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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