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Originally published Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 4:35 PM

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Guest columnist

The city of Perugia unfairly tainted by Amanda Knox case

The Italian city of Perugia has been tainted unfairly by the trial and conviction of Amanda Knox of Seattle, writes Mike James, president of the Seattle-Perugia Sister City Association. The association worked to get a Seattle park named for Perugia, but the decision was reversed.

Special to The Times

I FELL in love with a fountain first — the Fontana Maggiore, built in the 13th century and carved beautifully by Nicole and Giovanni Pisano, central Italy's masters of pre-Renaissance sculpture.

It sits in the center of Piazza IV Novembre, in the very heart of Perugia, Seattle's sister city in the hills of Umbria.

I think of the fontana often now; it stands in place of the overwhelming image of Perugia that now dominates our media, that of Amanda Knox, the student from Seattle tried and convicted of murder, leaving or entering a courtroom.

The fountain is the reason I am so engaged now with Perugia, with its people and rich history, with the songful language of Italy, with the winding and narrow streets of our sister city's old center that reach back to the Etruscan age. It's the reason I've become such a frequent visitor, a student several times at the great language school of Perugia, and president of the Seattle-Perugia Sister City Association

The fruit of this association of a dozen years is, most of all, friendship, with families and merchants and politicians who live in the old town. A visit now is always very much an arrival at a second home.

There is a physical icon of this friendship as well — a dramatic 28-foot tall bronze sculpture, "Sister Orca," created by Seattle's renowned Native American artist, Marvin Oliver. Sister Orca rises on a hill, just in front of Perugia's new MiniMetro station, as if completing a long journey from Seattle to its new sister-city home. It stands as a symbol of good relations between our two cities.

We had hoped, as most readers will know by now, to name a small park in Seattle for this enduring sister-city relationship of almost 20 years. We'd planned to place a notable sculpture from Perugia artist Artemio Giovagnoni there as the Perugia counterpart to Seattle's Sister Orca. We'd planned to celebrate the enduring relationship between these two sister cities.

The park naming, as readers will know as well, is now on hold, and perhaps lost for Perugia. And why? Because Perugia is the locale of a controversial prosecution and an unpopular verdict. But the trial does not define Perugia, nor does the verdict.

The Knox case no more represents Perugia and its people — I think of Leonardo, owner of Perugia's finest delicatessen; or Daniela, Perugia's sister-city coordinator who learned her English as a nanny in California; or Elisabetta, whose father carved the sculpture that may stand in Seattle one day — than a verdict in Seattle would represent Laurelhurst or Mount Baker or Edgar Martinez.

Must an entire city, Seattle's sister city, and its citizens pay for the conduct and outcome of a single trial?

I had hoped that Seattle, of all places, could make the distinction between a long friendship — a sister-city relationship — and a verdict. I believed we could honor that friendship and at the same time freely critique a verdict many of us found deeply disappointing. I believed we could, through the park, begin to see the real Perugia beyond the headlines.

I hope we still can.

Mike James is president of the Seattle-Perugia Sister City Association.

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