veracity of the forensic evidence, stating that the testing done on the knife was irregular and the results  could have been distorted. He concedes that the DNA taken from the broken bra clasp does indeed match Sollecito’s. However he maintains that his DNA found its way to the scene by way of environmental contamination.

Evidence at the scene led to the arrest of a final suspect, a young man from the Ivory Coast named Rudy Guede. Guede, now 22, was friends with the men who lived in the same building as Kercher and Knox and was well known among the college students. He is believed, likewise, to have known both women.

His bloody handprint was found on a pillow at the murder scene, his fingerprints were throughout the room, and his DNA from urine in the unflushed toilet in Kercher’s bathroom. His fingerprints were matched to his file from a previous drug charge. When police went to arrest him, he had already fled the country.

His warrant was issued throughout Europe and he was arrested later in November 2007 in Germany after trying to travel without a ticket. He was extradited back to Italy and confessed to police that he was with Kercher on the night of her murder. He admitted to having sex with her that night, which was supported by forensic evidence. but then said that he went to the bathroom and listened to three songs on his iPod, which prevented him from hearing what he claims was another man come into the room to commit the murder.  He said he came out of the apartment he says he saw a man with brown hair holding Kercher. The man left and Guede tried to help Kercher, whose throat had been slit, but left her there and fled.

Amanda and Raffaele

(Annie Battles)

The two-week long relationship of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito was immediately brought under close scrutiny upon the implication of the two as suspects. As media attention turned to the couple, the public wondered how it was that these two individual’s stories became so radically and permanently intertwined.

What is known of the pair’s relationship is this: Amanda and Raffaele met at a classical music concert approximately two weeks before Meredith’s death. They began dating and spent a significant amount of time together in the following days.  According to Chris Mellas, Amanda’s stepfather, she was essentially living with Raffaele the week leading up to the murder.  He recounts that his step-daughter talked excitedly about Raffaele on the phone and said she would like for Chris to meet him.

Both Amanda and Raffaele claim to have been together the night of the incident, though their testimonies differ in several key details.  Police suspicions were raised after Amanda exhibited bizarre behavior during Raffaele’s early interrogation. The two became suspects following separate questionings, where they gave testimonies that held alarming discrepancies.

At the conclusion of the highly publicized and scrutinized trial, the pair was pronounced guilty of carrying out the sexual assault and murder of Meredith Kercher, along with Rudy Guede. The verdict against the two was based upon three main pieces of DNA evidence. The ruling also pointed to circumstantial evidence, particularly significant incongruities in the case.

DNA found on a portion of Meredith’s bra clasp was found to be Raffaele’s. However, the defense was quick to point out that this clasp was not collected until weeks after the incident. Videos of the crime scene also show that the clasp had been moved about the room, potentially resulting in contamination.

Bloody footprints in the bathroom matched the type of tennis shoe that Raffaele owned. Later, however, it was determined that the size of the shoe did not match his foot size. Investigators attributed the footprints to Guede, who also wore the same brand of tennis shoe.

The most significant piece of forensic evidence brought before the jury was a kitchen knife from Sollecito’s apartment. Amanda’s DNA was found on the handle, while forensic experts assert that a trace of Meredith’s DNA was found in a groove on the knife. According to Mellas, the knife blade matched only one of three puncture wounds on Meredith’s body and, he said, the speck of DNA said to belong to Meredith on the tip of the knife was too small to be conclusive. Finally, the defense argued that is was only reasonable that Amanda’s DNA be found on the knife handle, as she had prepared dinner in Raffaele’s kitchen.

A fourth piece of forensic evidence was also brought into play, though it remains largely inconclusive. Traces of Amanda’s blood and DNA were found mixed with Meredith’s in the girls’ shared bathroom. While not insignificant, the defense (along with some forensic experts) assert it is possible that blood was left in the bathroom by Amanda days or even weeks before the murder, perhaps from menstruation or a recent ear piercing.

What implicated Amanda and Raffaele almost as much, if not more, than the small amounts of forensic evidence was incriminating circumstantial evidence, including the pair’s differing alibis. Circumstantial evidence is not dismissed, as the Italian judicial system is known to rely equally on such evidence if defendants’ testimonies are incongruent or deemed false. In the United States, the legal system demands evidence beyond a shadow of doubt (they must prove a defendant perpetrated a crime) whereas in the Italian legal system, as one Italian sociologist explained it to IJSA, “They can’t prove she didn’t [do it].”

Amanda’s Confusion

(Claire Kinnen)

It is difficult to determine how to respond when faced with shocking and horrifying events. How should one act and what should one say? As seen in the events following the tragic death of Meredith Kercher, the right response, whatever that may be, is crucial.

When Knox later testified for the first time on June 12, 2009, she claimed that she was coerced into making a false confession; that she was abused by the Italian police and was at Sollecito’s flat during the night of the murder. However, both Knox and Sollecito originally said that she was with him for only part of night, later leaving and returning to her own flat. Phone records indicate that Knox and Sollecito lied about how long they slept in the following morning and when they turned their phones off and back on again. Though a faulty assertion about a cell phone is not hard evidence, it does nothing to perpetuate Knox’s claim of innocence.

Knox infamously turned cartwheels during Sollecito’s interrogation and has since been said to pose for the cameras during courtroom proceedings. As with American courtrooms, Italian courts assume an attitude of respect from not only their defendants but also attendees. However, neither Knox nor her family has managed to fly under the radar of the scrutinizing media.

Chris Mellas, Knox’s stepfather whom she has known since she was in the 2nd grade, told IJSA that Knox, an avid yogi, was only stretching during a long and difficult ordeal to de-stress. Mellas describes Knox as “a little naïve” and “not so street-wise.” He said these characteristics originally concerned him when his step-daughter decided to study in Perugia.  Knox decided against living in-campus housing, choosing instead to rent a flat with other students. Mellas described how Knox registered for class and found her flat all within two days–an impressive feat for a girl who knew little Italian. Perhaps it was indeed naiveté and lack of street smarts that caused Knox to behave in a manner that appeared odd.  Though Amanda’s behavior alone cannot and does not incriminate her, she certainly did not help herself.

Knox reflected on Kercher’s brutal death, calling it, “yucky, disgusting.” She came off as callous when stating that “in the end” she only knew Kercher “for a month” and that she was trying “to get on with” her life.

Odd behavior does not render hard evidence pointing to guilt. There is little forensic evidence to prove her involvement and, according to Mellas, video footage of the crime scene investigation has provoked criticism from some regarding the handling of the investigation. Even if mistakes were made–an assertion that is fiercely refuted by the Italian police– Knox’s inexplicable reactions do raise questions and paint a strange picture of the young American girl.

The Trial and Verdict

(Steven Fletcher)

On Dec. 4 2009, American college student and Seattle native, Amanda Knox, and her former Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were sentenced in Perugia, Italy, for the murder of British student, Meredith Krecher.

The conviction ended a year long trial, and two year long investigation, conducted in the Court of Assize, mired in conflict and controversy. Media focus lay more on the discrepancies between the Italian and American court systems, rather than the Italian verdict, with American audiences yelling cries of “injustice.”

Judge Claudia Matteini presided over Knox’s trial sentenced Sollecito to 25 years in prison and Knox to 26. Both parties were pronounced guilty on charges of sexual assault and murder.  The third accomplice, Rudy Guede, native of the Ivory Coast, opted for a “fast-track” trial, and the court sentenced him to 30 years in prison.

The court’s final verdict maintained that Guede assaulted Kercher with the aid of drug- impaired Knox and Sollecito. The court believed that Knox slashed her roommate’s throat with a kitchen knife. The knife possessed traces of both students’ DNA. Judge Giancarlo Massei, in a report by ABC news, wrote, “ [The crime took place] without any planning, without any animosity or feeling of resentment against the victim, ….the crime seems to have taken place on the basis of merely casual contingency.” Interestingly, Massei’s verdict disagrees with the conclusions of the prosecution, under Guliano Mignimi, who hypothesized that Kercher died in conjunction with a sexual game. The prosecution sought a life sentence for Sollecito and Knox. Whether the Italian court made a just decision convicting the pair remains a mystery. However few, including one of Knox’s lawyers, dispute her trial’s fairness (noted in the New York Times by Carlo Dalla Vedova). Yet to American ears and eyes, the trial feels more foreign than the country itself.

According to the Times, the Italian Court held Knox and Sollecito in prison for a year before their indictment. This seems long by American judicial standards, but is in fact remarkably speedy by Italian standards. Supporters of Knox’s innocence view the proceedings as a kangaroo court. In reality, most of the criticism hinges on the difference between American and Italian court systems.  USA Today quoted Maria Cantwell, a democratic senator from Washington State, Knox’s home state, as having “serious questions” about the Italian judicial system, and possible anti-American bias in the proceedings.

Americans often fail to realize that, simply because the Italian court system doesn’t mimic the American system, doesn’t mean its procedures or standards are inferior to it’s North American counterpart. The basic legal structure behind the Italian and American courts stands at a stark contrast.

American legal procedure falls under the label “common law” and originates from Anglo-Saxon judicial proceedings. Common Law bases itself on custom and practice, giving value to judicial precedence over written law. Precedence meaning former case decisions hold influence rather than legal statues. Common law emphasizes procedural correctness and inductive reasoning.  American courts have an active and creative role in law making, and focus on the primacy of lawyers to plead a client’s case. The judge acts as a sort of referee in these disputes. Juries are comprised of citizens.

Italian legal procedure is of a different and more complicated sort. The Italian system falls under the definition of “civil law,” focusing on a code of laws. It takes most of its backing from the Roman system, particularly the Code of Justinian, that is, the codified Roman law as compiled by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. These Civil systems focus on legislative statues, which Italy doesn’t lack, rather than judicial precedent. The Italian court doesn’t create law, leaving that responsibility to other branches of government.

Where American courts focus on an accusatorial and confrontational method of trial, the civil system focuses on the inquisitorial method, deductively considering evidence and testimony, rather than the lawyer’s air-tight arguments.  Hence, the Perugian court didn’t focus on procedure, but rather, factual certainty. Lawyers advise and inform in the civil system, rather than debate, and judges take on the role of directors and examiners, rather than umpires for a judicial boxing match.

Civil systems move slower than common systems, as they deal with massive codes, rather than judicial precedent.  Americans look on and are galled at the though of Knox sitting in jail for nearly a year before her trial began.  Perhaps most foreign to the American people is the freedom of the Italian jury, made entirely from lawyers. American juries are sequestered from any media coverage of the trial they participate in. Italian jurors aren’t.
Knox found herself dealing with a strange judicial system, and for the most part, it is widely accepted that she received a fair trial. The media coverage, at least in the United States, became sensationalized and of a sound-byte nature and seemed to lose sight of who the real victim of the murder was. The name of Meredith Kercher was overshadowed by the publicity related to the details — savory and unsavory–related to her American roommate.

Knox and Sollecito began their sentences in separate prisons on December 6, 2009. Knox resides at the Capanne prison awaiting the appeal her 26-year conviction. She spends her time working in the prison church, writing, reading and enjoying biweekly visits from her family members who rotate staying in Perugia. Chris Mellas has said she has good days and bad.  She will remain in prison for two years until she appeals the court decision.

Backlash

(Ricky Marte)

Civil law suits. In the aftermath of the conviction of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, other factors still linger that remain to be decided. The trials are not over for Knox. Patrick Lumumba, Knox’s former employer, sued her for more than $500,000 because in the early stages of questioning, Knox accused Lumumba of murdering Kercher. A court ruled that Amanda Knox had to pay Lumumba roughly $60,000 in damages. Lumumba also announced in February of 2010 that he would be taking a claim for compensation from the Italian authorities to the European Court of Human Rights.

In addition to this lawsuit filed by Patrick Lumumba, the Kercher family also filed a civil suit for $33 million against anyone found guilty of murdering Kercher. At this stage, those who have been found guilty in the Italian courts, include Knox, Sollecito, and Rudy Guede, all of whom share in the lawsuit.

Criminal law suits. In addition to these civil suits, Amanda Knox, as a result of her testimony during the trial, has been charged with defamation of the police (in January 2010) and, thus, she would have to go through yet another criminal trial, to begin next week.  During the trial Amanda stated that the police told her that she “would be arrested and put in jail for 30 years,” and that the police called her a “stupid liar.” Amanda also claims that the police physically assaulted her. The police strongly contest that any misconduct took place during the early investigation of the murder. Knox’s parents, Curt Knox and Edda Mellas, are also facing a libel suit for repeating Amanda’s accusations regarding the treatment she received. Amanda and her parents each face separate slander charges. In Italy, a slander case is considered criminal, therefore carrying with it possible jail time of 2-6 years and/or a possible fine.

Clarification: The difference between a civil lawsuit and a criminal lawsuit has everything to do with who initiates the action. In a civil lawsuit, a private party (individual or corporation) files the lawsuit and thus becomes the plaintiff. In a criminal lawsuit, the government or an arm of it, files the litigation. A civil suit never brings about jail time, but is resolved through fines.  A criminal suit involves jail time, and possibly a fine paid to the government.

The Aftermath: Two Families

(Ashley Moulton and Stevie Bittner)

For Amanda Knox and her family, this is not the end.  The family plans to proceed with both the verdict and the various civil lawsuits by continually fighting for Amanda’s freedom, innocence, and human rights.  In addition to a lengthy trial in which Amanda was declared guilty of murdering in the first degree her roommate, Meredith Kercher, the family has also faced conflicts with the media, in which they have sued various sources for making false claims about Amanda and others in her family. In addition, they confront the stress of the upcoming slander charges, which have been leveled against three separate members of the Knox family.

