(This guest post on Roma Pride is from Wendell Ricketts, a fiction and nonfiction writer whose work has appeared in Blithe House Quarterly, The Advocate, Out, and many other publications. He edited Everything I Have Is Blue: Short Fiction by Working-Class Men about More-or-Less Gay Life and currently works as a translator and writer in Balogna, Italy. He blogs at Una Vita Vagabonda. ~a.b.)
On the corner where Il Cassero, Bologna's LGBT center, is located, there's a kind of merry chaos on the morning of RomaPride: immense tour buses in pastel shades of blue, gray, and violet--the kind that usually haul swarms of German tourists to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa--are lined up along both sides of via Minzoni. The Cassero, like LGBT centers across Italy, has chartered buses for the trip south. But what's more interesting is what's lining the sidewalks: droves of dykes, flocks of fags, tribes of trannies, kerfuffles of queens, shoals of sissies. I have the sensation that every queer in Italy must be here, and we aren't even in Rome yet.
Because I am foresightful (I say) or incredibly anal (M says), we bought our bus tickets for Rome weeks ago--before, it emerges, practically anyone else and, thus, we are on Bus No. 1. The whereabouts of Bus No. 1 are, however, a mystery. Most of the buses already have a large number in their front window, but "1" is nowhere to be found. The bus drivers don't seem to know. "Deve arrivare," they say, that terrifying Italian phrase that means, roughly, "Oh, it'll be along ... eventually." We're due to leave for Rome at 9:00am. I am, I think it is fair to say, the only person who actually believes that this will take place. M tells me not to worry, that we won't miss our bus; usually, when he tells me not to worry, that's when I really start to be anxious. But this time, I decide to relax and enjoy people-watching.
We wander up and down the row of buses for a bit and finally we spot a salt-n-pepper lesbian with a no-nonsense attitude, a clip board, a pink flag, and a stack of Manifestos (the venerable newspaper, founded in 1969, of the Italian Communist party--and now the venerable newspaper of what's left of the Italian Communist party) under one arm.
Somehow, in all that, she's also holding a big "1". She is, it turns out, our capo-pullman, and after checking our names off her list, she invites us to climb on-board. Bus No. 1 is also Lesbicona Una, and we're just about the only boys. Those lesbians do love to organize. "See," I say to M. "I'm not the only one who plans ahead."
He can't say anything 'cuz he knows it's true: If it were left up to gay boys, and especially Italian gay boys, between gelling our hair to within an inch of its life, getting our eyebrows plucked and re-shaped, and buying shirts that are two sizes too small, we'd never get another blessed thing done. As it is, at twenty past nine, there's a line around the block in front of Cassero: even though tickets have been on sale for a month, dozens of queens are still trying to buy them at the last minute. You can put a pistol to my head if you want: I'm still going to swear there wasn't a real girl in the entire bunch.
At precisely 9:28 a.m., Bus No. 1 is one of the first of nineteen chartered buses to depart Bologna for RomaPride. Our bus driver is sour and nasty, and at first he tries to insist that everyone has to stow their back packs in the luggage compartment underneath the bus. He keeps saying, "You can keep your purses, but the backpacks, no." Honey, there's not one single one of us that has a purse, and I mean not even the boys. I don't know who he thinks he's dealing with, but there's massive civil disobedience, and in the end he gives up.
He gets his revenge later, when we stop for a lunch-and-pee-break outside of Florence. After we're all back on board, he deliberately makes us wait another 15 minutes while he paces around and around the bus in the middle of the blazing hot parking lot at the rest area, smoking and checking his cell phone for text messages. I can't tell what he's so offended by and I don't care. I keep wishing he'll do something really hostile so the dykes can let him have it, but he limits himself to very Italian passive-aggressiveness.
At some point along the way, our capo-pullman starts passing out printed information: maps, subway instructions, useful phone numbers. This is the most organized affair I've seen in two entire years in Italy. There's only one small catch: we were supposed to be landing in Piazzale Ostiense, where the march is kicking off, and where our friends are due to meet us. But there's a change in plans: Now the bus is going to let us off at near the Ponte Mammolo metro stop, all the way to hell and gone on the Linea B. From there it's 13 metro stops to Piramide, which faces P.le Ostiense. Actually, it makes sense: I'd been wondering how 19 buses from Bologna, plus scores of others from Bari, Naples, Milan, Genova, and points north, south, east, and west were going to make it into P.le Ostiense along with several hundred thousand homosexuals and a dozen or more floats. Phone calls are made; text messages are exchanged.
As we get off the A90, it starts to pour. It's the only time in the whole trip when our capo-pullman has seemed dismayed (indeed, she's kept up a running comedy routine for nearly four hours straight ... um, gay). "A Roma c'è una pioggia della madonna," she says. But then she adds, "It's not the first time we've marched in the rain!" and begins cracking wise about how Papa Ratzinger and his friend, Georg (Gänswein, Ratzinger's private secretary), have been praying for rain for at least a week, so it's only to be expected.
If that's true, God wasn't paying all that much attention: By the time we finally make it off the bus, onto the subway, and out into the muggy heat of P.le Ostiense, the sun is merrily illuminating everything, and there's not a drop of rain for the rest of the day.
(You can read part 2 of Wendell's account here and part 3 here. Wendell previously guest posted on Bilerico here.)