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Gay Spain: A Modern Model of Progress and Fun
Intro: many LGBT
folks don't think of Spain as a frontrunner
in the gay rights movement. But they are greatly mistaken. In June
of 2005 the Spanish government approved
full marriage rights for homosexual couples, becoming only the third
country in the world to offer that status. But far beyond this one
statuary change is a thriving and extensive national network of lesbigay
life and activism that spans the mountains and plains of this very
historic country, from far out Ibiza Island through Barcelona, Madrid
and on to the Costa del Sol.
Spain News & Reports
2000 to present
By Richard Ammon
Revised July 2008
journey through Spain is a journey through western civilization. Among
the ragged mountains, dusty plains and
hilltop cities are the souvenirs and remnants of empires of vast distance
and imagination. There were people in the Iberian peninsula for thousands
of years before the Romans arrived with horses, shields and brilliant
engineers who raised up huge coliseums and amphitheaters seating 40,000
people. Visigoths, Muslims, Christian knights, modern civil wars and
a dictator followed by a reborn monarchy and democracy. It’s all
packed into Spain from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.
And of course among the invaders, winners and losers were countless gay
and lesbian peasants, knaves, knights, bishops, kings and real queens
with fabulous crowns who kept silent vigil over their secret desires
for queer love, sex and passion.
silence has given way over a thousand years to clear and persuasive voices
that sound out today in modern Spain, in major inland cities and
along the high rise resorts of the south coast. Today’s Spain is
a vacation haven for countless northerners in search of winter and spring
sun, including thousands of LGBT folks who have made Ibiza, Sitges or
Torremolinos their second home. So history continues to unfold in Spain
as another ‘invasion’ of queer adventurers, lovers and sun
seekers touch down on the shores of this ancient kingdom.
But more influential than tourists, Spain's dedicated gay rights
organizations have driven their cause deep into the heart of the government.
Playing toreador to the government bull, the leading LGBT activist organization,
FELGT, finessed, cajoled and persuaded the
federal government, with complete success, to approve gay
June 2005, the third European country to do so (after Holland and Belgium).
For in depth reports about this historic legislation go to Gay
Spain News & Reports 20005.
Madrid: Barrio de Chueca
A short evening walkabout in the Chueca district of Madrid, just north
Prado Museum, is enough to see the heart core of LGBT life in Madrid: eating,
shopping, sex, sleeping and soccer, books and pubs, dancing and talking.
is the ‘red zone’ of Madrid where trend and trash blend
into a homey, bustling warren of small streets offering gay saunas,
peep-shows, ‘naturist’ bars
(clothing checked at the door), fashion shops sporting Dolce and Gabana underwear,
chic slick cafes, old world pubs with sofas and ceiling frescos, a couple of
rainbow bookstores, Madrid’s LGBT Center (COGAM), Starbucks and still
more clothing shops. A place where every other door leads to a bar/café/pub
with arrays of tempting ‘tapas’ snacks (including tripe) on the
counters, Turks offer up kabobs and falafel in small bustling shops next to
restaurants (dinnertime goes from 8 to 11 PM) where the waiter may take your
order between televised soccer plays.
American in Chueca
Not surprisingly, many foreigners fall in love with Spain’s charm, pace,
culture and gay life. One such ‘victim’ is Lawrence Schimel, (pictured left), an award winning New York-born writer. Schimel
has lived in Spain for six years and is proud of his fluent acquired
second language. At the young age of 33 his name is on the
cover of nearly 70 books and periodicals. A night owl he is
often still at his computer at 5 AM hammering out fiction, poetry,
magazine narratives or collating anthologies or creating adult erotica.
met at Berkana one evening as we both were checking out the new arrivals—books,
that is. Owner Mili connected us as I finished up interviewing her about
Berkana’s unique history. Lawrence showed me several of his books,
including gay comic books and a children’s book (in Spanish) on
But soon it was closing time so we continued at the trendy D'Mystic Café around
the corner where gay and straight couples and friends lingered over late night
espressos. No surprise, Lawrence had much to say about his experiences
as an expat gay writer in Spain.