For the Knox family, the battle with the media remains ongoing.  After suing the Daily Mail for writing a false story about Edda’s parents and home life, the family continues to contend that false stories are rampant. Chris Mellas told IJSA that the family has hired a lawyer solely to address false reporting in the media and that multiple lawsuits against the media are currently pending.

Amanda is preparing for the pre-trial of her slander charge, which will occur on June 1–at this writing: next week–for which she could face an additional six-year sentence.  Amanda’s parents, Curt Knox and Edda Mellas will attend the pre-trial for their own slander charge on June 6. They too could face a six-year sentence as slander charges are technically considered criminal lawsuits in Italy.  However, Chris Mellas believes these slander charges are “indefensible by either side.”

Moreover, the lawyers of the Knox family have appealed the court’s “guilty” verdict and await the decision for an appellate trial in Perugia.  Because the family has filed the 220-page appeal of the court’s original verdict, Amanda is currently under prison rules rather than those of the judges. (Once the appeal is appointed a judge, the rules for her prison rights are determined by the judge.) Thus, for now, the family receives only six visits per month rather than the eight visits normally granted by the previous judge in order to accommodate the travel involved in order for the family to visit Amanda.  Through an appeal trial, the family hopes to reduce or eliminate their daughter’s sentence and, ideally, remove her murder conviction.  In Italy, the appeal case is carried out exactly as the first case was conducted and by law includes a fresh look at the case, a new jury, a new judge, and a new prosecutor.  Amanda’s father, Curt Knox, has stated, “I am looking forward to the appeals process and hopefully we’ll be able to bring [Amanda] home sometime this year.”

Chris Mellas, however, seems less optimistic.  He hopes to get through the appeals process quickly over the next two years at which point the family will appeal to the Italian Supreme Court, called La Corte Suprema di Cassazione.  Rather than looking at the murder case an additional time, the high court explores whether violations occurred at any point throughout the process.  Mellas expressed great confidence in the Italian Supreme Court and is convinced that his step-daughter will be vindicated on the basis of procedural violations.  Mellas asserts, for example, that Amanda’s colloquial English phrases were misinterpreted to the police and that she was not informed about her rights within the Italian justice system.

After the trial at the Italian Supreme Court, the family plans to continue to wrestle for Amanda’s rights at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.  This court, established by the European Council over fifty years ago has, examined more than 10,000 cases from the 47 countries with respect for human rights.  The Convention exists to  uphold human rights such as the right to life, the right to a fair trial, the right to privacy and respect for family life, freedom of expression, freedom of thought and religion, and protection of human property.  According to Chris Mellas, such rights, in Amanda’s case, have been violated.

Throughout this long and difficult process, the Knox / Mellas family continues to devote all their resources towards overturning the murder conviction and convincing the world of Amanda’s innocence.  As Chris Mellas said only a few days ago, “You don’t abandon your kid.  You keep going.”

The Kerchers too, must keep going, though not with the hope of a second chance for their daugher, or a new day, or the possibility of another holiday at home. Meredith Kercher’s eldest brother, John said he’d like to remember Meredith’s life as her legacy, rather than the way in which she died. The Kercher family generally, even as the murder of their daughter remains mired in law suits and contradictions, stay to themselves and “keep going.”

On this Umbrian this spring day, as the rains defer to the sapphire skies and spring returns to central Italy  the families associated with this sad story face their separate tragedies, while the season’s warm breezes whisper only a lament.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Stevie Bittner’s sources:

Kington, Tom. Knox and Sollecito Murdered Meredith Kercher on Impulse, Say Italian Judges. (The Guardian, Rome: 2010). May 19 2010.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/mar/04/knox-kercher-sollecito-judges-explanation

Pisa, Nick. Amanda Knox ‘did not kill Meredith Kercher,’ claims the third man found guilty of student’s murder. (Mail Online, March 8 2010). May 19 2010.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1256147/Amanda-Knox-did-kills-Meredith-Kercher-claims.html

Kercher’s Brother: No Joy in Verdict. (United Press International, December 5 2009). May 19 2010.

http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2009/12/05/Kerchers-brother-No-joy-in-verdict/UPI-60141260049199/

Dempsey, Candace. Murder Victim Meredith Kercher: Love, Not Hate. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 7 2009). May 19 2010.

http://blog.seattlepi.com/dempsey/archives/170530.asp

Lewis, Emylou. Family of Meredith Kercher Still Grieving Meredith’s Violent Death. (Examiner, Hartford: 2010). May 19 2010.

http://www.examiner.com/x-11513-Seattle-StayatHome-Moms-Examiner~y2010m1d5-Family-of-Meredith-Kercher-still-grieving-Merediths-violent-death

Wise, Ann. Meredith Kercher’s Family Testifies at Knox Trial. (ABC News, Perugia: 2009). May 23 2010.

http://abcnews.go.com/International/story?id=7772960&page=1

Chris Mellas interview in Assisi, Italy, for IJSA, by Wendy Murray, 20 May 2010.

Dan Awad’s sources:

Allen, Nick. “Meredith Kercher trial: Amanda Knox, the ‘shy’ former Jesuit school girl,” Telegraph (2009), http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/6727724/Meredith-Kercher-trial-Amanda-Knox-the-shy-former-Jesuit-school-girl.html (accessed May 19, 2010).

Bell, Dan. “Who was the real ‘Foxy Knoxy’ BBC News (2009), http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8391199.stm (accessed May 19, 2010).

Mellas, Chris. Interview by Wendy Murray. May 20, 2010. Assisi, Italy.

Murphy, Dennis. “Deadly Exchange,” Dateline (2007), http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22332240/ns/dateline_nbc-crime_reports// (accessed May 19, 2010).

Nadeau, Barbie. “The Italian Job,” Newsweek (2009),

http://www.newsweek.com/id/216903 (accessed May 19, 2010).

——————. “The Many Faces of Amanda,” Newsweek (2008), http://www.newsweek.com/id/146214?GT1=43002 (accessed May 19, 2010).

Chris Mellas interview in Assisi, Italy, for IJSA, by Wendy Murray, 20 May 2010.

Suz Hoofnagle’s sources:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8396433.stm

http://www.raffaelesollecito.org/amici.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/30/world/europe/30perugia.html?_r=1

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-492160/Murdered-Meredith-Flatmates-crazy-boyfriend-poses-meat-cleaver-bleach.html

http://quotidianonet.ilsole24ore.com/cronaca/2007/12/08/53233-amanda_meredith.shtml

http://perugiamurderfile.org/viewtopic.php?f=8&p=21952

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/3247660/Meredith-Kercher-murder-Raffaele-Sollecito-protests-his-innocence.html

Chris Mellas interview in Assisi, Italy, for IJSA, by Wendy Murray, 20 May 2010.

Anna DeCristofaro’s sources:

Chris Mellas interview in Assisi, Italy, for IJSA, by Wendy Murray, 20 May 2010.

Nadeau, Barbie. “Case Not Closed.” Newsweek 21 Apr. 2008: n. pag. Web. 25 May

2010. <http://www.newsweek.com/id/133175>.

Deborah Devenney sources

http://www.truejustice.org/ee/index.php?/tjmk/C364/

http://abcnews.go.com/International/story?id=3914012&page=2

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/7108587.stm

http://abcnews.go.com/International/story?id=3890938&page=1

Annie Battles’s sources:

ABC News: http://abcnews.go.com/International/story?id=7656872&page=1

Newsweek: http://www.newsweek.com/id/216903/page/2

TIME: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1904571,00.html

Chris Mellas interview in Assisi, Italy, for IJSA, by Wendy Murray, 20 May 2010.

Claire Kinnen’s sources:

Spotlight: Amanda Knox by Nina Burleigh, Monday, Jun. 29, 2009 http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1905525,00.html

Guilty Until Proven Guilty by Barbie Nadeau, December 2, 2009http://www.newsweek.com/id/225313

The Italian Job by Barbie Nadeau, October 7, 2009

http://www.newsweek.com/id/216903

Chris Mellas interview in Assisi, Italy, for IJSA, by Wendy Murray, 20 May 2010.

Monkey Trial by Barbie Nadeau, July 15th, 2000

http://www.newsweek.com/id/206765

Steve Fletcher’s Sources:

http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/12/04/italy.knox.trial/index.html

http://perugiamurderfile.org/

http://my.ilstu.edu/~ewells/cjs102/CommonvsCivilLaw-Chart.pdf

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1945430,00.html

http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/k/amanda_knox/index.html?scp=1-spot&sq=Amanda%20Knox&st=cse

http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2009-12-07-knox-diplomatic-repercussions_N.htm?obref=obinsite

http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/AmandaKnox/amanda-knoxs-prison-cell/story?id=9329773

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/dec/06/amanda-knox-jail-conditions

Ricky Marte Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amanda_knox <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amanda_knox>

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-5838969-504083.html <http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-5838969-504083.html>

http://www.king5.com/news/local/Knox-facing-slander-trial-defense-crying-foul-93737119.html <http://www.king5.com/news/local/Knox-facing-slander-trial-defense-crying-foul-93737119.html>


Conversation with Chris Mellas, May 20, 2010, Assisi, Italy

by Wendy Murray & the International Journalism Seminar Assisi (IJSA)

(Copyright©Wendy Murray, 2010. All rights reserved. No portion of this interview can be reproduced in any form–print or electronic–without written permission of the author.)

In May 2010 the students participating in the International Journalism Seminar Assisi, led by journalist and author Wendy Murray, and part of the international study program at Gordon College (Wenham, MA), met with the stepfather of Amanda Knox–Chris Mellas. Knox, a (now) 24 year-old American student is serving a 26 year prison term in Perugia, having been convicted (with two others) of the murder in 2007 of her flat mate, Meredith Kercher. The Knox/Mellas family is appealing the conviction. In the meantime, they rotate prolonged stints living in Perugia so they can see Amanda on her visitation days. The IJSA team, working out of Assisi, Italy, met with Mellas on May 20, and heard more details about this ongoing tragedy. Below is an excerpt from this otherwise lengthy conversation. Mellas was interviewed by Wendy Murray.

How this ordeal has had an impact on you as a family? How has it changed how you live?

We look at what we were doing before this–I was getting ready to open up a restaurant, trying to get out of the IT business–and all that disappeared. Now, from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep, this is our first priority.

It is a crushing weight to know that everyone is looking at you. You’re always cringing, always wondering when the next article coming out. They’re talking about the family quite a bit.

Can you give us insight into Amanda’s upbringing?

Her parents were already separated when Amanda was born.  Amanda had just gotten out of 2nd grade when I married Edda. Every other weekend she would visit her father who lived 5 blocks away. Everyone lives within walking distance and they constantly get together. I credit both [Edda and Curt Knox] for having such a decent relationship. There is never any nastiness.

Do you consider yourself as a father to Amanda?I can’t say I ever really sat down and thought about it that way.  We have a very open relationship. She can tell me anything. In fact sometimes I say, “nah-ah — too much information.” But I’m all right with the majority of it.

I  spends the most time here [in Italy] because in my line of work [IT]. I can work from anywhere. I typically spend three-month blocks here and then get away for 6 to 8 weeks.

Tuesdays and Fridays she’s allowed to have visits for one hour. We sit at a table just like you and I are sitting.

How is she?

She’s still in the process of adapting to being there. Some days she’s fine, other days,  not. She’s a lot better than she was. It’s much less foreign to her now. The last time I visited her she was kind of so-so. It’s difficult for her right now because she feels like she is completely wasting her life away.

When you have something like this hanging over you it is hard to focus on anything. For the longest time she wasn’t even able to read a book. You can’t clear your mind and focus enough to do that.

Now she has to prepare for her next ordeal, her slander charge — the pretrial begins on June 1st. Slander charge is not a civil lawsuit. It’s a criminal lawsuit that carries up to six years.

Q: You suggested you were concerned about Amanda going to Italy to study. Why?

I knew before she left [for Italy], when she was living with all her friends at the University of Washington, that on occasion she would smoke weed. She didn’t do it very often. I did tell her it was stupid. She hung out with “hippie people” and considered herself “very granola.” She loved camping. She was always out rock climbing. She was into the music of the 60s and 70s, and she went vegetarian. I taught her to play guitar a little bit and so she would sit around doing that. At the same time, in college, she did have boyfriends. When she came here it was more of the same.

But her number one thing is languages. She loves languages and is fluent in several. She wanted to add Italian. I was concerned about her coming [to Italy] and said [to Edda] that she’s a little naive. She’s not street wise. Rather than going to Rome or any of these places that are a little more tourist friendly, she decided to go to Perugia. Then, on top of that, she decided to go to the regular university there [the University of Perugia], not the university for foreigners. [University of Foreigners at Perugia]. It was a hundred percent immersion. Then on top of that, she decided she didn’t want to live in a dorm but was going to get a house off campus.

I told her she wasn’t ready for this kind of thing. I told her to go study in Germany because we have family there. But she said her German was already perfect.  She’s a fairly driven person when it comes to that kind of thing. She said, “no, I want this.”

So in the end did you feel all right about her being here before November 1?

She seemed to have settled in pretty well. I was more concerned about her getting mugged. I gave her a can of pepper spray that she kept on her key chain. She complained a couple times in email about being harassed by guys coming on to her all the time. For girls, especially blond ones, it’s a common thing. But she was loving it here. She told us about Raffaele. She said he looked just like Harry Potter.


Assisi’s Life-Giving Role During World War II

By Ricky Marte

It is hard to imagine that the quaint and beautiful town of Assisi was once very much involved in the Second World War. It seems improbable to believe that anyone would come into a town like Assisi with the intention to destroy it. Assisi is a gorgeous place that is filled with many timeless jewels that are greatly cherished by its Assisiani.

