“¿A quién le importa lo que yo haga?
¿A quién le importa lo que yo diga?
Yo soy así, así seguiré, nunca cambiaré.” – Thalía
A weekend so big, it had to be told in two parts! Haha. No joke. I still haven’t really processed what Orgullo in Madrid was like or what it reflected back on my gay existence. All I know is that it touched upon much of what I embrace and shun within the gay culture, often within the same sentence.
I haven’t been to a Pride festival in LA in quite some time. Madrid’s version is an international event, like West Hollywood. But comparisons begin and end with the word “Pride.” Madrid’s “Orgullo” is a four-day extravaganza that makes WeHo look like a nuns’ tour. So extreme is this event, it carries the weight of the good, the bad and the ugly of the city.
My decision to attend Orgullo was a result of connecting with an online friend named Telmo, who hails from Guarda, Portugal, was coming to Madrid. He was going to meet up with own friends in the city to enjoy the full run of the events. We had exchanged quite a few IM conversations in the weeks leading up to My Salamancan Summer. It seemed like a win-win and it was. Granted, trying to find him near the Prado Museum was on par with escaping the fall of Saigon. Tens of thousands of people packed the Gran Via (Madrid’s main avenue) for a view of la manifestación (or parade) that defied description.
It’s funny, the literal translation of “manifestación” is manifestation. After viewing this teeming mass of revelers, all in states of ecstasy that were either natural or chemical, it could be argued they embodied something abstract or theoretical. How else could you define their all feeling ORGULLO, in all caps? Families shared space with drag queens. Babies waved their rainbow flags as their parents joined in the chanting and dancing. It seemed all of Spain had waited for this day to come and they were all going to exhibit their support for the LGBT communities of the world. Or maybe they just were happy to have an excuse to party like it was their last day on Earth without any consequence. The colors, much like my own feelings about being part of this celebration, ran from bright to dark and back in seconds.
Imagine my surprise, when I finally found a way to meet Telmo at the Prado entrance, I got to witness several men relieving themselves against the statue of Goya or the bushes in the park. It became more than a “running gag” that night, pun most intended. When I explained this night to Manoli during la cena after I got back to Salamanca, she offered this concise observation: No entiendo porque la gente se porta a la bestia! She’s right. And consider this, beasts run in packs, and they will piss in packs, too.
I won’t obsess about this one detail best defined as “asceroso.” However, I am glad it didn’t have to throw away my black leather Vans after wading through the rivers of urine and trash that graced most of the streets of Chueca and the Gran Via. Apparently, this entire reality is courtesy of the maligned mayor of Madrid, the excoriated Ana Botella. Yes, she of the “having a relaxing cup of café con leche in the Plaza Mayor” fame. (Please look that up on YouTube. You won’t be sorry.) She doesn’t want to spring for public facilities throughout the city. I mean, who pissed in her cup of coffee, right? That doesn’t excuse the lack of manners of the populace, either. That’s the ugly of Orgullo. The “good” and “so bad it’s good” is something different altogether.
“Red cups and sweaty bodies everywhere
Hands in the air like we don’t care
‘Cause we came to have so much fun now
Bet somebody here might get some now
If you’re not ready to go home
Can I get a “Hell, no! “? (Hell no)
‘Cause we’re gonna go all night
‘Til we see the sunlight, alright” – Miley Cyrus
The Taxi Driver, The King, The Queen and the Girlfriend
How to report on the rest of my Orgullo experience? I’ve been battling exactly how much truth to reveal about my night and half-day in Madrid due to how this might appear to certain members of my own tribe. But the education I seek from this month is Spain is not just of an academic nature. I joke about it being my “Shirley Valentine” moment, but deep down I really mean it. Hello, Telmo.
As much as I like to bemoan our iPhone life, how about them apps? That’s how I discovered Telmo of Guarda. I liken this entire experience as having a pen pal with benefits. I knew we’d get to meet, but I wasn’t sure if it would end in the obvious. In short, as Allison Janney decrees with deserved joy in the 1999 cult comedy classic “Drop Dead Gorgeous” – “I got some!”
Why be precious about it? I wanted it to happen because I’ve lost so much of my confidence in making it happen. Period. I was tired of feeling invisible in L.A. I’m 46, single and scared that the prospect of finding someone with whom to share this life is dwindling. Worse, the failure of my last attempt at a relationship shook my self-esteem to the core. No, I wasn’t going to leave Spain without the chance to feel a frisson of my own. And I did.
The awkwardness of meeting Telmo face to face was a little daunting, particularly since his friends were so incredibly vivid. And closer to me in age. Yes, Telmito was 25. I have shoes older than him, but dammit if he isn’t an mature soul where it counts. What I didn’t anticipate how much fun I would have with his posse of Madrid’s finest. They were old friends, protective of their friendship with Telmo but absolutely welcoming of me. They opened up their lives in the most candid manner, answering my questions with such directness, it emboldened me and made me appreciate my own gay identity anew.
This is what I miss in LA, a group of like-minded men with who to rage against the dying of the light. As much as I love the women in my life, I’m still very much a man. This group of five men featured a known blogger and writer, who was constantly being stopped on the street as we ventured through Chueca. His partner of 12 years was a taxi driver, who possessed such a wonderful knowledge of Madrid’s history. As we walked through several neighborhoods and landmarks (Lavapies, Chueca, La Puerta del Sol), the city was that much more alive in a night already teetering on the edge of sensory overload. Even after our group dispersed post-dinner, I will never forget the care and ease with which Juan and Enrique shared their combined knowledge of their hometown as we continued the night.