has happened in many other gay neighborhoods, such as San
Francisco's Castro, West Hollywood, or New York's Chelsea, Chueca is
now highly desirable real estate, also attracting liberal heterosexuals
both as residents and as consumers of chic boutiques, eclectic restaurants,
and vibrant nightlife. The free gay map of Madrid put out by Spain's
oldest gay and lesbian bookshop Berkana, has more than 130 listings of
establishments of all sorts, bars, discos, cafés, shops, collectives
and more. While many of these businesses are concentrated in Chueca,
there are still the old fruit markets, typewriter-repair stores, and
shoe showrooms that've always been here." (Lawrence's web site is http://www.circlet.com/schimel.html)
Chueca displays the usual signs and symptoms of LGBT life:
rainbow flags, underwear boutiques, posters for dances, scattered business
on the sidewalks for
a ‘naturist’ gay bar, MSM and WSW couples holding hands,
saunas, discarded issues of old issues of Shangay gay magazine, cafes
with sit-down couples and klatches of guys or girls.
Walking down the main streets, Fuencarral and Hortaleza, on my first
evening I saw a group of women with purple balloons and rainbow flags
to hear speeches and music in celebration of International Women’s
This year Madrid’s organizing feminists included lesbians for the
first time in their program. Needless to say it was an important step
A revolution has happened here,” declared Mili Hernandez, co-owner
with her lesbian partner of the well-stocked, high–energy and colorful Berkana
bookstore-café-shop that offers thousands of books, clothes,
sex toys, videos, household paraphernalia and good coffee with pastries.
years ago we opened our store and it was the only daytime gay place in the area.
The area was then run down and filled with drug addicts. There were a few late
night bars that hid in the dark, but we opened our doors in the daytime
so gay people had a place to come,” adding that she has never had a single incident
or problem with authorities. On her free bookmarks are listed Berkana’s
offerings: books, magazines, videos, gifts and café. Mili also publishes
books by LGBT authors.
(See http://www.curvemag.com/Detailed/614.html for more
Mili (left) is an outgoing, upbeat cheerful woman in her forties who presides
over the busy store with the ease and confidence of a den mother while her
Mar del Griñó, tends to the less hectic gift shop downstairs.
At first glance, the soft spoken, straight-looking ‘auntie Mar'
seems out of place among some of the merchandise that includes dildos, condoms,
leathers chaps. But she takes it all in stride as if she were selling fruit
Along Calle de Fuencarral, at #37, is Madrid’s LGBT center named COGAM
(Collective of Gays and Lesbians of Madrid). Open every day from 5-9 PM it
is the heartbeat of gay Madrid where essential services are offered such
as a phone
help line counseling, political organizing, social organizing, and a safe-place
café for hanging out with friends. It was busy the first time I visited
with a lot of women gathering for the women’s rally. Here there are numerous
free magazines and maps that list the dozens of LGBT venues, events and services
in Madrid and across the country. On the bulletin boards are notices for meetings,
clubs, sports, pets, roommates and other hook-ups.
the ground floor a friendly and chatty
café serves coffee and teas
and condoms with equal aplomb. Upstairs are a dozen offices of this
well run organization. I met Ramon Nunez and Chema Luengo, two of the many
volunteer staff who make
A quiet friendly man on his thirties with thick dark hair and rimless
glasses, Ramon is an insurance adjuster by profession who works four hours
a week to
coordinate social services for COGAM. He listed an impressive menu
of activities that take
place each week. There are groups for parents of gays, gay parents, lesbians,
gay Catholics, youth, another for all ages, for transgender folks; there’s
a theatre/opera group, others for sports/hiking and human rights advocacy. A
unique group is for deaf LGBT people. Then there’s the library, a weekly
radio program and a web site (www.cogam.org). Psychological and legal counseling
(supplied by the government) is offered for legal issues, unemployment, and
human rights. Although there is no group for Muslims gays I did see health
in Arabic offered.
For icing on the cake, COGAM is funded by the government of the Madrid
province, as are other LGBT centers and services by different provincial
COGAM’s offices are also home to FELGT
(Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Transsexuals and Bisexuals), Spain’s national umbrella LGBT political/activist organization (www.felgt.org) who are most
visible with their advocacy programs for human rights, non-discrimination
statutes and most recently for gay marriage. The
headed for victory in June 2005 when the parliament is expected to vote in
favor of full and equal marriage for all couples in Spain. (For some background
and reports on LGBT politics and activism see http://www.globalgayz.com/spain-news.html.)
