An American Lesbian…Overseas
by Shannon Connolly
I have decided to change the title of this blog (at least for this post) considering that in the past 3 weeks, I have spent less than half of my time in Paris and most of my time in Edinburgh, St. Andrews, Cannes, Nice, Venice and now, Rome. Tomorrow I leave for Prague. So, clearly “An American Lesbian in Paris” would not be a fitting title at this particular moment in time.
Let me give you some advice about traveling on a budget (or especially as a student) in Europe – choose your accommodations carefully. I arrived in Venice two nights ago with my friend Lisa, ready to settle in to the “charming” Bed and Breakfast we had booked that was amazingly inexpensive and just steps away from the Rialto Bridge. It was nearly 9pm when we arrived in Venice, and by the time we took the bus ride from the airport and then the ferry ride across the Grand Canal, we were starving. So, in no particular hurry to get to our B&B, we stopped at a lovely little restaurant hidden down a small alley. There were bras hanging from the ceiling as decoration. At least 100 of them. Great little place with lots of character. We ate authentic Italian pasta (hate to tell you, but it’s not much better or different than the pasta in the US), shared a half a bottle of wine, and then continued on our way to B&B Rota. When we arrived at the address, I was sure there had been some mistake.
You know in horror movies when the weary travelers arrive on a deserted street looking for lodging? And the music gets low and becomes foreboding? And then the travelers warily open the door of an abandoned-looking building, while everyone in the audience is thinking “Don’t go in there! Don’t go in there!”? Yeah, that was me and Lisa in Venice. Against our better judgment, we stayed the night in the creepy hostel and simply did our best to stay out and about in the city of Venice the next day. We were only there a day but managed to squeeze in lots of exciting activities including a visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum and an oh-so-touristy gondola ride.
We came home later that night to find a new stranger occupying the extra bed in our room (that’s how hostels work: lots of strangers, one room). We took a liking to her and dragged her out with us to revisit the bras-on-the-ceiling restaurant from the night before. Turns out the girl was from Israel, but in Venice for a few days to clear her mind to decide whether to stay with her fiancé or break off her engagement. Whoa! Big stuff for a getting-to-know-you conversation. A little more wine - make that a lot more wine – and Lisa and I were sitting there counseling this girl as if she had been our closest friend for twenty years. I’m pretty sure that by the end of the conversation we had convinced our new friend to break off her engagement to the man she’s not sure she wants to marry and had each offered her a place to stay in California should she find herself in search of a new life in the United States.
Our experience at the hostel we are staying at in Rome has been completely different. In fact, this is by far the nicest hostel I have ever stayed in. If you are young and traveling to Rome anytime soon, especially as a student, stay at Yellow Hostel. It’s clean, well-managed and the staff are extremely friendly.
Our first night here I went down to the front desk to inquire about restaurant recommendations. The girl behind the desk was super friendly and pulled out this huge paper map of Rome, pointing to the Colosseum.
“Here you go. There’s a gay bar and restaurant right here down the street from the Colosseum…”
And she goes on talking, but I’m still stuck on the first part of her sentence because I am SURE, absolutely POSITIVE that I said nothing about being gay or looking for a gay restaurant. So as I stand there wondering to myself, with a little bit of excitement actually, if somehow, just maybe I am finally exuding some sort of gay signal. Maybe I am finally showing up on people’s gay-dar!
Alas, the girl continued on to say:
“You can’t miss it, there’s a big rainbow sign out front. It might even be called Rainbows. Anyway, if you go right there and continue up that street I’m sure you’ll find lots of bars and restaurants where you can have dinner.”
Turns out she just uses the gay bar as a landmark because their rainbow flag is easy to spot. Damn! Really thought I had become more obviously gay somehow.
Later that night when we went to that area of Rome (Ancient Rome where the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill can be found), I of course peeked in to Rainbows out of curiosity. Not much going on, but then again it was early in the night. Definitely possible that it became livelier later in the evening. Good mix of men and women mingling out front though, so that was a plus. Would have loved to make friends, but sadly, I do not speak a word of Italian and even my French isn’t of much use here.
Now that you have been updated on my latest travels, let me give you a Paris scene recap. My good friend Daniel and I went off to explore the bars of the Marais once again about a week ago, in hopes of finally finding some action. We passed several bars that were completely dead (I thought Thursdays were a going out night in Europe?) and a few others with Drag Queen nights going on. As exciting as the scene looked in the drag bars, they were pretty crowded and mostly filled with boys. So, Daniel and I continued on our way down Rue des Ecouffes – the street where one can find the lesbian bar 3W that I referenced in my first blog. We entered (but only after I assured the bartender that my male friend was with me…turns out they are not boy-friendly unless the said boy is accompanied by a lesbian pal) to discover a fairly empty bar and just a few occupied tables scattered around the room. Over the next two hours while Daniel and I sipped on cocktails (well, Daniel sipped on a cocktail, I drank bottled beer), I was groped by not one, but two very drunk lesbians who seemed to find nothing wrong at all with coming up behind a complete stranger on a barstool and practically licking her face. At this point, even my French failed me. How would one go about saying, “Please stop licking my face” in French? I really do not know. So I resorted to looking at Daniel with pleading eyes to help me out of what was becoming a very uncomfortable situation and he politely lied, “That is my girlfriend.” The groping women left me alone after that, but so did the rest of the women in the bar.
I have to say, the Paris lesbian scene continues to disappoint me. But, as I promised in my last blog, I am working on researching (I love calling chatting up French women “researching”) the gay cultural scene in Paris, not just the gay bar scene. Paris does have a Gay and Lesbian Center (Centre Gay & Lesbien), and as it turns out, there is a sort of gay Paris welcome and orientation every Saturday at the center from 6pm-8pm. It is conducted in French, so if you are traveling to France and do not speak French, you may do better to check out the Paris Gai Village website (www.parisgaivillage.com) where you can find information on tours and other services. Anyway, as you can tell from my travel stories, I have not been in Paris on any Saturday in about a month. But after Prague, I will be in Paris for a solid two weeks, during which I intend to attend one of these welcome sessions and maybe, just maybe actually find some good gay action in the city of lights.