The involvement of Assisi in the war was very strategic. On September 9, 1943 the Germans occupied Assisi. Along with the occupation, the Germans also brought with them many horrors that were unseen to the Assisiani. First, the Germans did not enter Assisi in a peaceful manner. According to Francesco Santucci, author of The Strategy that Saved Assisi, “On September 8th, a German captain on an exploration trip entered the courtyard of the Sacro Convento in a truck, carrying a hand grenade to subject the custos (the convent overseer) ‘to a relentless interrogation on various topics.”’

However, this was proven and showed to be reality when a commander of one of the first German divisions called in the Mayor of Assisi at the time, Arnaldo Fortini. Fortini tells the story like this. “One evening their commander, a captain of the Luft Waffe, called me to the Hotel Savoia where he was staying, and through an interpreter he read me many bans for the people almost all of which were punishable by death. Execution for whoever did not turn in their arms, for anyone found in certain areas, etc.” Although Mayor Fortini would end up talking this commander out of these harsh rules, the idea illustrates the harsh tactics of  the Germans.  They simply wanted to make a show of authority, and they did.

Sensing the potential of destruction of the city of Assisi, the authoritative figures of the town quickly formulated a plan in which they would transform Assisi from a war zone to a hospital city, which would then save it from the harm. Assisi would remain a hospital city until being liberated by the Allied forces on June 17th, 1944.

Becoming a hospital city was not the only role that Assisi played during World War II.  The small hill town also was vital to providing protection and safety for persecuted Jews who were fleeing the Nazis. The Assisi Underground, a book by Alexander Ramati, documents the role that various priests played in rescuing Jews. Ramati tells the story of “300 Jews that were sheltered and protected by a peasant turned priest.” By dressing the Jews like friars and nuns and teaching them catholic rituals, Father Rufino Niccacci was able to pass them off as clergy and allow them to live seamlessly without suspicion from anyone. Even more astounding, Ramai documents that not one single refugee was captured in Assisi, and no one ever betrayed the operation.

So, along with the role that Assisi played as a hospital city, and its role rescuing Jews from the hands of the Nazis, Assisi remained a life-giving center of hope during the Second World War, at least in the hearts of those whom they affected. Even now, 67 years later,  this ancient pilgrim town demonstrates that no matter how small you are, you can still have an impact.


This Time, It Wasn’t Saint Francis Calling for Peace

Assisi’s International Peace Conference of 1986, hosted by Pope John Paul II, both unified and fractured

by Stevie Bittner

As I look out over the sloping hillside to see fog rise from the valley over the walls of an already-waking town, I can think of no better representation of peace than the harmony of nature and civilization that is Assisi, Italy.

Perhaps this is a vision that Pope John Paul II shared as he chose the location of his interfaith peace conference almost twenty-five years ago. On October 27, 1986, a day not unlike today with threatening skies and non-committal droplets of rain, thousands gathered in courtyards, basilicas, on walls and along pathways to pray for peace. Assisi seemed, on that day, a place far less tranquil than the idea the event was promoting.

That morning, a humble Assisi became perhaps the largest house of prayer the world had ever seen. The muted cobble landscape quickly erupted in flames of color from the garb of varying religions. The streets were overcome with thirty-two denominations of Christianity, including representatives from the World Council of Churches, The Lutheran World Federation, and the Anglican Communion. Amongst them were Zoroastrians, Japanese Shinto’s, North American Animists, Buddhists and Sikhs. Others arrived in droves. Religious “celebrities” like Robert Runcle, Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama crossed paths with bishops and rabbis.

The early hours of that Monday were filled with prayer in specified locations for the differing sects. Crowds of visitors and media workers went from group to group, observing or participating in rituals of worship. Television crews highlighted religious oddities. Brick walls were dotted with meditating visitors. The Church of the Minerva housed a 48-hour prayer session attended by youths and elderly alike. Assisi was alive with belief in the supernatural.

As morning became afternoon, the town transitioned into what can be likened to my Protestant understanding of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. It was a mass entrance of joy and expectation into a holy place. I can only imagine the joy the sight would have been to Saint Francis – religious groups congregated in the lower square of the Basilica of Saint Francis to raise supplication and song in differing tongues to the Divine. Francis, who acted out of humility and love for others, would have been blessed by this testimony of peace in his hometown. He would have run to each, throwing his arms around them and fasting for the salvation of their souls. He would have preached from a rock with all the humility of a poor beggar. He would have handed out olive branches and found places for each person to sleep. In this town so centered around brotherhood and sisterhood of the Franciscans and Poor Clares, the practice of unity was fully understood in this gathering of various tongues, attire, and practices of worship.

But not all agreed upon its mission.

The Vatican expressed early distain for the event, saying that it presumed validity for all religions equally – a belief not upheld by the Catholic Church. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who would later assume the Pope’s position, refused to attend the Peace Conference on the same grounds. Catholic extremists passed out pamphlets claiming the heresy of Pope John Paul II. Some religious leaders were even bothered by the presence of military and security personnel at a conference promoting peace.

The proper response to this can only be seen through its instigator’s intent.

Pope John Paul II saw a need for peace. On his deathbed, he proclaimed, “So long as I have breath within me, I will never cease to cry out for peace.” He dedicated the year of 1986 to this idea, advocating for nations to put down their weapons. A few complied. In order to further his purpose, he sought this conference of open dialogue. It was said to be a time not for religions to pray together, but to come together to pray.

Why here? Assisi embodies the mission of Saint Francis, the patron saint of Italy. It is a town characterized by peace, not only in its landscape, but also in its places of worship, community of people, and history. Here, Pope John Paul II saw an idea come to life. Assisi is a model that would be followed for years to come. The Pope would have a repeat peace conference of 2002, which would inspire Pope Benedict XVI’s peace conference of 2007. Assisi was the perfect starting point of interfaith dialogue that would promote a biblical kingdom of peace.

As a Protestant gazing out onto the beautiful hills and valleys of one of Italy’s most reverential places, I try to soak up all that this largely Catholic place can teach me. It is not just Catholic history; it is my own. In its places of worship, I experience a newfound desire for structured worship. In its quiet shaded places, I can see the need for silence and contemplation. In its awe-inspiring architecture and well-constructed walls, I can have greater respect for the Almighty. In its dark tombs, I better appreciate the lives of saints who did their best to embody all of these things.

Though Pope John Paul II’s year of peace may not have accomplished much by earthly standards, its example through the Peace Conference at Assisi points to the importance of Saint Francis’ mission. When the conference came to a close and religious leaders began making their departures on that overcast day in 1986, Franciscans lined the streets to collect trash, hand out umbrellas and give directions. This may have been the most meaningful tribute to peace the day had witnessed. And perhaps that is the call Saint Francis had in mind all along: to be good stewards, to act humbly, and to serve dutifully.

Real Journalism

Chris Mellas and his wife Edda (Amanda's mother) in Perugia as the trial draws to its close.

Having spent the day on Thursday with the stepfather of Amanda Knox we all, including our professor, have felt the force and and tragedy of covering real-life stories. Chris Mellas, Amanda Knox’s stepfather, sat with the class for two hours on Thursday, answering every question we put to him and trying to clarify some very confusing aspects of this emotional story. We intend to write and post a much lengthier piece about the case generally (involving a murder that took place three years ago in Perugia, one town over from Assisi) and our visit with Mr. Mellas specifically.  Stay tuned.

Preparing for a Very Important Visit

Tomorrow, Thursday 20 May, the IJSA class will share a personal visit and interview time with the step-father of Amanda Knox, Chris Mellas. Amanda, an American college student from Seattle who was studying in the neighboring town of Perugia, is currently serving a 26 years in prison, having been convicted by an Italian court (along with two others) of the  murder of her roommate, Meredith Kercher. Chris is going to share with us the story of how all of this has turned their world upside down.

Converters Purchased. The Stories Await.

Next week the wheels will turn and this site will start spilling stories. The students are packed and will fly this Sunday. In the meantime, I go ahead of them to buy breakfast food. Can you imagine how challenging that is?

Keep checking.

One Week: Get Those Converters!

The assignments are made and the students are already undertaking their background research for their respective writing/reporting projects in Assisi for the first International Journalism Seminar – Assisi.

This page will carry our stories of national and international interest: most notably, extensive research and reporting on the Amanda Knox / Meredith Kercher murder case. Amanda Knox remains jailed in Perugia (one town over from Assisi) having been convicted in an Italian court, along with two others, for the murder of her roommate, Meredith Kercher, in November 2007. (The girls were both studying in Perugia at the time.) A member of Amanda’s family will be coming to Assisi to meet with my students and enable us to ask questions about Amanda, the press coverage and the trial. Keep you eye on this section of our site for updates on this ever-unfolding, heart-wrenching story.

Two Weeks and Counting

The passports are copied. The electricity converters purchased. The interviews lined up. The adventure begins in two weeks when 12 students will cross the puddle to “get the story” in Assisi, Italy. They will be bringing daily posts to this, the official ISJA blog site, writing stories of international, national, local and personal interest.

Fasten your seat belts as we begin our ascent.


The IJSA

The Assisi Workshops™ is pleased to announce that they will be co-sponsoring a Seminar on International Journalism through Gordon College and their Global Education Office in late May 2010.

The course will be comprised of lectures by Wendy Murray, who has written pieces from all over the world; guest lecturers (international correspondents on site either in Assisi or Perugia; on occasion guest lecturers from the U.S. and U.K.); visits to local press offices; interviews with local personalities; research in the local libraries. The course will require the students write pieces of national interest, local stories, a piece of historical interest; a one-on-one interview (translators provided when needed) an other short pieces that inevitably will arise.

The IJSA Launches Its First Program, May 2010

The IJSA program is soon to launch its first program. In this portion of our blog students will post human interest and local news stories from their interviews, research and random encounters in Assisi. Stay tuned.


Assisi

“Keeper of the Treasures”

Biblioteca Sacro Convento: An Ancient Library and the Materials it Preserves

by Suzanne Hoofnagle

Gray skies and damp air could not take the beauty or majesty out of last Wednesday afternoon’s winding stroll down to one of Assisi’s oldest libraries. There, Friar Carlo Bottero, head Librarian of the Franciscan library of the Sacro Convento waited, ready to share and explain the treasures held within, the purpose and the usefulness the ancient library.

Fr. Carlo’s commanding presence and fierce dedication to the library, in another world, might be comparable to a bouncer of the library of the ancient manuscripts. Intimidating at first glance, his passion for the library and its treasures, along with his smile and melodic Italian voice make him an approachable, friendly guide to navigating the thousands of books, texts, and manuscripts housed within the walls of the convento. Fr. Carlo is Keeper of the Treasures of Biblioteca Sacro Convento. “I have worked in the library, or Biblioteca as the Italians know it, for four years,” he says–a mere fraction of the 780 years the ancient library has existed, founded in 1230. The library is in the Convento (convent), which is attached to the Basilica honoring the remains of Italy’s patron saint, Francis of Assisi.

The original purpose of the Convento’s library was to acquire and be the repository for the biblical and liturgical texts, and especially the earliest writings relating to the Order of St. Francis, the Friars Minor. Originally reserved for the use and study of the friars, La Biblioteca nel Sacro Convento, was once divided into secret and public divisions. Now, according to Fr. Carlo, the Biblioteca is regarded as a public library and no secret divisions exist. “Now there is not a secret part. It used to be most of the books were open to most of the friars. Then you would have particular books–such as alchemy about medicine; or books about war buildings–that you needed permission to read. So it was called secret library. But now we have no more of this secret division,” says Fr. Carlo.

Though it is open to the public the library tourists visiting the Basilica are not allowed entry to the library or access to the manuscripts. “The main group of people that use the library are students of theology. Because the Theological Institute of Umbria is here, almost all 300 students study here. We work mainly with them. We also have many scholars who came just for manuscripts,” he says.

The manuscripts are ancient hand written texts that date back to the twelfth century. The importance and relevance of these texts are immeasurable. Among the Convento’s collection of manuscripts, is the oldest copy of the writing of St. Francis, codex 338 which includes his Canticle of the Creatures thought to be penned by the hand of Francis’ close friend and scribe, Brother Leo. The previous day, the IJSA class had the rare and special treat of seeing the codex. Fr. Carlo’s assistant,  Stefano showed the class some of the Bibliteca’s most rare and priceless manuscripts, including St. Francis’ codex 338. “It is the most famous Franciscan manuscript in the world. You are very lucky because normally I don’t show that manuscript! I’m not going to beat Stefano [joking]. Because the binding is a bit damaged, every time you open, it is weakened. It is better not to show anymore. So you are very lucky. The last ones in the world to see it,” he says.

The IJSA May 2010 team are the last eyes to look upon this ancient text of Francis' Canticle of the Creatures, believed to be penned by Brother Leo

Fr. Bottero’s personal favorite and most adored manuscript in the

Biblioteca is the oldest copy of the book of Blessed Angela of Foligno, who was a 13th century mystic. “It’s very interesting for a lot of reasons. A mystic writes about her personal experience with God. She is one of the most important Franciscan mystics. She was married, but was made a widow. Then she began to serve lepers. She was a very good mystic. Her manuscript is one of the most important theological books [today], and we have the oldest copy. It was written when she was alive. One page has written, ‘today, blessed Angela died.’ They were copying the original that belonged to her. Then there are many particular stories I like in the manuscript very much,” Fr. Carlo explained.

The manuscripts’ theological, historical, and educational value alone is priceless. That, along with the thousands of pages, and illuminations in the Bibiloteca, make the monetary value of these relic texts inestimable. “It is impossible [to put a price]. In Italy if you have a manuscript that has just one illumination you must make its worth for 250,000 Euros,” said Fr. Carlo. Because of the value these manuscripts, Napoleon’s troops targeted the books when they invaded Italy in 1798. Many pages of some manuscripts contain square and rectangular holes where Napoleon’s soldiers cut out the gold illuminations, defacing these otherwise priceless treasures.