At COGAM I also met Ramon Linaza, a former advocate and activist
with FELGT who offered some time to further describe the history and achievements
FELGT in its long march from dictator Franco’s brutal repression
(1936-75), when gays were jailed and tormented, to the abundance, dignity
and pride of today’s
Ramon was born in 1957 and by the time he was 18 Franco was sputtering his
last gasps. But that did not stop Ramon from being arrested for protesting
the regime: “since that time our progress has been phenomenal--except for
a 1981 attempted military coup that failed quickly. The first gay
rally against hated leftover Franco laws took place in Barcelona in 1977
and in Madrid in 1978;
in 1979 the discriminatory laws were rescinded. In the 80’s a great ‘Movida’ (progressive
movement) took place as freedom of expression and individuality increased.”
Ramon, a handsome man in his forties with chiseled features has been partnered
with Carlos, an actor, for over 30 years. They rent a flat in one
countless apartment blocks in the middle class suburb area of Trafalgar.
On December 1, 2005 (World AIDS Day) Ramon and Carlos got married in a public
ceremony ("as a show of solidarity") that was reported on TV, with many positive
responses. Together they run
in Madrid named "Candilejas".
has been HIV positive for nearly 20 years. For him
HIV is a manageable disease
due to the miracle of modern ‘cocktail’ antivirals and a generous
government health system. “My
medicines cost about 3000 euros a month but it’s all paid by our
social system of medicine.”
Ramon observed that the gains of the LGBT community have been due
to many factors such as an abiding reaction against Franco’s
fascism in favor of democratic rights, joining the EU with its pro-gay
statutes, a greatly
diminished Catholic church and the current
European and Canadian groundswell for gay marriage rights. These have all
clearly been felt here.
aiding the development of gay rights, Lawrence Schimel has also observed that
a certain indifference toward political or relgious activism emerges
from the 'common folk'. There is little fervent anti-gay fundamentalism
in the streets or in the media. "This
Spanish apathy fortunately also afflicts Spain's homophobes,
and the active hate-mongering along the lines of the U.S.ˆs
Christian right is largely absent.
this lack of an organized visible enemy, the general lack of urgency,
the Mediterranean character of live and let live, inhibits a sense
of personal political identity and activism as we are familiar
with in the States. Able to hold one's boyfriend's hand
in public, and with various openly-gay actors, writers, dancers,
models in daily view, many Spanish queers lack the personal incentive
to fight for legal reparation of homosexuals."
also noted that this lack of "social conscience" cuts both ways as
some LGBT activist organizations have
seen a drop in volunteerism in the recent years. He quotes Mili Hernández,
the owner Berkana bookstore in Chuec who has spoken about
this constriction of a gay voice: "We're living in a state
of tolerance in Spain that's only virtual, which allows us
to display our sentiments as in public without problems, in Chueca.
But we're still missing that true tolerance that would let us live
openly as gays and lesbians in rural areas and the smaller towns." )
Crowning this movement, Ramon happily described the highly visible
and recent appointment of Pedro Zerolo, an openly gay Madrid city council
former president of FELGT, as a member of the ruling Socialist party's executive
one of Spain's most influential positions. Zerolo now oversees social
movements and policies regarding issues of race, gender, sexuality,
age and religion.
(For a more detailed report about Zerolo, see http://www.globalgayz.com/spain-news.html,
The Socialists were swept into power in 2004 in reaction to
the terrorist bombing at Madrid’s huge Atocha train station that killed hundreds of people, presumed
in response to Spain’s support for the US led war in Iraq. Immediately
upon his election the new Prime Minister Zapatero withdrew Spanish
troops from Iraq to the cheers of most Spaniards.
Make no mistake about gay Spain being on the forefront of LGBT rights
in Europe. Madrid, in addition to other leading LGBT cities such as
and Malaga, is a beaming landmark along the out and proud LGBT
trail across Europe that reaches from Costa del Sol on Spain’s
Mediterranean coast across the continent through Zurich, Budapest to
Warsaw to Berlin to Amsterdam on up to
London and Manchester and over to Oslo. It is one of the strongest,
most articulate and advanced arcs of gay human rights in the world
is a neighborhood where friends live and play and tell silly
sad tales of romance, family dramas and urgent gossip. The usual greeting
is a kiss on either cheek or maybe both if one is special. Whether
sitting with peers with pierced lips and spiky hair or doing Saturday
chores Lawrence Sxhimel notes that sometimes it's hard to get from
one end of Checa to another especially if accompanied by a outgoing
who seems to know everyone. Kisses and hugs, schmoozing tid bits of
never-ending emotion, comparing new shoes--not to mention exchanging
glances with new faces from the gym or a new waiter from D'Mystic Café. "Such
immediacy can be a dazzle" as the poet Rilke said of another place
The nightlife that takes
over Chueca and many other districts after 9 PM. Dinner here
starts about then and can go on till midnight when the clubs, bars,
discos, saunas warm up as the younger generations dress up or down
to attend their favorite haunt.
