By Roxana Urrutia
SPAIN: Every year, Madrid celebrates the Gay Parade, but this year Spain’s capital was chosen to host the Europride Parade, making Madrid the Europride Gay Capital.
Spain has been making headlines lately because it is the second country in Europe to allow same-sex weddings.
Now, legislation has been passed allowing the gay community to adopt children, thus believing that despite having two parents of the same sex, a child is much better off in a loving home than abandoned in an orphanage. The legislation also permits transsexuals to legally change their gender without having to undergo a sex-change operation.
The gay community is liked by city residents. They are a prosperous community and are mostly hard-working entrepreneurs and professionals who restored a slum section of the city and have converted it into the poshest part of town now called “Chueca.”
The Gay Parade brings huge earning to the city. During the week of the parade, restaurants are overbooked, shops sell out of items, and bars, terraces and hotels fill to capacity.
The first gay public event was 30 years ago in Barcelona. In a most conservative country, where Franco’s dictatorship had kept everyone stuck in a state of prejudice towards everything, it has been worth noting that they, through the years, have earned everyone’s respect.
So when the Gay Parade is celebrated, everyone celebrates with them, even those traditional, elderly people, who at one time, discriminated against them and thought they were a freak of nature.
The times have indeed changed for the better and I personally couldn’t miss the parade, so I went to see it with a group of my friends.
It was to start at 6 pm, so we all met up a little before 5pm so that we could get a good watching space. When we got to Gran vÃa, the place where the entire parade was to pass, the street was full of people but the hoopla had yet to arrive.
The shady part of the street had already been taken up and so it left us no choice but to sit on the sunny side. We took our places, all six of us, and we were prepared: water bottles and hats — and the most possible skin exposed to the sun.
We had positive attitudes and told each other that we would tan, that the sun would rotate and that later we would be the lucky ones in the shade, and that the sun was important because it induced our bodies to produce vitamin D — important for fighting depression.
The atmosphere was, to say the least, very gay. The street started to fill up completely and we were proud of the seats we had so cleverly reserved by arriving earlier than the rest.
Just as we got comfortable, a blown-up pink condom cleverly camouflaged as a balloon appeared. It lay on the street with everyone walking around it. The people’s movement causing it to shift from one side to the other, every now and then it would get accidentally kicked and it would move a couple of feet only to be kicked right back again into the same area.
Two pretty South American girls, identical twins about 7 years old and dressed in long white linen dresses with braided hair and little white flowers decorating their heads, watched the balloon attentively until one of them decided to pick it up.
It became an object of curiosity as they discovered it had a tip where they could stick their fingers in and their fingers would appear as if inside the balloon.
Everyone looked at them and laughed at their innocence, while their mother with a stern tone told them repeatedly to “put the balloon down.”
The little girls pressed their faces against the balloon and looked at each other through it. Suddenly, the mother in full rage, tired of being ignored by the girls, sneaked up on the girls, and in a murderous way and with her extra-long and curved red fingernails stretched out cat-style, popped the blown-up condom as if she were attacking a monster.
The little girls, not understanding the reason behind their mother’s rabidness, started to cry and every one booed the mother. She, in turn, cursed under her breath while her eyes shifted from one side to the other waiting to make eye contact with anyone who dared to defy her act, but no one wanted to risk being mangled by her nails.
By now it was 7 pm and we had been sitting under the sun and high temperatures for two hours. The street had filled even more with people who were ready to party and they all stood in front of us, making it seem as if we were sitting on a seventh row at a concert.
The first group of parade participants appeared carrying in silence a large sign that read “La Familia SÃ Importa,” which translated into “Family Is Indeed Important.”
They were protesting that although homosexuals now had the right to adopt, they were running into a lot of bureaucratic obstacles. Everyone applauded and cheered them because even though these sign holders were dull and boring, they marked the beginning of the parade.
When they appeared, it was like Moses opening the Red Sea. Everyone pushed to the sides of the street to make room for the parade to pass. Someone from a rooftop hooked a hose to a sink and sprayed the crowds below with water.
The water feeling very cold on our sunburnt skin was making everyone cheer and look up to investigate where it came from. My friend Ana looked up squinting with one eye open and got a drip of water right into it. She grabbed her face as if acid had been poured on it.
Another friend, Selma, had gone to a nearby shop and bought flip-flops. When she took off the shoes she was wearing, the contrast of the skin that had been exposed to the sun with the one that hadn’t made her feet look very much like two Austrian flags.
When the sign holders passed, no others followed and people stretched to see how long it would be before the floats and the music would appear.
It was already 8 pm and all the fluids we had been drinking to avoid dehydration had filtered through and we all had to answer nature’s call.
I was feeling a bit queasy myself and was craving an ice-cream or something sweet — my body’s way of wanting to bring back energy. Across, on the shady side of the street, was a McDonalds and I decided that I would go there. I had no way of knowing it would take such persistence.
To cross the street now that the ocean had been parted, one had to go down into the metro tunnel that connected both sides. You don’t realize how much body odor a human can emit until you are squashed between a few thousand people and the sun is bearing down with zero mercy.