Defaced by Napolean: An ancient musical score with illuminations cut out

The convent maintains a discreet but thorough security system, consisting of video cameras, alarms, and smoke detectors and feelers to protect the ancient books both from human mischief and the effects of nature. However recently a small book was stolen from the library by (Fr. Carlo believes) a professional thief who stole manuscripts and books from all over Italy. He was caught and is serving a ten-year jail sentence for his crime.

Preservation of the manuscripts is a high priority of Fr. Carlo. Not everyone is allowed to touch and study the actual manuscripts themselves. To gain access to an ancient, he says, “you have to explain why you need to see it. You need to be justified. Normally, the manuscripts are not available. So you can read them on the internet. It is not a necessity to see the manuscripts if you just needed [to read] the text. If you have to study the book, as it was in the past, you can obtain it. But normally maybe two to three people a year need the book for this reason,” said Fr. Carlo.

The Italian government spent an  €700,000 (approximately $860,000) to make digitalized copies of the manuscripts. Now anyone can study these versions of the ancient texts without causing unintentional harm by the natural wear and tear of human touch. Fr. Carlo concedes it is difficult for young people to study and understand the manuscripts. He himself cannot read all of the manuscripts. “I am more here because I know more of the technologies of using the library. I teach course on the internet, and the digital results of the libraries projects. I study this part of the library, bibliotecnology,” he said.

Ancient but not lost: All the manuscripts are now available digitally

By making the treasures of La Biblioteca nel Sacro Convento accessible to the world Fr. Carlo is serving his order and calling. His work with the government to meld technology with ancient scripts, in order to preserve history, has opened up access to anyone who is interested and allows younger generations to interact with the great historical writings and treasures housed in Assisi’s Sacro Convento.

* * *

An Anglican Franciscan

Brother Thomas Anthony serves the English-speaking Protestant community in Assisi

by Claire Kinnen

Brother Thomas Anthony answers the wooden door quickly and ushers me in off the cobblestone street into a simple but modern home. The room is dim and one’s attention is immediately drawn to the steady stream of sunlight let in by the window. Brother Tom, as he is known, is tall with a head of white hair and a pleasant face and is dressed in a brown habit. We settle down at the table and his sense of humor becomes apparent when I ask him how he came to Assisi, “I took a plane actually but that’s not answering your question.” He continues to explain that his order, the society of St. Frances, wanted a representative in St. Frances’s home, Assisi, Italy where he has been for the past four years.  His story is much more layered then his self-effacing personality let on. Slow to speak, he takes several breaths between each sentence and is conscientious to be clear.

Born in Holland, Br. Tom says little of his childhood. He migrated to northeastern Canada in his early twenties where he eventually was ordained as a priest in the Anglican Church. There seems to be a clear break between the time spent in his native land and in the places that play a part in his religious journey. At 41, during an “early mid-life crisis” he met Franciscans and felt he had found the community he was looking for. This prompted him to move to England to join the order of St. Francis.

The Franciscan order started in the Roman Catholic Church but there has been an Anglican/Episcopalian order since the turn of the last century. The largest difference between the Roman Catholic Order and the Anglican is the position of the pope and the matter of his authority. Roman Catholic Friars often see themselves as defenders of the pope but Br. Tom does not think this necessary. As he understands it, St. Frances originally desired the pope’s approval so his order would not be dismissed “as there were so many weird and wonderful movements at the time.” Saint Frances essentially had no other option but to insist on papal loyalty in order to continue living according to his calling.

But no matter what differences there may be, as the only Anglican Franciscan in Assisi, Br. Tom finds community with the Roman Catholic Franciscan Order.

“I’m always included in things Franciscan. There’s no distinction there. Maybe it’s because on my own I’m not much of a threat” he laughs. Based on Saint France’s emphasis on inclusion, to draw lines between Franciscans would be a contradiction. It is this communal aspect within the Franciscan order that stood out to initially Br. Tom before he became a friar.

Of course, Br. Tom never anticipated ending up as a local chaplain for Anglicans in Assisi walking the very streets that St. Frances walked and looking out onto the same Italian vistas.

His local congregation is “fiercely loyal” but small so he finds his duties to be few; “We pray regularly, of course, we have our own office book and so a daily prayer is very much a part of that. And otherwise I just live simply here.”

And live simply he does though not, perhaps, in the severe poverty that St. Francis himself experienced.  There is little adorning the small compartment besides a collection of post cards and a calendar with photos of Canadian churches.

When asked if why he finds the order important, he humbly admits that important is not the word he would use. The reason behind the order is calling, “Religious orders, all of them are signs of the Kingdom. That’s why we live in poverty, chastity and obedience.”

And yet, Br. Tom will be the first to tell you that becoming a Franciscan is not a sacrifice. The way he talks of it makes it seem more of an exchange; giving up one thing for another. He elaborates, “You are, for instance, you take a vow of poverty which means my income- which now consists of several small penchants actually- goes to our order directly. So I have no possessions to my name but when you think how I have actually bought into a life of security because wherever I go, I’ll always have a room of my own, I’ll always have enough to eat and I’ll always probably someone to look after me. So that’s more security than most people have.”

He begins to chuckle as he remembers when there were few new people joining the order and the thought occurred to him that there would be nobody to push him around in a wheelchair. His face regains its serious composure when he says there is no need for such pessimistic thoughts, “You trust your life to God ultimately and He’ll provide.”

Though Br. Tom’s faith and lifestyle is simple, this by no means he is a simple man. His intelligence is evident in his thoughtfulness about the world and what he sees in it. He is conscious and concerned about the very public and controversial divide over gay clergy in the Episcopal Church. This is where the lack of hierarchy and practicing authority begins to complicate itself; various churches can take their own lead and leave the rest of the Anglican Church to sort through the aftermath. Br. Tom is sensitive to the divide, “When it comes to a personal level it becomes another story. In the abstract you can be against something or for something but when you meet it, it’s different.” He puts his hope in Canada where he sees the most effort to dialogue and resolve the complications as well as focus for other important issues.

For Br. Tom, focusing on other issues means looking at what is happening here in Italy and learning how to adjust to the Italian mentality. For example, clerical abuse to children is less of an issue in Italy. Not because Italians are fine to contend with it but because it does not surprise them, “There’s an anticlerical bias in Italy too so people can be quite, devout in their own way but that doesn’t mean they don’t see the faults in the church.”

Things that the average tourist in Assisi and Perugia would not notice such as drug abuse and prostitution are common and Br. Tom uses his connections in the Franciscan community to try and draw more attention and concern to them.

Yet, Br. Tom is realistic. He enjoys the advantage of being an Anglican Franciscan because he can live alone and make connections in the community that he might not if he would not otherwise. It is in these small events that Br. Tom finds himself tapping into what really matters, “All I can do is live my life as simply as I can and be as open as I can with everybody.”

Br. Tom is clearly not an extrovert but clearly enjoys people as evidenced by my visit to his Sunday service that is held in a small 14th century chapel. The sermon is much more of an open discussion between attendees with Br.  Tom as the moderator. He jokingly calls it laziness but his style reflects his honesty and belief in dialogue. In many ways, it takes much more strength to lead with others by incorporating them in to your service, then in preparing a one-sided three-point message. After the service, members and visitors are invited for refreshments in the chapel’s courtyard and to join the regular-goers for an Italian mid-day meal at a nearby restaurant. Br. Tom makes his way through the sunlit trees making sure to visit with everyone. He is pleasant and makes one feel instantly comfortable. He is not pious but he has a gentle way of steering the conversation towards the profound. He is candid without being pushy, frank without being vulgar.

He is clear that he has no regrets in joining the Franciscan Order though he in no means advocates it. For Br. Tom, being Franciscan is what God wanted for his life. He adheres to a plan that is not his own. His decisions are made independently of him. What he considers important for the rest of the world is not to fit his mold or outlook or to be Franciscan but to find what God wants for them and their life.

Artist’s Town

Glass artist Massimo Cruciani and the power of place

by Elise D’Adamo

Assisi is a magical place full of inspiration and peace. Many people find this gem and are awestruck with its sweeping roads and ancient buildings. This is true for artist Massimo Cruciani, a glass artist who is originally from Rome and moved to Assisi thirty years ago. He was tired of the crowded atmosphere and the noise of the city. So he came to Umbria. He fell in love with the countryside and the beauty of everything in Assisi, and so moved permanently and began creating artwork based on the town and landscape.

Of course, a major inspiration for many people to come to Assisi is the legacy of Saint Francis. Cruciani had not even heard of Francis before he moved to Assisi and was not initially inspired by the saint. After hearing about him and learning about what Francis did, Massimo soon gathered inspiration for his glass art. His hand painted pieces of glass can at times depict a friar on his knees with his arms wide and small animals surrounding him. Cruciani appreciates that Francis cared about everyone and everything. “He was something else,” he said.

The landscape also inspires his work. He has fashioned many glass pieces with fields of vibrant poppies or sunflowers. The city, too, inspires him, and he has created many pieces with the levels of Assisi standing proud and glorious in their age. He travels all over the world and has gathered ideas from his many adventures. In his earlier years, he was a photographer and now has an entire book of his photos from his visit to Asia.

When asked about his favorite piece, Cruciani began talking about one of his more recent pieces of a city on the water. The actual city and the reflection of the city represent all of the well-known monuments from major cities in the world. “And the theme of the piece is the city of the world, the combination of different places in one city, yes, it is just an idea of what is coming. It’s a combination of saying that we can all live together,” he said. He is pleased about how it unites different places in the world and makes a claim for peace amongst all of God’s people. Echoing this theme, Massimo’s artwork is displayed all over the world in numerous galleries, including those in Assisi, Switzerland, Hong Kong, and California.

Massimo grew up in Rome. His mother was, “a very simple person. Very humble, very nice.” She was born in Rome, but his father was born near Assisi and later moved to Venezuela at 18 where he and his brother opened a spaghetti factory. He returned to Italy and began building houses. When Massimo was a small child, however, his father passed away at about the age of 50.

The artwork that Massimo has is beautiful and depicts scenery in a unique way. As the light plays off the colors delicately painted onto the glass, you can’t help but appreciate the natural beauty his work seeks to capture. He is able to take simple things and make them spectacular with a shades of paint on a sheet of glass.  With his photographer’s eye, he is able to gather a picture and then transfer it to a unique form of imagery. The paint strokes on glass create a watercolor feel and render a magical experience for the viewer.

Assisi and its landscape have proven an inspiration for Cruciani. He captures the breath of Assisi and his paintings give a new view of Italy and the world. Upon walking in his studio, you know that you have found treasure. You can glimpse his work at his website: http://www.cruciani.com.

The Power of Pilgrimage

A Rhythm of Steps, Not Machines

by Annie Battles

Angela Seracchioli greets us dressed entirely in purple.  An author, inn owner, and pilgrim in the truest sense, she exudes a vibrant hospitality that is mirrored not only by her outfit but also the cozy hostel she ushers us into.

Angela’s story is nothing short of inspiring. She has traced the steps of Saint Francis of Assisi over 300 times, having just returned from her 310th pilgrimage at the time of our interview. Years ago, Angela created a unique “Camino,” or Walk, based on St. Francis and the many places that are recorded to have played a significant role in shaping his life. Not only that, but she has authored a guidebook for modern-day pilgrims who also want to follow the steps of this medieval saint. The book, Di Qui Passò Francesco, was published in 2004 and offers guidance, points of interest, and information about the life of Francis for the sojourner. Since then, an unanticipated number of people have walked the Camino. So many, in fact, that Angela felt compelled to open her own hostel, called “Foresteria della Perfetta Letizia” (“Guest Quarters of Perfect Happiness”), to house them along the way.

The tradition of the pilgrimage dates back hundreds of years. In Medieval times, at the height of its popularity, pilgrims traditionally travelled to Rome, the South of Italy, or Jerusalem (referred to as the Walks of Man, Angel and God) for the purpose of atonement. Pilgrimages in the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth century were long and exhausting expeditions, fraught with so much peril that those travelling would often write a will before embarking. Today, the tradition continues, though people now travel for spiritual reasons rather than penance, and the pilgrimages are considerably shorter and less treacherous. However, the communion of the pilgrim’s soul with both nature and God remains. As Angela notes, “When you move as a pilgrim, you are bound to be much, much more here and now, living in the present more deeply. ”

The Camino of Saint Francis is carefully guided by two of Angela’s close friends, one serving as “Guide of the Steps” – overseeing practical trip concerns – and the other as “Guide of the Soul” – planning daily devotions and spiritual discussion.  Each day on the Camino consists of meditation, group discussions, gospel reading, lectio divina (a form of scriptural meditation), and – inevitably – many hours of walking. Yet this walking is where the true beauty of the pilgrimage is manifested. While a traveler may experience aching legs or the burning of blisters, oppressive rain or the heat of the sun, they are also more whole as a person than at any other stage of life. The physical pain and effects of nature, so intrinsic to the pilgrimage, serve to integrate the body, mind and soul into one being that is attuned to the essential elements of life. It is on this wholeness that Angela places the emphasis when I ask her about the spiritual significance of a pilgrimage, compared to other religious experiences. She talks about those who travel the Camino; often they are men and women consumed with the daily rush of life, who simply want a chance to breathe. “There is a deep need in our society to go back to roots, to go back to a rhythm that is not a rhythm of machines, but a rhythm of your steps,” she explains. Her advice for packing a rucksack in preparation for the journey can be applied in much broader sense as well: “The less you have, the better you are.”