first introduction to the ‘scene’ was through Matt,
a handsome visiting Brit, in his thirties with cheerful lively dark eyes,
short dark hair
and a youthful face. In an unpretentious and open manner he described
the delights of the restaurants, museums, clubs and all-night saunas.
In Madrid to let his
hair down he has danced, dined and dipped into some sex at the various
opportunities available to locals and visitors in this sleepless megopolis
of three million
people. He was recovering from an all-nighter when we met.
What did you do all night,” I asked, since I can’t remember
when I had done the same. “Well, dinner of course doesn’t start
before ten and then it’s midnight. I met the British owner of Liquid
bar and we talked for a while and he wanted me to come back at three. So
I went to the Paraiso
sauna for two or three hours and met this really cute guy I played with
till his catty friends found us and interrupted with unkind remarks. So
apart and I left to go back to Liquid and meet this other guy.
We went out for some food and another disco at four. Then to bed
at six. Six o’clock!
I couldn’t believe I was doing that. I’m thirty. I’m
too old for this!”
apparently not for many young locals. Schimel, in six years of
adapting to his new home has seen how the locals survive such intense action:
"Spaniards have this knack of what I call "dormiendo
de prisa" ("sleeping very quickly"), able
to compress an eight-hour night's sleep into only three or four and
still function, a Spanish trait I've still not managed to assimilate
after these years."
So the scene is what you want it to be—as in any big metropolis with a
lively scene—gay or straight. The queers are not the only night
prowlers. Along the streets of Chueca I spotted (and was spotted by)
various ladies coming
on their night shift in skimpy tight outfits and high heels.
To organize a visit to gay Madrid or Barcelona or any other major city
a visitor must pick up one of the free glossy magazines that listed venues
country. The most visible is Shangay, a free scene-zine
with the latest in fashion, disco
happenings, parties, theatre and musicals, phone sex and soft porn underwear.
Shangay also offers Shanguide to the LGBT scene in Madrid with many listings
of the current scene from sex to cinema, from books to pet adoptions, music
major magazine is Zero (costs 4 euros) that comes with
Zero-guia (guide) that also lists nation-wide venues. This large format
stories (such as sex for sale and gays in Nepal) book reviews, ads for
and social festivals as well as the usual countless ads for clubs, CDs,
videos reviews, fashions, food and real estate. The issue I bought came
with a complementary
magazine called Zero Decora, another hundred-page glossy
focused on fashions and interior design sporting male models with perfect
abs lounging about
A much smaller (32 pages) guide is Todosexo which I found
to be unusual in that nine of its full-page ads were for lesbian hook-ups
or phone-sex, something
had not seen before in any scene magazine before.
Odisea is another glossy monthly with much the same ads,
features, erotic photos, happenings, news, play reviews, nation-wide listings
and a full page
Madrid as a candidate city for the 2012 Olympics.
At Berkana bookstore I found copies of a large-format ‘Gesto—The
Other Magazine’ a more upscale and stylish monthly featuring
more thoughtful essays on lesbian parenting, art history , Islam and
homosexuality, the solitariness
of phone sex, film making and haute nude photography, etc. However, I
think it’s still published since the issues I saw were free and
out of date.
dark the velocity slows down to a convivial pace as singles, couples
and groups of lesbigays gather for a drink or a ‘menu del dia’ dinner
at the cafes and restaurants woven into the narrow alleys and streets
with catchy names such as My Way, La Dame Noire, Gula Gula, Mama Ines and
after strolling the ‘scene’ I settled on a place such as Restaurant
Vivares and ordered my ‘cena’—often it was about 10
PM. (It pays to carry early evening snacks when traveling around Spain.)
In all, Zero guide lists more than 100 LGBT venues in Madrid, including
cafes, bars, restaurants, saunas, a dozen sex shops, and discos
as well as
numerous gay travel agencies, hairdressers and dozens of gay or
pro-gay clothing stores.
