Letters to Strabo — Galatea


The big guy asked me my name.

‘Nobody,’ I replied joking. I’d been reading my Homer. ‘What would you like to eat?’

He laughed.

‘Nobody, then I’ll eat Nobody!’ he replied with a roar. ‘British?’

‘No nation.’

‘Ah, but now I hear your accent. A Yankee, I like Yankees!’ he replied (a sentiment which, in itself, was not unusual in that part of Italy). I couldn’t make him out; he seemed both friendly and scary at the same time. I could feel the dark halitosis from his discolored teeth envelop me as he shot off his mouth.

Still, his girlfriend was dead gorgeous with milky-white almost flawless skin; she smiled encouragingly at me while the other woman looked on with mild loathing.


I had to leave them to serve another group of marines from the San Diego, but went back every so often, unable to resist Galatea’s smile. She was like a Botticelli angel, although without the curves. I began to enjoy their company and by the end of the evening, we’d apparently all become good friends. They invited me to join them on a sight-seeing trip, and as the following day was my day off, I accepted. The thought of spending a day with Galatea was more than enough inducement.

Next day we got wise. To escape the hordes, Galatea suggested we take the ferry over to the island of Ischia. It wasn’t far and we soon landed at the gay little harbor with its assorted buttermilk and caramel-colored buildings.

Ischia was the site of the first Greek settlement in the western Mediterranean, Pithekoussai, founded in the eighth century BC. Its thermal springs were recorded by Strabo, but even without them it was steaming hot. Galatea was beaming and Martino seemed happy to get away from Naples, too; fortunately his ‘sister’ had inexplicably disappeared. I wasn’t too concerned about that.

Out in the bay, a Riva Rudy Super boat was swinging slow loops through the green waters with a water-skier in tow.


We hired a small sailboat and went cruising in the late breeze. It was a lovely day and the boat glided easily across the bay towards the sheer rocks below the castle. I kept stealing jealous glances at each new inch of Galatea’s body her outfit revealed as she stretched out in the sun. 

Martino had brought with him a supply of grappa, which he shared freely. Galatea wasn’t drinking. I sipped it and grinned senselessly, allowing my arm to rest against her naked skin. I was already high from the excess of wine I’d drunk at lunch. The combination clearly had an impact on him too; the further out we got from shore, the louder he became.

It began to bother me. His speech became more and more boisterous and his words even more obnoxious. He began to reveal lurid details of his past love life. Galatea’s pale skin flushed scarlet and she pleaded with him to stop, but he wasn’t listening. At one stage I thought he was going to hit her, but then he took another swig of the grappa, before collapsing comatose in a heap of ropes and tackle.

‘Why do you let him speak to you like that,’ I said to her as Martino began to snore loudly.

‘I love him. He’s like a drug, like the sun shining on you,’ she paused.


‘Yes, but then sometimes he gets drunk and…’

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I really didn’t wanna leave her alone with him that night, but she insisted. As she went to close the door, she gave me a thankful kiss and told me to get some sleep.

‘Thank you for looking after me.’

A crash woke me around three. The noise threw me immediately into a panic. For a second I was disoriented, unsure where I was. I checked my watch and wondered if there’d been a sudden storm. Fully awake, I walked to the shutters. Everything seemed calm outside, the trees in the gardens hardly moving. The only light entering the room came from a lamppost on the foreshore and the half-glow of the setting moon.

Then there was another larger bang. I felt the wall by my bed shudder as if something heavy had fallen against it. I pulled on my shorts and opened the door. There was a third crash and I walked quickly over to the door of the next room where my friends were sleeping. I didn’t bother to knock, just turned the latch and walked straight in.

The bedside lamp was on and I saw the prone half-dressed body of Galatea cowering on the bed. Martino towered over her, attempting drunkenly to force himself on her. She was sobbing. I ran over and tried to pull him away, remonstrating with him to stop, but she began to scream at me to get out or I’d ‘make it worse’.

Martino was a giant of a man and a lot stronger than me. I saw from the empty bottle on the table that he’d been drinking. However, despite his inebriation, he reacted remarkably quickly to my thrust and twisted me round with the skill of a wrestler. Quickly, he had one arm in a lock and the other behind my neck in a half nelson. I was in real pain. It felt like he would pull my shoulder out of its socket. I could feel his foul breath on my neck. I knew I was in big trouble.

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I shouted for him to let me go. I could feel her legs shaking and trembling. He forced my head up so it was buried in the smooth down below her shuddering stomach. I could smell her fear and could hardly breathe from the pressure of his hand. I could feel him loosening his belt and pants with his free hand.

‘Either you do it, or I’ll do it to you,’ he said with real menace in his voice.

Galatea shouted at him to stop, but he caught her across the face with the back of his hand. Remembering what I’d read about self-defence, I stamped on his foot, hard. The shock caused him to relax his grip for a second. That in turn freed my arm enough that I could swing my elbow back into his solar plexus. Off balance, he fell backwards, his head smashing onto the marble fascia of the dressing table. Blood oozed from the back of his skull…

Strangely, in the minutes that followed, it was Galatea rather than me who thought calmly:

‘We’ll make it look like a robbery,’ she said. ‘The police will soon give up.’