It is for these peace-seekers that Angela opened her hostel in 2006, two years after her book was published and people had begun to walk. She and a friar friend noted a lack of inexpensive places for pilgrims to stay, which is where the idea for Foresteria della Perfetta Letizia stemmed from. The building was originally used as a place to house and feed the poor, and had since been closed down. Angela took on the daunting task of renovating, cleaning, and restoring the entire building to become a haven of safety and rest along a well-worn road. At Foresteria, Angela cares for the weary travelers, most tangibly by working in the kitchen, preparing food and serving meals. She notes a special sense of community that is fostered during meal times: “I do it because everything happens around the table, and it is beautiful. People meet and tell their stories, and when you are a pilgrim there are no differences of class and age. Friendship made on the Camino lasts for long.” Another beautiful element to the hostel is the 66 sign-in books it holds, which have been filled over the years with words of thanks and blessing from pilgrims in every language.  The books exemplify the love Angela has poured into both her Camino and its followers, and the gratitude they have given in returned.

Before the interview concludes, Angela once again speaks of the societal need to return to nature and unite all facets of the human person. “That’s why a Camino on St. Francis makes even more sense, because he never divided his life. He was a great pilgrim, always moving,” she said.

* Angela is in the process of looking for an editor to publish an English edition of her  guidebook Di Qui Passò Francesco. Help spread the word by sharing the story of the Camino and her web address. Visit http://www.diquipassofrancesco.it.


A Merchant’s Life



by Ashley Moulton

Off to the side of the main plaza of Assisi called la Piazza del Comune, sits a small shop entitled La Bottega dei Sapori.  Amidst tourist stores, leisurely cafés, and gelato stands, La Bottega dei Sapori stands out as a place where both locals and tourists stop by.  The shop is owned and run by Fabrizio Pagliaccia, a friendly local merchant who has been in Assisi for 20 years and has been promoting Italian delicacies and slow foods for 32 years.  From fresh Italian meats, cheeses, beans, and pastas to excellent olive oils, spices, balsamic vinegars, and wines, Fabrizio sells only the highest quality Italian, and more specifically Umbrian, products.  Most provinces of Italy have their own specialties and Umbria is known for its olive oil, herbs, vegetables, truffles, and sausage, all of which can be found at Fabrizio’s shop.  He even has a selection of flavors for many of his foods, such as his amoretti, truffles, and wines.  Moreover, his shop consists of a vast selection of balsamic vinegars, which he calls “the beautiful gem of [his] factory products.”  La Bottega includes all of the typical products of Umbria and exemplifies the well-known Italian principles of fantastic food and drink.

Fabrizio says his experience working as a merchant in the pilgrimage town of Assisi has been very positive on the whole.  In an age when people are often in a hurry, he believes in slowing down to enjoy a glass of wine or a plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce (a norm in Italy) is less frequently replicated in other parts of the world such as in the United States.  Rather than grabbing a quick meal from a fast food restaurant like McDonalds™ or Burger King™, he emphasizes a policy of slow food.  Italians are known for enjoying leisurely meals such as pausa di pranzo, a meal that takes place between noon and two in the afternoon which consists of a first and second course as well as fruit or dessert and usually lasts longer than the typical lunch in America.  Fabrizio’s products particularly may require additional time to create, but are of the freshest and finest quality.

Every one of Fabrizio’s products is sold hot off the oven, so to speak.  His products are freshly made right Umbria, the Italian province where Assisi is located, and several of his products are even prepared in his factory.  The meats and cheeses are never pre-packaged or preserved. The meats and sausages, for example, are carved directly in front of the customer.  Fabrizio represents the third generation of Italian merchants in a family that has encouraged superior products for generation. His parents and relatives appreciated foods of the highest quality and would not sell anything but the very best.  He loves his job quite simply, because he loves his products.

Fabrizio says he is very pleased with the buyers who visit his shop: international tourists from all over the world. Whether they come from other parts of Italy, the United States, Australia, or New Zealand, they come to his shop expressing interest in the typical Italian delicacies, olive oil or wine.  He happily presents his products, often offering free samples of delicacies such as bruschetta, dried tomatoes and olives, or a few freshly sliced salami.  He hopes to help the tourists understand how good and genuine his products are.  The quality found at La Bottega dei Sapori reflects the Italian tradition of excellent foods that,  according to Fabrizio, is “like having a piece of art to taste and to look at.” The offerings at his small bottega, he says, are “good for our health and for our spirit.”


Assisiani

by Stevie Bittner

Photo by Elise D'Adamo

As I sit along one of Assisi’s winding brick paths off a one-way street, I can’t help but reflect on the journey I’ve taken to get here. As an American student with limited experience in international travel, I’m amazed at how quickly I’ve begun to navigate these Italian streets. Even still, it seems surreal.

This place is incredible – the sights, the sounds, the smells. This morning I opened my window to a chorus of chirping birds. The sunlight streamed through the white curtain and promised the beauty that this day would bring. And the day certainly came through on this promise.

I say this because there’s almost a poetry here in Assisi. It’s a poetry of life that envelops both local and traveler in a feeling outside of what I’ve known of life. It’s a level of comfort between neighbors, a friendliness of shopkeepers, a trust of visitors, and a patience of everyday life. The personality of the town points toward its most famous local, Saint Francis of Assisi.

Today, our class made the trip past Saint Francis’ Basilica toward the Biblioteca. It’s a breathtaking stroll that takes us down residential alleys to a view of the valley that one has to see to believe. In the crossroads at the foot of the hill, we were surrounded by tourists lined up to visit the resting place of this still-impactful saint. Along the roads, small vendors were selling “Che” t-shirts and little knick-knacks. The occasional brother would pass us in his traditional black tunic. Locals strolled by speaking loud, rapid Italian and laughing responses.

“Am I really here?” I thought to myself, snapping pictures of the countryside and avoiding a bus as it careened down the narrow road.

I am here, and I am appreciating everything I’ve had the opportunity to take in. I loved being able to walk the open terrace at the Biblioteca. I loved sipping cappuccino at the café in the square. I loved looking at ancient manuscripts in the library with our professor’s friend, Stefano. I loved seeing an underground chapel used by devout Franciscan friars. I loved eating spaghetti at a family restaurant. It’s all so magical that I can’t imagine living here the way the Assisians do.

I’m used to the fast-paced life of New York City and Boston. There’s part of me that’s so connected to a need for speed – to do my homework, to get to an appointment, to solidify my future. In the last 24 hours, Assisi has taught me more on reflection than I’ve ever known in the United States. As the locals welcome tourists with their broken Italian accents, or in my case, limited Italian vocabulary, I begin to appreciate Saint Francis’ servitude and love of people for what it really was. In a town like this, I can almost see the life that he lived.

So here I am, people watching in bare feet, enjoying the sun and the antiquated atmosphere. A man passes me by carting boxes of bottled water. Two tourists take a picture in front of a sign on the building next to me. A young woman leisurely passes by with a white sweater tied around her waist. The same man passes me with his cart of waters. A car with babies in the back seats drives by, followed by a blue Vespa. I respond, “Ciao,” to a passing sister. A sister in a white tunic starts a conversation with a local shopkeeper. This is Assisi. This is peace that I can only assume is closer to what Christ desires for his people.

Which brings me to what I’ve wondered since I arrived on these hallowed grounds: do Assisiani fully recognize the blessed life they lead? Do they understand the beauty in such simplicity? A fellow classmate noticed yesterday that the locals live on less: less food, less space, less material possession. I can’t fathom the difficulty that I would have adapting to this life on a permanent basis. Going from the United States to the simplicity of Assisi is a daunting task. The difficulty makes it seem like that much more of a necessity. We could live like this, if we tried. But most Americans are too selfish, too needy, too stressed and too immersed in a culture teaching them that this is the most efficient way to live.

I envy you, Assisiani. I hope that you know how wonderful it is to look out your window at a hillside view, to walk the streets of ancient ruin, and to have a supportive community. It points to what Thornton Wilder said in his inspiring play, Our Town: “Does anyone really appreciate life while they’re alive? Saints and poets maybe…” Assisi, may you be filled with saints and poets – blessed by the example of your beloved saint, Francis.

The Library

by Dan Awad

IJSA  18 May 2010

The Courtyard leading to the library inside the Sacro Convento

The Walls Tell Stories

Silence speaks, and in volumes, in the biblioteca of Assisi. Upon entering I walked under a list of primitive, stone arches, each representing according to one friar the prayer that we are covered with when walking underneath. The arches were followed by doors, big and small, all strong. In such a foreign atmosphere, I felt like an invader, stepping into places both far from home and far from my own. Finally, I arrive, evidently by the eyes of others, more loudly than I would have liked. Regardless, here I sit, and in the company of nuns, scholars, and friars I find myself nearly tasting the pulp of this setting’s profound ambience.

To my left, as in any library, are books upon books. Encyclopaedias, theological texts, and that of Assisi’s history scales the shelves. Together they seem to maintain an innate dignity, as if the one who approaches them would by nature come with a degree of respect, even reverence. Earlier, as a group of us were randomly given a small tour by a self-volunteering librarian, we were able to see some of the earliest of manuscripts associated with this city. They were beautiful, by nature evoking a response of appreciation and affection. The librarian held them very carefully, as gentle with them as to a new born baby. As he opened the texts and turned through the pages, I could only be humbled by the effort that went into their creation. Hundreds and thousand of pages covered in hand-written writing, each with an elegance entirely foreign to that of the twenty-first century. The librarian informed us that paper was very expensive and precious in those ages, so there was no interest in marking off spaces between new paragraphs. Instead, scribes wrote in red ink rather than black to set apart the beginning of a new paragraph. Aside from its functional aspect, the use of different colours and even gold were used for the purpose of embellishment and ornamentation. Ironically, despite the antipathy towards wasted paper, the pages were margined about two inches on each side, allowing room for the scribe to make personal notes. For example, our professor, Wendy Murray, stated that she had come across notes where the scribe commented on his tiredness and want to go to bed. If only the printing presses of today could express as much personality as the hand-written texts of times past.

In agreement with and as their guardians, the religious art on the walls and ceilings complement the mystique of the books. A statue of Mary, the mother of Jesus, stands above the door, overseeing and blessing the studies of those who so often come to her in adulation. To the right, a contemporary, intricate portrait hangs of the treasured Saint Francis on whose name this city bases its renown. Together, the art speaks of the mentality residing in this setting, giving attention to historical tradition, spirituality, and an appreciation for design and innovation.

I have been in libraries before, from the local ones near Wenham to the Radcliffe Camera in Oxford, but there is something here unique and almost rare to an extent. It is not exactly the books, though they are aged and send off a fragrance of rich heritage. Nor is it the religious art, though doubtless not easy to ignore. Ultimately it is the people. It is not often that I see library students such as these. They have on their faces and in their assiduous demeanour, a sense of pride, reverence, and deep appreciation for this place. They knowingly sit on a bedrock of intersecting cultures, histories, and peoples. It is a gift to them and they love it as such. They are to it a humble steward, treating it often as its mother and sometimes their son. It seems that such can be said about all of Assisi and the inhabitants therein.

Beautiful Assisi

This is a view of Assisi approaching from the west. The building in the forefront is the Basilica of San Francesco, where St. Francis is buried and where we will be working in the library. We will also be given the privilege to view 10th century manuscripts; others written by Francis’ personal scribe, Brother Leo; and yet others that were pillaged and defaced by Napoleon’s troops in the late 19th century. All are kept in the manuscript vault and very rarely viewable by visitors.

There is no end to the stories that can be told of this ancient, mystical Italian hill town. Local stories will begin to be posted here, in this section of our blog, in the next day or so.

Artists, Merchants and Friars (and more)

This section of our site highlights those stories that my students will be covering regarding local news in and around Assisi. One will interview a local merchant about the ups and downs of living and working in a pilgrimage town. A few others will be interviewing local artists in Assisi’s robust art community. More will conduct research in the main library in town and others will meet with friars and writers and, generally, people of interest. Assisi effervesces with stories and the challenge will be choosing what not to write about. Follow this cultural exploration with us by tracking the students’ stories, photos, and personal observations on this page. (Their personal reflections will be posted in the third column, under “Student Voice.”)

Calendimaggio

The first week of May in Assisi ushers in a springtime festival called Calendimaggio. The tradition goes back to the Middle Ages (the time when Francis lived) and involved men from the upper part of town–la sopra– (the nobles) and those from the lower part–il sotto– (merchants) who would meet in the main piazza with blunted arms. After hurling insults and maybe a stone, no holds-barred mayhem broke loose between the warring neighbors, and sometimes participants from differing towns joined in, ratcheting up the stakes of the game to outright battle. Young lads followed the lead of their older heroes, joining the contest and learning the art of combat. The game persisted until one side conceded defeat after a dozen or more participants had been maimed or killed. The games have tempered over the centuries and today during the festival, participants from the upper and lower parts of town still compete in various reenactments, minus the maiming. Townspeople of every age don clothing of the Middle Ages, blow trumpets and parade on the streets. Residents from both sides of town hang their colors from the windows. (The apartment where I lived came stocked with banners and poles to be flown during the festival.)


Piazza del Comune, Assisi

Piazza del Comune

This section of the IJSA blog will highlight stories and people the students track down during their pavement pounding in Assisi. The Italian hill town holds a treasury of hidden nuggets, creative merchants and artists, and history that pre-dates the Roman era. This section will lend our seminar experience its local flare, experienced most predominantly in the town’s main piazza (plaza), called the Piazza del Comune.


Student Voice

Reflections

Ricky Marte:

Since I arrived in Assisi, I’ve really felt at home here. I got here about a week and half ago, and have  fallen in love with this place.