Although Madrid has Spain’s largest LGBT community this city is hardly
alone in offering a rich choice of community, entertainment and social life.
I didn’t make it to Barcelona this time. Just covering the southwest
quarter of Spain, as I did with a rental car, easily consumed three weeks.
route included Madrid, Toledo, Cordoba, Granada, over the mountains to
coastal Malaga, Marbella, Torremolinos, Gibraltar (UK), Huelva area (to
town of Palos de la Frontera where Columbus set sail) then up to Seville,
on to Merida with its great Roman coliseum and amphitheater, then to
its awe-inspiring Roman aqueduct and finally Trujillo where the explorer
There is so much ancient history in Spain in addition
to an abundance of modern life. Barcelona, with a population of more
than 1.5 million
the size of Madrid—offers about half the LGBT venues and businesses,
which is still a considerable number: 50 bars and cafes, 15 discos, 8
saunas, 45 restaurants
as well as other similar services as Madrid including the activist FELGT
Although not known internationally as a gay destination, Malaga city
on the southern Mediterranean coast with a population of nearly 600,000
(Valencia is third, Seville is fourth) year-round gay population. Here
I found LGBT activist organizations offering social, political, legal
I spoke to leaders of the two groups in Malaga, COLEGAS and
they overlap with some of their services they don’t work together,
each operating with their own volunteers and staff.
COLEGAS (Collectivo of lesbianas y gays), with offices
on Victoria Street in the heart of the historic district that includes
immense cathedral, is the larger of the two associations (www.colegaweb.net).
With branches in the
cities of Almeria, Granada, Jaen, Huelva, Cordoba, Madrid, Valencia,
Burgos and Seville COLEGAS offers up a menu of weekly social and cultural
are summarized in their monthly magazine Colega. (COLEGAS is not a
member of FELGT, the nationwide umbrella organization in
FELGT has about
32 inclusive LGBT organizations under it auspices.)
COLEGAS provides social and educational services. Volunteer Santiago Rubio
told me their work is provides outreach to secular institutions such as
and schools. When I visited there was a training being given to several
volunteers to prepare them for an upcoming radio program that would be
aired in Malaga
in the near future. They also provide support groups for the LGBT community
and psychological support to young people facing adjustment problems such
as coming out and self esteem.
COLEGAS has a monthly magazine Colega with feature articles on such topics
as immigration, health, human rights and legal rights. Colega magazine
organization’s monthly activities and provides world-wide news,
books reviews, film reviews and entertainment ads.
There is another LGBT magazine in Malaga called Malagay (www.malagay.com, www.costagay.com) that comes out monthly,. It also has feature articles
such as Islam and homosexuality,
gay life in Africa and South America, HIV, interviews with gay leaders
as well as listings for LGBT events.
second LGBT organization is OJALA, a smaller association that
focuses on human rights, outreach education and has a phone help line
Two helpful volunteers, Marco Barquero and David Aránega, met
with me in their downtown office
and described Ojala’s social and educational services.
One of OJALA’s best known members is Antonio Gutierrez Dorado,
53, one of Spain’s earliest activist who launched protests
against the Franco regime and advocating for the removal of the pernicious
laws. Gutierrez is
now vice president of ‘Association of (homosexual) Ex-prisoners’ (under
Franco) within the Democratic Union of Homosexuals (founded in 1975,
the first gay rights organization in Spain). The efforts of this group
are currently aimed
at destroying all police and psychiatric records of imprisoned gays and
demanding compensation for past discriminatory and arbitrary imprisonment
(Happily, the government approved the compensation in 2004.)
Antonio Gutierrez was among the first, in 1976, to denounce the treatment
of gays in Spain. He demanded freedom for political and sexual
prisoners and abolishment
of the hated ‘ley de peligrosidad social’ (the social danger law
that authorized the arrest of ‘socially undesirable’ people. (It
was abolished in 1979.) He also demanded social equality for all. However, to
this day, despite knowing which judges, police and military officers were responsible
for unfairly imprisoning gays and other minorities no one has been accused or
indicted. Gutierrez doesn’t want revenge but rather accountability
and acknowledgement of wrongdoing.
Gay life in Spain is alive and well beyond the major cities. It would
take a year of careful travel to research all the gay venues listed in
magazine and Zero-guia (guide). I counted about 40 cities across Spain
with LGBT listings--not
bad for a country only thirty years beyond Franco.
