Merry and Gay

My friend was wrong, of course (see previous post).  Spain did win the European cup for the first time in 44 years last Sunday. Had I not been asleep on a couchette from Paris to Madrid I might have taken part in a fiesta as wild as ‘Woodstock, Oktoberfest, and the Kentucky State Fair put together,’ to quote a bleary-eyed native from that state I met on the Metro on the way to work Monday morning.

No matter though: I made it to Madrid in time for the fiestas surrounding Orgullo Gay. I hadn’t known that Madrid was the ‘Capital of Gay Europe’ until a few weeks before I left, but there was little mistaking it once I arrived. The newsstands display more glossy magazines of men in various states of undress than tabloids with the latest disgraced Hollywood starlet. Where in other cities you might find street vendors selling knockoff sunglasses and Gucci bags, Madrid’s sell rainbow scarves and cowboy hats. (Out of curiosity, has the gay cowboy stereotype always been around, or did Brokeback Mountain just launch a particularly enduring fashion trend?). So I might have missed one fiesta, but I managed to walk right into another one.

I was confused, though, because I assumed gay pride week was the same worldwide, and last week, a friend and I stumbled onto the Paris Gay Pride Parade. We had gone in search of a Georgian restaurant a friend had recommended (Pirosmani on Rue Boutebrie in the Latin Quarter – if you find yourself in the area and don’t try their stuffed eggplant, you will have lived a little less fully). Mid-meal, we were drawn out of the restaurant by the siren song of ‘Blue (da ba dee)’ playing at an altogether too loud volume for 2pm on a Saturday. 

We spent and hour or two snapping pictures of especially interesting drag queens – my favorite was dressed in a cropped nun’s habit with rainbow trim and makeup reminiscent of Darth Maul from Star Wars Episode III – and dancing to awful, infectious techno music. 

There were a few somber turns: at one point, a foghorn sounded and a bespeedoed man on top of a Mac truck held up a sign saying ‘3 minutes de silence pour les victims de SADI’ (French for AIDS), which, to a moving degree, the thousands of people in the crowd obeyed. Not long after, a float went by carrying gallows representing each of the countries which still administer the death penalty for homosexuality. On the whole, however, the event was a positive one: the celebration of inclusivity and, well, pride it was intended to be.
I was surprised to find Madrid’s gay pride parade less colorful than that of Paris. From what I saw, there wasn’t much of a nod to serious issues beyond a few placards demanding equal marriage rights worldwide and a puzzling one that read ‘Denying gay rights is GAY!’ The drag queens were not nearly as outlandish, though a person of indeterminate gender dressed in a neon green catwoman suit did press a wrapped condom in my hand. A bit taken aback, I wondered if I give off a particularly straight vibe or if he/she assumed I was a transvestite. Or maybe free love was simply the order of the day.
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