On one of my first nights here, I was hanging around at a little restaurant or bar, and I was wearing my Gordon baseball shirt with my name on the back. As I walked through, I heard a stranger say “Marte!” I turned to see that I didn’t know the person. We introduced ourselves and before I knew it I was sitting at his table surrounded by like 10 Assisiani, who were asking me all sorts of questions. “What was my name,” he asked. “Ricky,” I said. He didn’t believe that that was my real name, so after some heckling I finally told them my real name. Now, they call me Richard. Thankfully the man’s wife was raised in New York and they spoke English. The rest of the people there didn’t. So it was a struggle to understand everyone, even with a translator.

However, by the end of the night, they had made me feel at home. I had integrated so much, that one of the men offered to teach me how to smoke a cigar with cognac! I don’t  smoke, but it was more about a ritual of friendship than smoking the cigar.  It demonstrated that they accepted me into their niche, and — at least for one night– I was one of their own.

Anna DeCristofaro:

Since my last update during week one, much of my experience here in Assisi, Italy has grown and allowed me to view this town in a much more appreciative light. If I remember correctly, my thoughts for my first post were centered on the beauty of Assisi. Of course the beauty of Assisi has not changed one bit in its visual appeal, except that it has only grown increasingly more amazing each day to me, especially when I awake each morning and am still greeted by the most stunning landscape I have ever seen. However, there has been one aspect of my Italy experience that has allowed me to view this small pilgrimage town differently.

After spending a day in both Orvieto and Rome, I have been able to discover aspects I enjoy about each unique and gorgeous place. But ultimately I have realized that nothing compares to Assisi. Orvieto shares similarity with Assisi with its beauty–but because we had less than twenty-four hours there it was difficult to grasp the comfort and homey feel for which I was searching. The ruins, monuments, and structures of Rome were definitely among the most incredible works of art I have had the privilege of seeing. But overall, the city was too big for me. All I could think about was how badly I couldn’t wait to head back to the comfort and safety of Assisi. I feel blessed to be here in Assisi and although I miss my family immensely, I constantly remind myself that I am experiencing an opportunity of a lifetime that I will always remember.

Tyler Gagnon: “Misadventures of ‘The Cord’ “

Working as an international journalist requires one to be prepared. Unfortunately I learned this the hard way. Preparing a group video was my major project for this seminar and the biggest part of my grade. In  order to capture the video footage of trip I needed a specific cord to download my footage to the computer.  I brought the wrong cord and did not have the one I needed. Not being prepared in advance resulted in unexpected and unpleasant consequences.

My first attempt to secure a new cord seemed as if it would be easy. I was going to visit Rome for the weekend and thought I would stop at the Apple store there and pick one up. I had an address for a store there,  but when I got to the address, no Apple store was in sight. This in turn led to a sequence of very costly events in my attempt to find another store and then return to Assisi in time for the next day’s class.

I went all over the Rome taking taxis, trains, and buses trying to find a computer store. I knew an Apple store would have what I needed, so I narrowed my search to that, not even considering that any store dealing in electronics would carry the same cord. I was unsuccessful, and finally heard of a mall that many people confirmed had an Apple store. Still convinced the cord could only be purchased at Apple, I was catching the train to get to the above-mentioned mall, and I was unceremoniously pick-pocketed, leaving my friend Suzanne and I stranded in Rome with no money or phone, and not enough knowledge of the Italian language to communicate with the people and not knowing how we would get back to Assisi to rejoin our group.

After a frenzied effort of phone calling and international money wiring from home, we eventually made it back to Assisi–still with no cord.  That’s when I learned that the same cord for which I had searched frantically in Rome, for which I was robbed not only of my money but also Suz’s (I had her money in my pocket), and for which I nearly forfeited my grade and credit for this class, was ready and available not 5 minutes outside of Assisi.  By the grace of God two people accomplished what I could not on my own. With the help our teacher Wendy and her friend Valentina they saved the day and my grade! Valentina not only went to a computer store and got me the cord I needed, she also drove it to my doorstep of where we are staying and hand delivered it. Then she wouldn’t let me pay her! I have so much gratitude for the grace of both Wendy and the charity of Valentina. Without them I would have never been able to do the video I was assigned.  If I had been prepared for my task to begin with I would have eliminated the costly expense, trauma, and stress that running around Rome and all that went with it, meant for so many.

Claire Kinnen: “Cafe Culture”

Italy has a strong café culture and as food and drink is a universal language it is perhaps the easiest to participate in. On some level we all speak pizza, coffee and gelato.

No matter where one goes there is always a café to dash into for a treat.

In Assisi’s reasonably sized main piazza there are several cafés and bars each with small tables and umbrellas scattered out front. Even the narrow streets have their own cafes with charming chalkboard signs that sit on the tiny stone sidewalks.

Italians only drink coffee in the morning but as Assisi is an international crossing point, there are few raised eyebrows when Americans, who can take a caffeine fix at any time of day, order a cappuccino in the afternoon.
There is nothing more enjoyable then journaling outside in the morning sun while sipping a cappuccino and nibbling on a croissant.

Lunch is a large affair with the choice of either pasta or pizza or both. Caprese pizza is an impressive show of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil. But with sausage, mushroom, ham and several types of cheeses as well as other fresh in the mix, it’s hard to choose.

After an afternoon nap, the only thing left to crave is something sweet. There are several candy stores and groceries in Assisi where will quickly realize that chocolate with hazelnuts is practically a national obsession. However the safest bet is a short stop into a café for gelato. Chocolate is almost always the perfect blend of bitter and sweet but with other flavors like coconut, strawberry and, of course, Nutella.

In the evening when hunger hits again, a short search will provide one with a glass of wine or beer is perfectly and a toasted panini.

Although it is evident that Italy is clearly a joy for the taste buds, cafes are also lovely because they are intensely social. With their conversational atmosphere and simple approach, cafes set the scene for chats between friends, discussions, interviews and are the perfect place to stop no matter what time of day.


Annie Battles:

Living Slowly

As the train leaving Rome raced through the Italian countryside, I thought about our whirlwind weekend trip. Train rides are good times for reflection.

Rome was an experience – we stayed in the city less than 24 hours, running around frantically as we attempted to squeeze several days worth of sightseeing in. Funny, I thought on the train, that I would remember Rome as a crowded and industrial tourist attraction. I’ll remember how the hostel we stayed in boasted paper-thin walls and traffic roaring by at all hours of the night. I know I’ll remember sore feet. But there are other mental souvenirs as well – the savory cacio e pepe spaghetti we ate our first night, the majesty of the ruined Roman Forum set against thunderhead clouds, and the Pantheon lit up at night. I’m not knocking Rome. I am still in awe over standing mere feet away from such ancient and tangible marks that history has left. As we headed back to Assisi, however, I realized that rushing through a city is not the kind of traveling I prefer. I would rather feel Italy than industry.

The next day, Sunday, dawned as a sharp contrast to our packed Saturday. After finally making it back to C.E.F.I.D. safely the night before (let’s thank God and the Perugia taxi system), our group slept in late and woke up to the first day of summer weather in Assisi. I was able to send out the postcards that had been written since last week. The girls in our group enjoyed pranzo out in the piazza, ordering our typical cappuccinos and gelato. Later, Claire and I walked down to Massimo Cruciano’s local art studio. This was truly a blessing of the day, and a reflection of what I love most about our trip (and traveling as a whole). Massimo was interviewed earlier for a local story by one of our team members, and was beyond pleased to see more of us back in his studio. He spent an hour poring over his book with us and sharing about his travels through Asia as a young photographer. His book is a compilation of photos from this journey, the story of India and Kabul in the 60s, all captured through the lens of film photography. I found myself more than a little inspired by his work and beautiful images, which are made all the more special by the fact that they differ from the modern instant gratification of digital photography. As a whole, Sunday was filled with good conversation, art, perfect weather, and rest. A welcome break after the previous day.

I suppose what my weekend reflection led me to discover is that I crave the more personal side of travel – meeting the people, hearing their stories, and learning from the lives and work of others. Yet hindsight has a funny way of putting a rosy tint on things, and perhaps I will remember Rome more fondly than I think. Whether or not the post-trip rosy glow surfaces, it seems to me that – from my limited experience – the best action is to savor it all. The same can be said for both invigorating travel as well as our daily life, which may seem paradoxically weighty and mundane. And so, in our final few days here, I have planned to live each minute slowly and gratefully.


Ashley Moulton:

In our lecture yesterday, we talked about how every story is inevitably about people.  Even events as abstract as a tornado or movie premier always come back to people.  This seminar in Italy has been an incredible experience, and our group chemistry has dramatically enhanced every aspect of the trip.  From conducting my first interview to eating gelato at the local cafés, from seeing the ancient manuscripts at the biblioteca to spending the evening strolling by the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon in Rome, these experiences would not hold nearly the same amount of depth without the people who made them worthwhile.

Interviewing a local Italian merchant named Fabrizio was incredibly fun.  He was animated, lively, and passionate about his work and about Italian food.  Wendy’s friend Valentina helped translate the interview for us, and was incredibly kind and good-natured.  Following the interview, Fabrizio prepared a beautiful assortment of Italian delicacies on a plate for us to sample.  Valentina, Anna, and I enjoyed trying these gourmet foods and appreciated Fabrizio’s friendly and happy demeanor as he took a picture with us after the interview.

Over the weekend, eight members of our group went to Rome and stayed at Ciao Bella Hostel.  After arriving at the hostel, we decided to stroll over to the Trevi Fountain.  We had heard the fountain was beautiful at night, and we were not disappointed.  Together, we threw our coins into the Trevi and made a wish.  After taking several pictures, we decided to head towards the Pantheon.  The Pantheon was huge, and seeing the massive doors and pillars was amazing.  This was one of my favorite parts of Rome.  We spent awhile at the Pantheon before returning to the Hostel.

Through all of my experiences here, I definitely feel like it helps to have such a close team.  While all of the sights we have seen are definitely remarkable, it is the stories of people and relationships that attract audiences and that are cherished forever.  I have really enjoyed getting to know Wendy, Jon, and the other IJSA students who have greatly deepened my experience in Italy.  I hope to make the best of these last couple days and cannot wait to hike up to the hermitage on Thursday!

Amanda Thompson:

Today I stood in the tomb of Saint Francis. I am still deciding what to make of the experience.

Though the lower basilica was dim and cave-like, it didn’t feel like the home of dead people. It felt like a museum. Maybe it was the little blue earbud I was wearing, through which our tour guide whispered the history and artistry of the basilica. Maybe it was the milling tourists disregarding the “silenzio” signs or the glass cases protecting Francis’ tunic and written blessing to Brother Leo from the degenerative gazes of a thousand tourists and pilgrims a day.

Or perhaps it was the rampant Romanesque arches, the portraits painted on the walls and the detailing of every minute protrusion, nook and cranny. I am continually floored by the artistry of everything I find in this country. People in medieval times seem to have agonized over beauty and intricacy in a manner that has been lost today. Is the tempo of progressive society to blame? Especially in America, I fear we love efficiency too well. We build a structure only to tear it down when it has outlived its usefulness. There is no room for this kind of beauty. It takes time and patience, two commodities money can’t buy.

Saint Francis himself was encased in a stone sarcophagus in a little crypt below the lower basilica. He was positioned beneath where the altar stands on the main level. The altar was actually built to help protect his remains from followers who may have wanted to keep pieces of their leader as relics and from neighbors in Perugia who would have stolen the body. Four of Francis’ closest friends are buried in the crypt with him, and other important players in the order are buried elsewhere in the church.

Frankly, I think Francis would look at the Gothic arches of the upper basilica with a pained expression on his face, offended that such a grand structure had been erected to honor humble little him. Yet perhaps he would also see what I saw – that the basilica is no longer just for or about Saint Francis of Assisi. Its history far exceeds the story of Francis and his followers. It holds stories of artists, of benefactors, and of Franciscan friars through the ages. History continues to be made inside these walls as religious seekers meet for liturgy and raise their voices not to Francis, but to God.

Suz Hoofnagle:

Greetings once more from beautiful and finally sunny Assisi! This has been quite the first week. We’ve seen, done, and taken photos of so much; it’s kind of overwhelming, this weekend away in Rome especially! A dreary yet delightful Friday was spent touring the sights of Orvieto, and learning about Professor John Skillen’s Gordon Program. Post tour, most of the group hopped on a Rome bound train. If I had the ability to see the forthcoming events of the weekend, I can honestly say I’m not sure if I would board the train to Rome, or divert myself back to Assisi, where I am privileged to call home for the remainder of the week. I bother to mention these mixed feelings because of a specific course of events that have left me with a lot to think about.

Tyler and I spent all of Saturday, and half of Sunday touring all of Rome and seeking out the adventures it offered. For better for worse, we saw the beauty of Rome, as well as the corrosive nature of mankind, that resides in all Metropolitans. Too bad for us, our run in with the worst of Rome has made this traveler less enchanted with the city and happy to be back safe, sound and writing in Assisi. Before I divulge in the bad, allow me to give praise where it is due. We enjoyed all the sights expected of a visit to Rome. The Coliseum, the Palisades, the Pantheon, the Senate, Trevi fountain, and Spanish steps were architectural wonders to behold and explore.  Lovely candlelit dinners for two, painted watercolor souvenirs, and gaining the pleasure of meeting and adopting a surrogate Italian grandmother, Nona Electra lent delightful ambiance to the ancient city-center.

Despite the fun, and wondrous weekend Rome provided, as young and relatively inexperienced travelers, we were bamboozled and robbed by the hands of con artists.