Many gay visitors to Spain think first of Torremolinos and Ibiza as
the gay hot spots of the country. I passed through Torremolinos 25 years
the city is densely crowded with mostly straight sun seekers from northern
Europe. High-rise hotels crowd in among endless blocks of holiday
flats. I wondered who would want to spend a holiday here among the swollen
traffic, shopping congestion, fast food joints and masses of straight
Brits and Swedes.
Then I went to the beach and my objections dissolved.
Miles of sand stretch out along the Mediterranean under clear blue skies
with the warming sun of spring chasing off the chill of late winter.
out across the gentle sea has a soothing effect. One can walk along the
light brown sandy beaches for miles picking up colorful seashells. There
plenty of laid back restaurants along the shore road serving heart-stopping
breakfast--eggs, sausage, ham, chips/fries, beans and toast!
As I checked e-mail one day (mid March) in Torremolinos where the temp
was about 70 degrees (F), a friend wrote to me from Oslo and mentioned
(F). This also helped explain the popularity of this south coast city.
There are (perhaps exaggerating slightly) millions of condos and flats
and houses built here—and more in the making-- along this area of
the sea, many are second holiday homes and many are being bought by retirees
from France, Germany
and the UK. Other folks come here on holiday package tours such as the
pleasant husband and wife duo we met from Dublin who were part of a group
of 700 Irish
folks in Costa de Sol for a week of Irish music. Their airfare, four-star
hotel, two meals a day and the concerts cost them less than a thousand
A very good deal.
LGBT visitors Torremolinos is a combination of Brighton Beach (UK)
and South Beach (USA)--warm and playful. There are now
about 40 gay bars
a dozen discos including the huge Palladium, two dozen gay owned/friendly
restaurants and some sex shops. Not bad for a city of about 36,000
swells to over a hundred thousand in the high season.
I didn’t go to Ibiza on this trip but the little
island with the big gay heart has about the same number of LGBT venues
population of the island is just under 100,000 but swells to accommodate
a million visitors a year. Ibiza City (Eivissa) is the focal point
LGBT night socializing
where the majority of venues can be found and arguably
the best gay beaches in Spain.
east coast city of Valcenia, on the Mediterranean is not commonly
thought of as a gay destination but this city of 750,000 is a very
lively city. I didn't go to Valencia on this trip but in
one of his essays, Schimel has written: "Valencia is
the focus of attraction for thousands of gays and lesbians," quoting
Ximo Cádiz, coordinator of Valencia's Col.lectiu Lambda, "who
live, for the large part still in the closet, in the smaller towns
and villages of the region, and who find in our city a space of freedom." The Col.lectiu
Lambda is a volunteer-run gay center, providing a mix of counseling
and legal services to its members, as well as agitating and campaigning
for legal and social reforms. It also provides a locus for socializing,
with a women's group, a youth group, a group for seropositives, and
more. It is perhaps one of the most efficient of the many gay collectives
scattered throughout the country, which over the past few years has
begun to work together under the umbrella organization FELGT in Madrid
to put on events. Valencia's
gay pride celebration now draws about 4,000 people."
In the ancient and picturesque city of Sevilla, with a population
of over 700,000, there is a large selection of LGBT venues
and organizations. Both
and Colega magazines list about 25 gay bars and cafes as well as
numerous discos, restaurants, saunas, hairdressers and clothing
largest ‘gay city’, after Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia.
The main LGBT social is a branch of the COLEGAS organization based
There is also a little gay guest house on a street narrow enough
for two bicycles to pass. Airesvilla gay guest house (http://www.airesevilla.com/english.html)
doesn’t even have a street number. The street is about a
hundred and fifty feet long and about five feet wide. The guest
house is narrow, three
stories tall with six rooms (costing about 90 euros for a double).
miss it--after you find the street in the maze of alleys and passages
of the old town! It’s virtually next door to a recently re-opened
Arab Bathhouse (a trendy upscale non-gay spa). Airesvilla’s
tasteful minimal décor
is the effect of its handsome owner, Fabian Perez, originally
from Argentina, who was busy sorting linens as we talked.