Imagine my surprise to see one school turned convent that originally housed the children of the rich and the poorer progeny of los republicanos. Those children of the rebels were brought to the school, not with the intent of being educated, but to serve the school of labor. Or, how Lavapies was one of the truest neighborhoods of Madrid in terms of its identity. I walked the street where Cervantes lived, the pavement now embossed with quotes from other writers in the most banal touristy fashion, but no less impactful. Or having my own tourist moment by standing at the 0 km mark that siphons off into the varying postal routes that divide up the city.
As we survived the outrageous mob of a urine-soaked Chueca, I could not help but marvel at the unbridled sights and sounds of debauchery that kept growing in intensity all around me. But Enrique and Juan kept their steady charge forward, with Telmo and I in tow. From the historical to the personal, they all contributed to a rose-colored chronicle on how they all met and courted and lived their lives in Madrid. Forget about talk of us being disconnected. None of this happened over the Internet. It happened in real time with all the humanity that we have always craved and altered in the most deplorable fashion.
Now, about the King and the Queen and the Girlfriend… So, when Juan Carlos was in Africa in 2012 shooting elephants, guess who wasn’t with him? Yes, his wife, the queen. Of course, the man broke his hip. The ensuing scandal got better when the girlfriend was revealed, validating the endless chatter that JC was one unfaithful king. Even better, when he was back in Madrid to recover from the painful ordeal, Queen Sofia paid him a visit, natch. But she never saw him, choosing instead to sit in an adjoining hospital room to read a book. After 20 minutes, she left the building and told the gathered press JC was doing fine. As for the girlfriend, she’s no longer in the picture. And he’s since abdicated the throne after one scandal too many rocked the monarchy. The moral of story?
It’s good to be the Queen.
Aprendiendo a “zorrear” y dar “la putivuelta”
Orgullo was not without its academic opportunities, you know? Thanks to Juan, I was explained the virtues of two clubbing traditions in Chueca. And these apply anywhere where the public congregates to be seen. To zorrear means to “whore around.” Dar una putivuelta is to walk by and scan the lines in front of the clubs to review the talent that’s also cruising you. If anyone looks good, all bets are off and you venture into the club with the goal to zorrear. The differences, like all romance languages, are quite distinct. It is all about intent and one way or another, even the explanation of tomcatting around has its nuances.
Isn’t culture a wonderful thing?
I’m a Bearbie Boy
By Madrid’s standards, the night was still young at two in the morning. Telmo and I bid Enrique and Juan a farewell and continued our crawl through Chueca. After hearing about most of my classmates’ club lives, I raised the ante by engaging in a bit of cub life at Bearbie.
Man, it was good to dance like no one was watching. Maybe it was combinations of techno pop, mobbed floor and crap whiskey, but suddenly I wasn’t wrapped so tight. I wanted to kick myself for bringing my damn man bag. (Balenciaga, thank you.) I kept holding it close like I was a different Sophia, as in Petrillo. It was operating too much like a chastity belt when Telmo surprised me with a tender first kiss.
Suddenly, I was in a YA novel underscored by Gaga. As his beard rubbed against my neck, the electricity generated by this sensation made me sigh quite audibly. It was so fucking hot! My knees went weak as he pressed that much harder against me, kissing me with a force that could only end in total surrender. And I kissed him back in kind, pushing that damn bag to the side, just hoping it wouldn’t prove my undoing. Being that breathless will do that to you, even if it invites the prospect of being robbed on a crowded dance floor. To say the least, I couldn’t get enough.
You can’t underplay the importance of a dance floor make out. It is a two-way street, hermano. You have to give as good as you get and that night was absolutely restorative. I was a man reborn. I wasn’t a sad sack full of complaints about how shitty it was being single at 46. Nor was I carrying on about “the one that got away.” That fever caused by a Saturday night in Madrid revealed someone very much engaged by what was happening because it was reciprocated in kind. I felt sexy and desired, not invisible and encased by own pessimism and solitude.
It was, as the kids say, the Best. Night. Ever.
As for the rest of it? I shall let the image fade to black once we made our way back to the hotel by early dawn. MediaJor’s are figurative and discrete, dammit. But I awoke with the knowledge that someone made my first night in Madrid one to remember. If that doesn’t personify real orgullo, or the pride of being alive, I don’t know what else would. I can only hope he feels the same about our time together. But like Shirley Valentine, I hadn’t fallen in love with him. No. As sweet a night we shared, the result was something a bit more profound.
I had fallen in love with the thought of living.
Lady Cab Driver and return home
After Telmo left to rejoin his friends, I prepared to make my way back to Salamanca. A fried food lunch at the nearby VIPS was in order to stave off the cruda. Then I hopped a cab to Chamartin train station. But I wasn’t out of Madrid’s throes, just yet. Heaven sent me Angela, the source of one of the better cab conversations I’ve experienced. As I explained my Orgullo experience, she said, “La cara de Madrid es de color negro, blanco y gris.”
It was true. The faces all amounted to a complex portrait that requires real study to understand, if ever. We did focus on the bad behavior of the public. She blamed the status of equality that men and women now share in certain degrees. For her, men and women are not truly equal because there are things women should not really do. “Like pissing in the streets?”
“Si, claro,” opined Angela. “Mujeres necesitan ser mujeres.”
That may be the case, but men need to be men, too. I’m not sure what the coming weeks have in store, but the possibilities I am experiencing in Spain have never felt so endless. As I wrote to Norma over the weekend, I’ve contracted a strong case of optimism and good humor of late. Dare I say it?
This feels so much like happiness to me.
Monday, July 7 @ Manoli’s house in Salamanca, Spain.