While walking through Rome yesterday afternoon, God touched my heart and taught me a gentle lesson about money and possessions. We were robbed of our money, but in comparison to the beggars on the street, we were still so rich. It hit me, and it hit me hard, that these beggars wear scraps of dirty clothes; they sit in the sun all day, and humbled by throwing themselves at the feet and mercy of others. Tyler and I had to do the same thing but in a far less serious way, knowing that we were okay and safe, and this ordeal would be over soon. We had with us a 300 dollar suitcase, filled with another 300 dollars worth of clothes. Tyler and I both had 100 dollar back packs, again filled with more expensive and valuable items. We were not destitute, yet someone took away our immediate source of money and our world crashed for a few hours. I had to put myself in the tattered shoes of the beggar, and I didn’t like it because I was uncomfortable. I don’t know really how to process all of this, I just think perhaps as St. Francis threw himself into the arms of the leper, perhaps I can devote more of my time to helping God’s less fortunate children, and work to loosen the grip that material things have over me.


Dan Awad:

Palimpsest is…

A palimpsest, according to Merriam-Webster, is ‘something having usually diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface’. Bruce Herman, a professor in the Gordon Orvieto program, introduced this concept to our group during our brief tour around the city. He explained that all around the city were vestiges of culture upon culture, society upon society, the layers of history stacked on top of one another. The past was seldom absent. It was to be built on, manipulated, but not wholly erased.

As a graduating senior, I walk away from the remnants of life-changing years. Life, as with history, does not always turn out as planned. There is confusion, much damage, much joy, and inevitably adapting changes within the infrastructure. Seen in this light, it is very encouraging to find that many of the primitive bricks in Orvieto, still strong, make well as foundations to those new bricks of today. I can only hope that the last four years, with experiences both positive and negative, reflect the same model. That I can stand on the stronger aspects of decisions and dilemmas and filter out the weak, leaving only that which will ultimately be of benefit to both myself and others. In the end, it seems we are all palimpsests, whom, through choices and intentionality, shape the outcome of who we become.

Elise D’Adamo:

The past few days have been packed with excitement and adventure. We got to visit the other Gordon students who are studying in Orvieto. It was interesting to see another part of Italy, especially a part that we could be somewhat familiar with.

After Orvieto, a few of us ventured into the great city of Rome and tackled the immense amount of sightseeing. In less than 24 hours we gazed upon the Fountain of Trevi, the Pantheon, the Vatican, the Roman Forum, and the Colosseum. By the end, we were all so exhausted, but extremely proud for such a successful span of time.

Getting to see all of those monuments was eye-opening for me and I had a sudden appreciation for history that I had never had before. Here are these breath-taking treasures that have stood their ground for great lengths of time. It was beautiful to see history so close. The details show the care and precision of our previous cultures.

This trip has been such an experience and an exciting new adventure. I have learned a great deal in only a few days and I still have more. I am thrilled to see what will happen from here on out.

Stevie Bittner:

It’s midday here in Assisi and once again I’m taking in the beauty of my surroundings. As I’m called to reflect on the last week, I fear that I can’t do justice to the expanse of knowledge I’ve gained and the number of challenges we’ve faced. We’ve traveled from Assisi to Orvieto to Rome, and back to Assisi. We’ve seen the Pantheon, the Colosseum, and the Vatican. We’ve walked up to the Umbrian hills, and eaten countless slices of pizza. We’ve socialized with Italians, written articles, discussed assignments, and conducted interviews. We’ve lived as Protestants in a largely Catholic town, recognizing our similarities and differences while upholding Christ’s love as the basis for our faith.

As we’ve gotten to know one another over the week, I’ve answered the question a dozen times: what do you want to do with your life? Each time I answer the same way – I want to work in the media in some capacity, largely with writing, and possibly as a publicist or a producer. What I fail to mention is that I honestly don’t know where I will be in ten years, but I do know that I’ll be in the palm of God’s hand.

With this in mind over the challenges of the last week, I’m proud to say that we’ve learned as a group just exactly what that means. Right now, we’re all in the palm of God’s hand. We’re here in Assisi with the mission of international journalism for a reason. Maybe we won’t all become journalists, but we will learn, we will grow, and we will be responsive to the work that we are called to do. Whether we’re navigating through a foreign city, taking pranzo at a local restaurant, or writing an article of international significance, having a healthy dependence on the Almighty God is imperative.

As Brother Silvestro, our gracious host in Assisi, led us through the Biblioteca last Tuesday, I was struck by his example of relationship with God. He stood outside a door and had me try to open it, then said, “You can’t, because you don’t have the key.” The key for us is Jesus, who laid down his life for our sins. Once inside the room, Brother Silvestro demonstrated how easy it was for us to exit. We don’t need the key to go out.

I pray that, in coming away from Assisi, we look to our reason for being here, and never step out the door of God’s grace. Whether I’m in the United States or in beautiful Italy, in joy or in hardship, I know that I am exactly where I am called to be – in the palm of God’s hand, the relationship through His grace.


Impressions

Thoughts from up and coming journalists on the road in Assisi:

Ricky Marte:

After being in Assisi, there are a great number of things that I have noticed. The first is that Italian is not Spanish. Before I came here, all I heard was that since I’m fluent in Spanish I’d understand Italian.  Well they were wrong. Except for a few words, I don’t understand or speak a lick of Italian. And it’s frustrating. Trying to talk to Italian people in Spanish doesn’t work well either. I’ve found myself using a mix of the limited Italian, English, Spanish, and hand gestures. That has worked ok. So far.

The next thing I’ve learned is that loyalty is very important to the Italian people here in Assisi. Every time I’ve gone somewhere more than once, I’ve found that the people remember you. When they remember you, they give you discounts and charge you less. As I’ve continued to visit the same places, I’ve found that the price gets cheaper every time I go. That shows me the importance of loyalty, which is really awesome to me.

I also learned that the best things in Assisi are hidden. The best wine, the best food, and the best drinks are your reward only when you have to really look for them.


Claire Kinnen:

I am in Assisi, Italy. It is expectedly beautiful but slightly surreal. I feel as if I have not fully landed. The high medieval walls taunt me and provide me with a metaphor for all that I do not understand. Despite the small size of Assisi and several distinct landmarks, I feel slightly lost.

I have studied Spanish since the age of fifteen and feel comfortable speaking in my second tongue so my first instinct here is to begin speaking Spanish. Whenever I go to a Spanish-speaking country, I begin to walk down a path I began to pave a long time ago. My language ability is like a compass. It may not get me to the exact location but always points me in the right direction. My minimal Italian makes me feel so limited. I have to rely much more so on tone and intonation, facial expressions and gestures. My ear listens for cognates and I attempt to speak but I am forced to face the reality that I need a translator or, even better, Italian lessons.

Our instructor, Wendy Murray, often says, “This is real journalism” whenever we confront a difficulty or unexpected change. Part of becoming a good journalist is not only learning how to adapt to such experiences but also in anticipating them. Whether one is working in one’s home country or traveling internationally, one is always challenged when communicating and working with people of different languages and cultures. So although I would be much more at ease if I were fluent in Italian, I know that if I were I would not be learning how to push forward and forge a new path. Just like the old Roman road that was uncovered in Assisi not long ago, I am uncovering what its like to feel out a new and foreign context as a journalist and this makes me both grateful and excited.


Tyler Gagnon:

This morning I woke up early and grabbed a cappuccino with Suzanne. It was such a great way to start the day in the quietness of the morning. As we sat out on the patio of a small café overlooking the hills of Assisi I felt invigorated for the day that lay ahead. We had a major interview this morning so starting off early helped me feel ready for the intense event.

After our interview we went out for my favorite meal of the trip thus far. We had these exquisite stuffed shells with ham inside. The taste was unlike anything I have ever experienced. Even though we attend the same restaurant for pranzo every afternoon we all get excited everyday because each meal they make for us seems to get progressively better!

Also, we have this theater professor from London named Tony who we keep running into along the way. We met Tony our first night in Assisi and it seems we run into at least once a day. This happened last night as well as this morning. Wendy’s son Jon even took him on a hike. Along with Tony we have also become friendly with a few people from the area. Specifically the waiter at Sensei who gives us many discounts each evening when we attend. This trip has blown away any expectation I had and each day is better than the last. The group chemistry couldn’t be any better and we are all becoming good friends and better journalists!


Amanda Thompson:

There is something pleasantly surreal about living in a city that is centuries older than our entire country.

Passing under stone archways, I wonder how they are still standing and what it was like for Saint Clare to pass under those same arches in the 1200s. Climbing the hill to the castle called La Rocca, I wonder how many battles were fought on these ancient slopes and for what. I wonder how this rich culture and civilization could be so deeply rooted in these mountains for thousands of years without tarnishing the green of the valley. I wonder how an ancient religious order still draws practicing friars in the 21st century.

Here in this place, free from cell phones and wireless Internet and the general hubbub of the States, where the gardens encroach on the city, where you can wash down gelato with a glass of wine, where the locals need their afternoon siesta, here where history is in the very mortar of the walls and where learning is not a chore but a privilege – here I can breathe.

Anna DeCristofaro:

From the very first moment when I stepped off the cooling jets of the plane onto European ground, I was flabbergasted. It was everything I had ever hoped it to be, but this place still somehow managed to exceed my visual expectations by surpassing my minuscule thoughts of what this magical place would look like. It contains some of the most beautiful green and healthy grass I have ever had the privilege of laying my eyes on. The landscape is covered in picturesque vineyards and carefully sculpted villas, followed by a backdrop of cascading mountains, that one only wishes they could reach out and touch. I have continuously woken up each and every morning, to feel myself grow more and more impressed by this stunning landscape that seems almost too beautiful to be real. Assisi Italy is, the amazing city of which I speak.

Since day one, the beginning of my Assisi experience has been extremely memorable and has continually left a lasting impression in my mind. We as a group, of eleven college students have had the incredible privilege of meeting friars, bishops, and shop owners. The bishops we have met, have even been so kind to lead our group around the most beautiful library I have ever seen, while allowing us to view manuscript documents as ancient as one thousand years old. Besides the local tours, the enchanting city of Assisi continues to uphold its excitement with several different activities one can partake in each day. From the upbeat nightlife, to the beautiful clothing shops, or the incredibly delicious local food stores, there has been an exciting adventure around every corner for me. I cannot wait to see what the rest of my Assisi Italy trip has in store for me.

Ashley Mouton:

Assisi is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.  The view of the countryside is spectacular with its rolling hills, bright green landscapes, and dark blue mountains in the background.  When we first arrived, the stone archway leading into the town of Assisi prepared me for the beautiful buildings and runes inside.  The intricate designs of the stones for each archway and building are like nothing I have ever seen in the States.  The entire town is a fortress, surrounded by walls and built on a hill overlooking the Italian countryside and ready to defend against any attack.

Assisi is a town where history has come alive for me.  A town where construction on an alleyway can lead to the discovery of an ancient Roman road.  A town where a library, or biblioteca as the Italians call it, can house manuscripts from the thirteenth century including prayer books and books of the Bible handwritten by scribes.  A town where valuable manuscripts that once led to the attack of Napoleon contributes to the fortress mentality that locals maintain to this day.  A town where every view is beautiful, where faith and religiosity encounter daily life, and where God is present in every moment.

Having the opportunity to write in this town has been incredible.  I have enjoyed sitting in the piazza, watching the bustle of tourists and locals alike as they go about their daily business.  I have seen people leisurely enjoying a cup of coffee and meandering into the many shops and gelato stands.  I am looking forward to interviewing a local merchant named Fabrizzio about the pros and cons of living and working here in Assisi and to becoming more accustomed to the Italian culture and way of life!

Annie Battles:

On Being Sojourners

Assisi is a place of sojourn, of pilgrimage. Our group is only one of many that travel to this hill town in order to feel the other-worldly charm and tranquility emanating from the cobblestone streets and verdant hills. This trip has been a sweet gift so far. Yes, we are working, but our work is fascinating – learning the Italian culture and then engaging in reflection through writing and dialogue. We walk everywhere on hilly paths and the burning in our legs feels good, especially after a huge pranzo (the midday meal). We take pictures. We interview locals. And every new street we turn onto, there is sunlight and beauty, hanging clothes and windowsill flowerpots, gelaterias and olive trees. It’s not hard to see why this is a place of pilgrimage and worship. I feel like each time we eat, or stop to marvel at the architecture, or breathe in the gentle wind, we are engaging in acts of wonder.

With all this being said, one might assume this experience could feel far removed from reality. I’ll admit we have passed more than a few comments among our group about the difficulty of understanding that we are finally here. As friars and nuns stroll by on the street, or I catch a glance of St. Francis’ majestic Basilica looming over stucco rooftops, it is easy to assign the town to a picture book rather than an actual place with residents and a longitude/latitude. Yet we have certainly tasted “reality” here as well. Speaking with locals and feeling the frustration of a language barrier reminds me of the impossibility of expecting residents to understand my language, when I myself am the visitor.  More importantly, our group has grounded one another. Anne Lamott writes, “What fills us is real, sweet, dopey, funny life.” We have certainly shared our moments of this sort of life here, ranging from laughing in cafes late at night to discussing the challenges of writing with integrity and trust in this context. As we prepare for individual interviews with locals and spending more time stretching ourselves as writers, I look forward to many more of these moments.

Check out my Flickr account if you are interested in seeing more Assisi pictures!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/abatts/

Dan Awad:

I did not sleep all night. Sitting next to the bathroom in the back row possesses two major inconveniences. Firstly, people are constantly walking in and out, each time emitting a violent light and bitter smell. Secondly, the seats, of course, do not incline through the back wall behind you. Upon arrival, the Roman airport showed gave no appeal. Apart from the Italian advertisements plastered on the walls, I could have mistaken my destination for Miami. Thankfully, the bus ride became my salvation. Rolling hills and greenery, ancient architecture and delightful scents, awakening my senses to an experience not yet approached. Assisi itself represented the culmination of my sights. A city on a hill, the Italian Jerusalem some might say. Here lied the apotheosis of culture, beauty, history, Italy. And here I stay for two weeks.