Fabian recently opened Naranja restaurant. As
you might expect from a decorator queen, it’s quite different
from the old world look of Seville. The restaurant is modern, upscale,
chic and a bit
but the food looks
as fab as it
Seville is mostly but not exclusively in and near the Alameda de
Hercules Plaza, a six-block-long park
lined on both sides and ends with one café or bar
after another. There are about a dozen LGBT venues mixed in with
a couple dozen non-LGBT places.
to say the
whole area becomes quite popular after work and on weekends. Hundreds
of people mill around inside and outside the cafes drinking and
A stroll through the area late afternoon is a lesson in high sociability,
camaraderie, drinking, laughing and some youthful sloppy behavior.
The gay venues are closely
packed in with the straight ones so it’s impossible to tell who
in the crowd is patronizing which pub. Central Café is directly
across a small street from Habanilla Café. Hercules bar is a
from El Hombre y el Oso (The Man and the Bear) bar which is across
the street from
Men to Men disco.
Usually the bars, such as Men to Men, El Hombre y el Oso
start warming up until midnight or later, staying open till four
or six AM. El Hombre
y el Oso has three floors with a dark room on the top floor for
naughty boys. Behind the bar, tended by the hefty owner, is a collection
of toy bears.
another corner are El Baron Rampante and El Bosque Animado cafés
hosting early evening overflow crowds. These popular pub/cafes
are mixed gay and straight.
was so comfortable about these places was the easy
ambience the patrons appeared to enjoy. Some were crowded at the bar
with their drinks, others at small stand-up tables eating tapas and
holding their glasses of (mostly) beer talking in pairs or small congenial
groups, some obviously gay or lesbian others mixed and jovial.
There is nothing remarkable to say about these kinds of places
because they strike me as so natural and unperturbed; people
are simply open to being
and acquaintances or like-minded strangers where smiles and accepting
eyes are the norm.
Semana Santa (Easter Week) in Sevilla
As luck would have it, I arrived in Spain a couple of days before the Easter Holy Week which is Spain’s biggest religious/social
There is no more immediate introduction to the Spanish addiction to
being in a crowd of thousands along the winding cobblestone
streets of Seville to see the parades and costumes.
this case one picture is clearly worth more than a thousand words and
I leave it to my photo gallery to depict this secular pageant
burners, ornate silver plated candle holders, religious costumes,
bands playing plaintive tunes, tears for some, dress-up clothes for
lots of drinking,
hanging out with friends, estrogen girls and testosterone
boys cruising one another, mounds of chips and tapas, sore feet, baby
very slow moving floats (pasos).
Each procession carries two floats, one with Jesus
in different scenes of suffering and one with Mary dressed up like
a bride and surrounded
Seville has numerous processions
each day of Holy Week. The heavy floats (weighing more than a thousand
are borne on the shoulders and backs of thirty hefty men (costaleros)
and accompanied by hundreds of hooded parishoners in Ku Klux Klan
weave different routes through the city. However, all the processions
pass through the huge cathedral, in silence.
media hype is made of the religious impact and devotion during the
Holy Week. I must admit to a few brief moments of thrill
were heaved up onto the shoulders of the carriers causing the statues
began to sway in
a slow rhythmic motion. The normally stiff painted
figures of Jesus and Mary seem to come alive for a moment as each float
moved in the
night lights amid flickering candles accompanied by doleful music
of the bands and touched by easy breezes that fluttered the costumes.
Nevertheless, I was told later the actual impact of Semana Santa
on most citizens is minimal, like Sunday church going. For most this
week with time
off from work or a chance to get outof town.
Thousands view this religious festival live or on TV but thousands
also ignore it by staying home or going to a favorite café,
pub or bar. Later, about eleven thirty at night the city looks as if
it’s five o’clock rush
hour with packed restaurants, cafes and bars as spectators
crowd the food venues in search of eats after waiting and standing
for three or four
hours--leaving the streets very littered with trash that’s quickly
swept up by hundreds of city sanitation workers in bright green outfits.
No doubt LGBT folks are among the thrilled onlookers and devout torchbearers
as well as among the indifferent populace who have seen it all before
a café night
out with friends or anonymous visit to a sauna.
Gay Spain has come a great distance in just thirty years from a rude
and repressed past to the forefront of gay/human rights with imminent
a remarkably fortunate turn of Spanish history that gay activists
spoke up and were heard by progressive political leaders starting
in 1979. Today no LGBT person
need live in fear or shame. If he or she comes from an unfriendly
environment there are many choices now--including full marriage
rights--to live in the light of gay pride and equality.