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August 3, 2020 | Rome, Italy

Horizontal or vertical?

By | 2018-03-21T18:47:35+01:00 January 21st, 2012|"That's Queer"|
Red-beard: King of scowls.
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lberto and I agreed that we were spending way to much time flopped on the sofa in our fuzzy pajamas watching Italian TV’s “Maria de Filippi and Friends,” so when the Friday night pizza gang, Paulo, Lorenzo, Enrico and Angelo, invited us to join them for a ski weekend with the Gruppo Ski G, the gay ski group, we said yes. Even though we have not skied in more than 25 years, Gruppo Sci G has a good reputation for holding ski weekends that are welcoming and fun for both new and old members. We went on-line, reserved our place and paid our money.

By the time the weekend rolled around, both Paulo and Lorenzo had dropped out.

“Oh well,” Alberto said, “It will be a good chance to get to know Enrico and Angelo better and maybe meet a few new people.”

Attending a gay gathering can be like the first days of high school. When thrust into a new and strange social environment, many people rely on two basic strategies of interaction, horizontal and vertical. The horizontal strategy requires an enormous amount of energy and a bubbly personality as you attend everything possible and try and meet as may people as you can. The vertical strategy requires that you try to align yourself with as many “popular people” as possible. This can be achieved by presenting yourself as sophisticated and trendy, while avoiding those who are obviously not.

Of course, the trick for the organizers is to promote the event to the “unwashed masses” while subtly suggesting that the ‘crème de la crème’ will be there. I immediately noticed when we arrived that no one, including Alberto and I, looked quite like the half-naked muscle boy on the promo posters pasted everywhere. I was relieved.

At the welcoming ceremonies Angelo hung out with us while Enrico bounced around talking to everyone he could. That night Alberto and I followed the crowd to the disco but after about an hour we were bored and left.

“You really know you’re getting old when the music you like is called “old school” and the music they play sounds like machine noise to you,” I said to Alberto as we walked back to the hotel.

The next day was the big cocktail party on top of the mountain. Since we live in Milan, a city that rarely has snow, I threw together what clothes I had, consisting of long underwear and pajamas under my baggy jeans, my balloon-like jacket and a Peruvian earflap hat with a hole in it. Before we left, I had picked up a pair of cheap plastic boots that looked like they would keep my feet warm and dry. I was ready to face the mountain elements. Alberto was also dressed in an odd collection of old winter clothes but somehow he looked less ridiculous. Outside we met Angelo, who doesn’t ski, smartly dressed in a metallic charcoal form-fitting ski outfit. I scanned the crowd and noted a quantity of new designer boots and jackets, which could probably pay off the Italian national debt. I stood there in my €12 boots with the ratty fuzzy lining hanging out the top, feeling a little self-conscious.

The cocktail party was a repeat of the disco scene the night before and after a couple of hours watching half-naked drag queens defy sub-zero elements, we decided that this was as good as it gets. We found Angelo, said goodbye and headed down the ski lift and off to the spa.

About an hour later in the steam room we ran into Angelo and his new friend, Red-beard. Even though the steam room was hot and humid, I felt an icy draft blow down my spine as I sat down on the bench next to them. Two minutes later they got up and left. We saw them a few more times, between the sauna and whirlpool, quickly scampering by as if they hadn’t noticed us.

The call for dinner was early that evening and we met up with Angelo and Red-beard in the dinner line. Suddenly, the two of them darted for the back elevator, the secret fast lane to the dining hall. We followed. The elevator doors opened and they dashed out. Alberto lost them in the arriving crowd but I spotted them in the far corner claiming an empty table for six.

“They’re over here,” I said pointing Alberto in the right direction. We walked up to their table, smile and asked if we could join them. Red-beard scowled and said, “No.” Angelo looked a little embarrassed and explained that they had other friends joining them.

“Well look,” I said, “There’s a larger empty table next to us where we can all sit.”

Angelo and grumbling Red-beard got up and moved to the larger table and sat down. I touched the chair next to Red-beard and they both looked at me. “There’s no room,” Red-beard said.

I turned to Alberto and touched his elbow. “I think we’ll be more comfortable sitting at the table in the far corner.”

The next day was warm and sunny. People said that the conditions weren’t great, if you come from Ontario, Canada, anytime the hill is not a solid block of ice with a -20 wind chill, the conditions are great. After a few trial runs on the bunny hill Alberto and I hit the big slopes and spent a marvelous day skiing.

Our strategy has always been; if we can’t get into the program we’ll make my own fun. Although we were disappointed with Angelo, he didn’t really ruin our weekend and we did meet some interesting people, in spite of our wardrobes.

Some weeks later, the same pizza gang invited us to join them for another ski weekend during New Years. We graciously declined.

About the Author:

Mark Campbell
Mark David Campbell grew up in a town north of Lake Ontario, Canada. He holds a doctorate in social cultural anthropology and spent two decades studying and working internationally. While on a project in Greece, he met an Italian doctor, fell in love, got married and set up house in Italy. He paints, writes and teaches, dividing his time between Milan and Lago Maggiore.

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