Such was the conglomeration of my thoughts during the travels of yesterday. Today I am rested, on a full stomach, and have tasted a small part of the sights, foods, and culture this city has to offer. Needless to say, I’m happy. Very, very happy. In fact, there is an Arabic expression, a prayer actually, that I spend only in times like these: noushkarak ya Raab, noushkarak: Thank you, O Lord, thank you.

Elise D’Adamo:

I am blown away by this place. Everywhere I look is a new photo, a new view, a new beauty. Assisi is gorgeous and so rich in culture and history. Today we got to see some of the ancient texts from the time of Francis. It was incredible to be face to face with books so valuable and historic.
Yesterday alone I took 250 pictures… I will certainly be getting plenty of use out of my camera! Every turn brings a new picture and it is hard trying to get it all photographed. But I will certainly try!
Assisi is a treasure and I am so blessed to be here. It’s only been two days and I already know that I will come back. Everything here amazes me and I can’t wait for the rest of the trip!

Suz Hoofnagle:

I’m here! When I first applied for the IJSA months ago, it felt like the day we’d arrive in Italy would never come. But now, we are here and already two days into the trip! From the minute our wheels left the runway, to the bus stop at Assisi, our travel has been flawless. I can’t help but know God has his hand on this trip and is guiding us by the minute. So far I’ve tasted pizza, gelato, pasta, cappuccino and of course a bit of vino.

Yesterday was a fun day of getting acclimated to Assisi and resting from our travels. Today however, we hit the ground running so to speak. Following an Italian style continental breakfast, (mmm… Nutella,) and a quick lecture from Wendy, we had a specially guided tour of the Biblioteca Sacro Convento and the monastery attached.

My local story assignment was to interview Brother Carlo Bottero, head librarian at the library. Unfortunatley, things didn’t go as planned, but we went with the flow anyways. How very Italian of us! Brother Carlo was MIA, but his wonderfully kind and helpful assistant was there. He showed us amazing ancient texts from Saint Francis’s order. Between his broken English and Wendy’s translations, we received a pretty awesome tutorial about the ancient books housed by the Biblioteca and their relevance to History. Stay tuned to read the article I put together based on today’s day trip!


Stevie Bittner:

It’s our second day in Italy, and I have already fallen in love with this beautiful country. Assisi has an energy unlike anything I’ve ever known – the comfort of neighbors, the view from the hillside, and the antiquity of the surroundings are intoxicating. I can’t help but feel at home in a place that once seemed dead to my reality.

Yesterday, after a whirlwind of travel (by plane, bus, car, and tram), we arrived in what will be our home for the next two weeks. Our accommodations are more than generous – large windows, single rooms, and a central location. Already, we’ve sipped wine and cappuccino in local cafés, familiarized ourselves with the Piazza del Comune, and visited notable landmarks of Saint Francis and Saint Clare.

Today, we had the rare opportunity of viewing ancient manuscripts of Roman law, Biblical texts, and other handwritten works, some dating back over one thousand years. It was incredible to watch as our professor translated the Italian description of these manuscripts. Following this, the class was taken to an underground chapel and ornate terrace in the Biblioteca Sacro Convento. Being the prepared journalists that we are, we photographed, videotaped, and recorded each of these encounters.

After our pranzo (lunch) at a delicious family-owned restaurant nearby, I worked on a class assignment of written observation on a brick pathway off one of Assisi’s many narrow roads. Having a little extra time before our deadline, I took a solitary walk to Rocca Maggiore. The view from this castle above the town may be the most spectacular view I’ve yet experienced.

Already, I’ve learned a great deal about navigating this Italian-speaking town, acting as a journalist, and finding the story. I look forward to seeing what’s in store for the rest of our Italian journey!


On the Ground and Ready to Work (Not)

The first IJSA team has arrived and is (as I write) meandering the streets of Assisi getting to know the small hill town that they will call home for the next few weeks. They are tired. But they are also pumped. Today, they are recovering from their travels and enjoying the beauty of an Umbrian evening stroll. Tomorrow, Tuesday, the real work begins  with interviews and video takes and general nuts-and-bolts journalism. (They got their first lesson in international journalism when they had to haul their bags from the bus stop to the guest house.) The sun came out today for the first time in weeks.

The International Journalism Seminar Assisi is one week away. The students are beginning to dream of pasta and cappuccino. They are also preparing to undertake interviews, local stories (Assisi) and some international ones (the Amanda Knox case). Below they lend their thoughts as the days draw near:

Tyler Gagnon:

As our trip to Italy draws near I have begun to evaluate what this trip might entail. I am excited to become immersed in a different culture for two weeks, not only just being in Italy but also interviewing people from the local area of Assisi. Expectations are difficult for any journalist on assignment and trying to predict how a trip will go or what the story they might get will be is a hard task. I hope to gain experience in the interviewing process and learning what it takes to get the story  I am seeking. I also hope to increase my comfort level with the unknown.  As the day draws closer and my work load decreases I get more excited about our trip to Assisi.  I hope any expectations we may bring will be blown away by this incredible trip!

Elise D’Adamo:

I am very excited about this trip to Assisi. Not only am I going to be covering an incredibly huge case [the Amanda Knox / Meredith Kercher story], but I will also be visiting Italy, where my family is from. This is such an amazing opportunity and I am truly blessed to be a part of this.

I think what I am most excited about it getting into a journalistic mindset and being fully emerged in my writing. I want to come back to the United States with a new eye for the world and a different perspective. This trip will certainly give me that chance to see the world in a new light. Two weeks of intense journalism on a well-known case is such an experience and I still cannot believe it is happening.

Italy is a place I have always wanted to go to, and now I get to go with a purpose.

Amanda Thompson:

I have a great love and respect for other cultures and I can’t wait to learn about Italy from the inside. Through this seminar, I hope to learn how to bridge cultural gaps to foster important communication, whether those gaps be language, religion, political views or otherwise. The people we will meet will be such a wealth of knowledge and perspectives. I can’t wait to wear their glasses, seeing the world in new ways and scratching the surface of their culture. I am eager to learn how they are different from us, but more eager to learn how they are the same.

It is a huge blessing to have this opportunity to learn both sides of a controversial story like the Knox/Kercher case from people who have been closely involved throughout. It’s so hard to report with balance and without bias. I think this is a great chance to learn how to do that by engaging as many different parties as we can while in Italy.

Suz Hoofnagle:

My anticipation of this trip grows as the day until our departure approaches. I am most looking forward to the work we will be doing related to the Amanda Knox case. My interest in Ms. Knox and her story has been peaked ever since I first read about her last year. We are so privileged to have gained access to her family.

Through this class I hope to gain a better understanding not only of what it means to be a jounalist, but a journalist in an international context. Overcoming the challenges that the language barrier is something I look forward to tackling. I hope to immerse myself in and engage with the culture and traditions in Assisi, even though the trip will be a short one. I plan on making the most of every minute.

Anna De Cristofaro:

What I am looking forward to about this experience is the fact that I am going to be thrown into the life of a journalist in the real world. I have never studied journalism and I am so excited to have this amazing opportunity to study its components and have the chance to interview the local people of beautiful Italy. It is going to be quite an experience for me.

My goals and expectations for this journey are to challenge myself by stepping out of my comfort zone and allowing myself to experience the sometimes rocky but rewarding process a journalist experiences with an open heart and mind. I expect to not let myself down when I experience trial and error, but to push forward and learn from any mistakes I may make along the way.

As we begin to count down the days to our Italy trip, I am extremely excited to have this amazing opportunity, but I am also nervous because I have never travelled without my family.

Stephanie (“Stevie”) Bittner:

From what I know of journalism, it requires a good deal of flexibility and willingness to try new things. Whether it means reporting from a dangerous area, traveling on short notice, or writing on a difficult subject, journalism stretches its writer beyond comfort zones. Flexibility not being my strong suit, I look forward to taking a course that requires me to literally travel out of my comfort zone and experience life as a journalist free of the constraints of my daily life. Though challenges are not always comfortable, they are always life-altering if faced with perseverance. In the course of the International Journalism Seminar, I am excited to take on challenges with purpose, passion and awareness of my unique surroundings.

Of course, I have needed to set some clear goals for the experience, so as to make the most of my time in Italy. My goals as a journalist in this course are to grow both academically and artistically while expanding my worldview and writing through the perspectives of the Italian people. I hope to come back from Italy with a greater sense of how to find a story and become part of the story while living in its backdrop.

My personal goals for this course are to develop greater flexibility and international savvy. Additionally, I hope to gain a better understanding of the Italian people and the Italian language.

As we begin to count down the days, I am anticipating the course load, doing research, and learning a bit of the Italian language. My only apprehension is of managing life in a city of Italian speakers when I know so little of the language. However, my excitement in becoming a better journalist and traveling to this new, beautiful place far outweighs the fear!


Ricky Marte:

When I was first informed about the possibility of making a trip to Italy to study  journalism, I was elated. I knew right away that this was an opportunity that I absolutely had to take advantage of. I am very excited about the opportunity to study about the Amanda Knox case from the Italian point of view. Also, I am excited about the opportunity to leave my comfort zone. I don’t speak any Italian, so it will be a bit of a struggle to understand and relate to the Italians in Assisi and surrounding areas. This however doesn’t deter my excitement or enthusiasm about what I’ll be learning there.

While I’m there, I expect that I will learn much more about the international scope of journalism. I hope to learn a little bit from Prof. Murray about how to act and behave as a journalist, and overall how to get the story.

As for how I’m feeling now counting down the days, I can admit that I’m a little bit nervous. It isn’t a bad kind of nervousness, as much as it is a eager kind of nervousness. Bring it on.


Ashley Moulton:

Stories are everywhere.  Local events tell stories about a specific culture or place.  National stories describe events such as presidential elections, stock market changes, and major catastrophes.  International affairs speak volumes about the political, economic, and social world.  Having never taken a journalism course or experienced the ambiance of Italy, I am looking forward to embracing a new cultural experience and having the opportunity to document some of the stories I see and experience.  From the story of a merchant living and working in Assisi to the story of the new developments in the Amanda Knox case, I hope to learn how to balance a mixture of equally important stories.  I plan to delve into the journalistic world, further developing my writing skills and learning more about how to “get the story.”  As the day of departure draws nearer, I am filled with both excitement and uncertainty.  This is the start of a new adventure where everything will be completely novel to me – taking a course in a foreign country, the journalistic style of writing, the Italian language and the process of using a translator in interviews, the cultural differences to the United States, and the experience of living and writing in the city of Assisi.

Claire Kinnen:

As the days approaching my December graduation came closer and I realized that I was not so certain I wanted to pursue sociology or Spanish as a career.  At the time I was reading Nine Parts of Desire by journalist, Geraldine Brooks. Her ability to give her readers the context to understand the complexity and diversity of the different situations of Middle Eastern women inspired me. She did exactly what I had thought I initially wanted to do as a sociologist and Spanish-speaker; she communicated well. The idea of being a journalist has not left my head since. I am looking forward to exploring my new interest and learning more about journalism in Assisi, Italy.

I think the fast pace of the course will be both challenging and exciting. I love to write but often mull over essays and papers for as long as possible. So I am anticipating the stretch of writing with fast-approaching deadline. I am at ease in Spanish-speaking environments so learning how to work with a translator in a place where I don’t speak the language will be a beneficial skill for me to obtain. I expect to come away with a clearer idea of what the field of journalism is all about and what journalism as a career might look like for me.

I feel ready and anxious to leave, but also increasingly nervous. Before the trip I will be participating in Gordon’s graduation ceremonies, which means saying goodbye to people who have come to mean more to me than I could have expected. As the trip date approaches my mental list of things to do and people to see becomes longer. I do not know if I will feel prepared no matter how many times I run through my list.  My time at Gordon is ending and the future feels closer than ever before. However, it is my experience that the most intimidating of situations can often warrant the most growth. So whether it be graduating or going to study a new discipline I mostly feel grateful I have something ahead of me.

Annie Battles:

I am thrilled to be participating in an adventure in which three of my passions combine – writing, exploring new cultures, and interacting with people. As people of faith we are called to be citizen sojourners and to hold a worldview that extends beyond ourselves. Part of this, I believe, means harnessing individual passions and blending them with an outlook that surpasses one of our original “homeland.” I am grateful for the opportunity to do so by learning from and interacting with both the city of Assisi and its citizens. As Anais Nin wrote, “We write to taste life twice, once in the moment and once in retrospection.” Tangibly, I hope our work in Assisi teaches me more about the art of international journalism and crafting fluid and engaging pieces. Inspired by Anais Nin, I also look forward to gaining more of an understanding of the art of reflection, especially through writing.

With less than two weeks left until we touch down in Rome, I am attempting to look beyond the craziness of finals and finishing up the school year, and see this adventure beyond.  Besides a growing anticipation, I also feel exceedingly grateful for the opportunity to write and learn in a foreign context, especially one as lovely and captivating as Italy.

Daniel Awad:

There is certainly an art to writing, especially when focused to the styles in journalism. That being said, I am most anticipating the effect Italy – in its culture, people, and classes – will have on my style of writing and worldview. I have no direct experience within the field of journalism, nor have I been taught its major emphases. I see this time as an opportunity to take hold of what I learn, in an effort to both get my feet wet within the subject of journalism as well as grow stronger as an overall writer. I look most forward to becoming part of the setting as I write about it, drawing my thoughts as not only an outsider looking in but also as one who has embraced the culture within. At this point, I do not know what to expect from these approaching weeks, nor do I come with heavy expectations. What I do know is that I will walk out of the airplane, stepping onto Italian ground, with unabashed excitement and an elated smile.


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