Life’s a ‘Drag’ in Umbria:
It’s no secret that there’s not much of a gay life in Umbria and what little there is, is infrequent and hard to find. I’ve often told people that finding gay Umbria is complicated by the fact that my gaydar doesn’t function very well over here. I either need a new model or, at least, a European adapter. While studies show that gay people represent 10% of the overall population, here in Italy that may be only 4%, of which maybe 1% are actually out — meaning, their mothers know. Be that as it may, the local chapter of ArciGay, the (Italian) national LGBT organization, organizes dance parties every other week or so around Perugia.
It’s all we’ve got that passes for gay culture so we have to take it or leave it. The people are friendly and diverse but the music is pounding, the air too smoke-filled, and the hostess too loud. I don’t like being yelled at by my drag queens and this one’s signature style is to scream over the music — which is unseemly. Several times I’ve suggested we start a collection to send her to New York to learn how drag queens are supposed to act, or at least how to smile.
First, a little background on the gay scene in Umbria: As I understand it, and remember there is the constant uphill battle with the language and the use of wittisisms that are more difficult for me to catch, it consists of (tackily) themed club nights in various locations. When I first went it was called the Lido (which means beach), it then became something called Tu Candela (which is a quaint euphemism for a male organ), and now it seems to be an event that moves around, this time finally back at the Lido again. I was taken there a few years back by a friend in an attempt to introduce the American to Umbrian nightlife.
The Lido is located in a seemingly deserted area on the outskirts of Ponte San Giovanni, a suburb of Perugia, so the noise isn’t a problem. It has a large pool (hence the name) and a double helping of tacky. Club music has never been my thing and this was not even very good club music at that. The walls were bathed in washed out videos in front of which various muscled or dragged out club boys gyrated (the only plus). The place was smoky and loud and I usually got there too early and left after I could stand being yelled at no more— which took about an hour and a half.
The second year I reluctantly returned but noticed that the décor had changed significantly. New bars were added with lighted-glass fronts, the tent that covered the dance floor had a more substantial roof, and the people seemed younger than I remembered. What didn’t bode well was that the ‘women,’ that I thought were too small to be drag queens or transsexuals, actually seemed to be women. The dead give away was when a bevy of attractive young men asked them to dance and they all did — together.
Damn that gaydar. I was in the wrong place.
I went up to the brooding bouncer-type and was told that the gay party was next door. Upon entering the place, I was greeted by the familiarly tacky décor and muscled boys dancing in front of a distorted Disney’s Aladdan and the Lamp. Apparently they had upgraded and turned half of the place into a straight club and renamed it Cielo (which means heaven). It was too much to bare so I boycotted the events for the rest of the year.
In my third year here, they moved the whole thing to a deserted street at the far end of an industrial zone over near the Perugina Chocolate factory. The decor was much better and the drag queens and clientele were, by now, familiar faces. Here at least the video projections were better and, one night, Lady GaGa filled an entire wall with a long playing version of Bad Romance. It was my favorite part of the evening and seemed, appropriately, to become a gay anthem. By this time I had met a new group of people and going out was more fun the few times I went.
Year four (last week): Friends said we should all meet around 11:30 at the Lido for a well publicized event. (I had encouragingly been to the previous ArciGay party at a club in San Niccolo in Cello that was really fun and ended with lots of people stripping down to their underwear and jumping into the pool.) I arrived tastefully tardy at 11:45 and walked into a club deserted except for a band setting up, a DJ adjusting his lights, and people bringing ice to a shabby unlit bar. At least I thought a live band would be a welcomed change. But again, something didn’t seem right. After a few minutes I texted my friend who told me he was there. “But where?” I texted back. I asked him to meet me at the door and he said ok. The place is not that big and after 5 minutes I realized that, damn, I did it again, I must be in the wrong place.
I went outside and, you guessed it, there was Luca standing in front of the door to Cielo.
So the tables had turned once again and the LGBTers had finally gotten the nicer club — at least for the night anyway. The place was already starting to busy up and groups of people were talking around the pool and the line at the lighted bar was still thin. We went and ordered Long Island ice teas — believe it or not, a first for this New Yorker. Luca, who was kind to worry about my being alone in a strange place, walked me around and started to introduce me to his boyfriend Stefano (who I had just friended on FB) and a couple other people. But before he could, one of them turned and said, “Michael, come stai?” and the other just gave me a hug.
At the next grouping, I asked Luca if he knew Giampiero, Tiziano, and Marco — he didn’t. As we were passing around introductions, Sergio skirted around our group on his way to meet up with Manlio (who waved) and his new boyfriend, Roberto, who were standing with someone I didn’t know. Then we ran into Michele, who sported a tattoo I had not yet seen, and Andrea, who introduced us to two people I had seen but not met. Turning, we all gaily received blown kisses from Ivo who was waiting in line at the second bar with some fresh-from-the-seaside tanned men. It was August, you know, and bronzed boys abounded.
When we finally passed around to the dance floor, I felt someone’s arms around my waist and turned to see an old heart throb, Daniele, who dragged me (not difficult at all) onto the dance floor. When I emerged from the Marlboro cloud 3 loudly pulsating songs later, Luca told me he didn’t know why he was worried about me. I could apparently get on just fine.
Later in the evening there was the obligatory drag show led by the aforementioned ‘mistress of
ceremonies’, Nikita. However, this was a special night dedicated to She Wulva — as vulgar a name as someone could come up with and means exactly what you think it does. I found out later that the party was to celebrate her coming in second place in the Miss Italia Drag Queen contest, which was apparently enough of a reason to throw a party. A large group of other drag queens (of various proportions and window treatments) were paraded onto the stage in the middle of the pool and we were yelled at for about an hour. While Nikita is by no means my favorite, I will have to say, she looked stunning in black.However, I was more captivated by an Amy Winehouse wannabe bartender with a ratty blonde wig who I had to tell I thought was divine.
We all danced, flirted, and tried to talk until I was hoarse and the ringing in my ears was too loud to bear any longer. At 3am I called it quits (ma dai! no!) and headed back to my quiet refuge in Bettona.
So, slap me silly, I’ve discovered that I actually can have fun here.
One note though: When I saw the photos the had (to my mind) had been maliciously shared on Facebook the next day, I realized that when shooting drag queens, one should refrain from using a flash. It’s kinder that way.