Letters to Strabo


Letters to Strabo — Roman Holiday

Audrey Hepburn, Roman Holiday (1953) starring Gregory PeckAfter his long stay in Venice, Finn travels through Italy reaching Rome at Easter 1978. There he gets a job on an English-speaking newspaper.

“By early May, I’d got an idea to do a piece on another literary hero of mine – the English poet Shelley. I often passed the Keats-Shelley House near the Spanish Steps but I’d never gone in. So I arranged to meet up with the curator there who took me round the exhibition, pleased to have someone visiting who wasn’t just ticking boxes on their tourist itinerary. It was actually a very interesting little museum.”

During his tour he meets a young Irish girl, Anna:

“She clapped her hands and started complaining about all the stuff she wanted to see while she was in Rome but couldn’t because of the constraints of the dire tour she was on.

‘Maybe you could help me out a little?’ she asked with a suggestive grin.

‘Sure why not?’ I replied. It was the best offer I’d had in a while.

‘It’s all endless saints and relics, so tedious when there’s so much else to see,’ she added. Of course, I seized the opportunity. I wasn’t missing out this time.

‘OK, why don’t we do all those other things you wanna do, together?’ I asked.

‘Don’t you have to work?’ she replied quizzically.

‘No, I think today’s officially gonna be a holiday!’


They tour round the city, Finn taking her to several off-beat sites he knew near the Trevi.

“Of course, there was no way I could resist the temptation to take her to the ‘Mouth of Truth’ at the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, although it was a bit of a hike.

That man-like face, thought to be part of a Roman fountain, is located in the church portico. In the Middle Ages, it was believed that if you told a lie with your hand in its mouth, it would be bitten off. Gregory Peck tried that routine out on Audrey Hepburn live on the set of Roman Holiday, scaring her witless while the shot was running. Most days, a constant line of tourists tries to relive the scene from the movie.

Delightfully, Anna also fell for it, hook, line and sinker. She screamed, jumped six inches in the air and then thumped me before bursting out laughing.”

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Later than evening they meet up again at an open-air disco on the banks of the Tiber, right under the shadow of the Castel Sant’Angelo.

“As the evening wore on, however, a dispute of some sort arose amongst the locals, which turned into a brawl, which turned into a mêlée. Some Swedish lads got themselves involved (the Viking hordes were back in force). They were rounded up by bouncers and it looked like we might be next, but then the cops turned up. In the confusion, I managed to escape with Anna and her girlfriends out of a fire exit. We ran laughing through the back streets trying to avoid the riot police who were randomly firing tear gas.

‘I’d ask you up, Finn, but you know what they’re like in these hotels,’ she said breathlessly as we reached the entrance.

‘Yes and I’d probably end up sleeping on the couch anyway, wouldn’t I?’ I asked ironically.”

Letters to Strabo

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Letters to Strabo — Eve in Venice

Adam_and_Eve_on_Doges_Palace_in_Venice“After all those months apart, I thought it’d be an awkward reunion, but I was wrong. Her first words to me, ‘my sweetheart’, set the tone. She was warm and friendly and full of fun. We had a seriously awesome time scooting round Venice. The Saturday was one of those Canaletto days when the blue waters of the lagoon gleam and the whole city is alive and sparking. We did St Mark’s Square, we did all sixty-two Tintorettos in the Scuola di San Rocco, the Lido and Murano, Rizzo’s famous statue of Eve in the Doge’s palace for which a Duke of Mantua once offered his weight in gold.”


“Then on our last evening, under the mist of a silver moon, we ate at a swell ristoranto and walked past the Rialto along the Strada Nova towards the labyrinth of medieval lanes, canals and archways that lead to the blind alleys of the Ghetto.

‘Goddam, isn’t it beautiful here?’ she said. ‘I really feel alive, Finn.’

‘Even on that first day in Olana, I wanted to kiss you,’ I replied stroking the fine down on the back of her neck.

‘Why didn’t you?’”


“‘Hold me closer,’ she said.

‘If I do, I won’t ever wanna let you go,’ I replied and snuggled up so she was enveloped in my arms, with her hair curling around my jacket.

‘I fear this is some sorta dream, that’s all. That I’ll wake up in the morning and it’ll all be gone. That it’s all a mirage.’”


“The next morning, she had to get back to the London to catch her flight back to the States and so took an early train to the airport. Her visit was over in a flash. I realized as I waved her off, tender as it was, that we still hadn’t really answered the most fundamental questions about our relationship. She was always so coy about what was going on in her life back home.”

“Venice in the winter is quite a different place to the straw-hatted heaven of summer. The bright young mistress loses her midsummer make-up. Most of the foreign tourists disappear; in fact there are very few foreigners at all apart from a few language students. What’s more, the weather had suddenly got colder; the languid waters of the lagoon gleamed more dimly, often morose and misty for days on end.”

Letters to Strabo