By the time I reached the golden arches, I was no longer craving the ice-cream, but like a mother who sermons and punishes a child, I told myself that after all that effort I would have an ice-cream just the same.
Once I had my MacFlurry, I decided to go ahead and use the ladies room which was two floors up. At least, that is what they told me and what I believed since the line started on the ground floor.
I ate my ice-cream with one hand covering it so that nearby people all sweaty would not contaminate it.
There were two lines set up, one for the men’s room and one for the lady’s, and women, men and transvestites stood in line bringing confusion as to which line was which.
Once on the second floor I could see out the window: there was an ocean of people on the street and a 50-yard rainbow flag was being carried atop people’s heads, looking somewhat like the dragon during the Chinese New Year’s celebration.
There were more than a few transvestites dressed in drag and wearing stilt shoes, so they stood out in the crowd and they laughed and smiled showing all their teeth and keeping their lipstick intact.
I could see my friends across the street. I was only able to pick them out in the multitude thanks to my friend Paul’s ears. My friends didn’t look happy at all and one of them, Raul, looked as if he was angry at the rest.
He was sitting with his hands on his knees, his face evidently serious and his pose facing frontward as if to avoid eye contact with the rest. I watched him a while and he didn’t even flitch when the others spoke to him.
I tried to imagine what had ruffled his feathers. Whatever it was, it didn’t seem to have ruffled anyone else’s. So he sat with his negative disposition amid ten thousand happy partying people …there was something comical about it.
I could see that Paul was now covering his ears with sunscreen and another friend, Ana, helped him. Paul made painful expressions each time she touched any sunburnt part.
When I was finished at McDonald’s, I made my way back to where the rest of my group was — I had no more repugnance of sweaty people. All seemed to smell good in comparison to the bathrooms.
I went into the tunnel that connected both sides of the street, this time there were many more people, to the point that you moved whether you wished to or not.
You kind of streamed along without a choice of direction, in the same way coffee grains go down the coffee machine funnel. When I got to the other side, I slipped and slid my way to where my group awaited, only to find that they were no longer there.
Another group of people had taken over our places and not only had I lost my group, I had more importantly lost my seat on the perch and now I stood surrounded by only strangers.
A fellah that had been standing near when the group was still united recognized me and waved as if we were old friends. I stood by him and checked my mobile and had a message from Ana and Paul telling me where they all were; but it so happened that that particular place I had never heard of.
I asked those around me and everyone shook their heads or shrugged their shoulders, making no effort to try to remember, and instead they immediately switched back to dancing while holding big plastic beer or sangria tubs.
My concentration drifted when my new unknown friend commented on how odd some of the women’s buttocks were, and I had to agree.
Some transvestites had some type of implants, hormones shots, or something of the like, and whatever it was that they had, it gave them the same look that a hamster gets when it stuffs its cheeks with food.
By that time, out of the 45 floats that were to make their appearance, only three had gone by. It was now almost 10 pm and the people that had so vibrantly danced on the floats and brought festive spirits to the event were now exhausted and even tired of holding their poses for a slimmer look.
Most of them wore little to no clothes and, by now, didn’t give a rat’s ass if their lumped poses created bellies and rolls. Still the crowds cheered.
They had been waiting for hours to see them and that made the people aboard the floats work harder to look like they were having fun.
I decided to give up. So, I pushed my way through the crowds like a champ. Water fell on me, my feet had been so stepped on that they were filthy, and my clothes had unrecognizable stains on them.
It didn’t matter. No one could see anything due to the extreme closeness we all shared. After I managed to pass all the streets where the parade was being celebrated, I found that the rest of the streets were unaffected by the parade and life continued along them as it does the rest of the year.
Now I looked like an indigent coming back from the war. In the open space I now walked, my clothes looked very much stained and my feet looked as if I had walked barefoot all the way from Pakistan, never encountering water along the way.
When I finally got home, I was somewhat well received by my dogs, even though they barely recognized me because they could also smell 300 other people.
It was a challenge for them to distinguish my scent. I walked right in through the front door and straight to the shower with all three dogs, with their olfactory glands working intensely, still sniffing me trying to figure out where I had been.
The water went down the drain a blurry black and my feet finally returned to their normal color. I turned on the TV and the parade was airing, it looked spectacular.
Well-decorated floats with people dancing on them, loud music, confetti, streamers in bright colors, lots of partying going on amid thousands of people — it looked like an event no one would want to miss and I wondered how that could be the same event that I just returned from.
All 45 floats went by, and people celebrated and candy and condoms were thrown into the crowds of merry people.
I felt cheated, I felt that had I been patient enough I would still be there having fun with the rest. I almost got dressed again, but my common sense told me to call it day and go to bed.
As I fell asleep I told myself that next year I would have a totally different approach.
Learn more about Roxana:
Roxana Urrutia is a first-generation American, born to a Spanish mother and Chilean father.
She grew up between Spain and the United States, knowing what it was like to not speak English and being treated like an immigrant, and then returning to Spain only to be considered “la Americana.”
Since 1999 she has lived in Madrid and makes her living planning events and conferences.
I used to think that I didn’t fit in either country, now I realize they are both my home.