The Gay Sex Club Next to the Vatican Is the Saddest Place on Earth
Last month, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica discovered that the Vatican had paid $35 million for an apartment block housing the Europa Multiclub, which calls itself the “number-one gay sauna in Italy.” The media used the story as another example of the Catholic Church being so obviously gay that they should just come on out and admit it. As a former Catholic schoolboy who believed in God till I saw Hugh Jackman in The Boy from Oz, a Broadway musical about Liza Minnelli’s first gay husband, I wasn’t surprised. I remember my school’s baseball coach sexually assaulting students and my first-grade teaching assistant nearly losing her job after she had an alleged lesbian make-out session with a PE coach—Catholics and shady sex shenanigans go together like red wine and wafers.
Naturally, when I visited Rome recently, the Multiclub was on my sightseeing list, though I was a little nervous. The last time I had been in a bathhouse was my senior year of high school, when my friend Diva D and I went to one in Miami. We ran out of the building after 20 minutes because a guy claiming to be Gloria Estefan’s “background dancer” shoved Diva D, naked, into a locker. I’ve never forgotten the horror. Luckily, the sex club, as well as the Vatican-owned apartments, were located in Salustiano, a nice (read: bourgie) area that didn’t seem like it would hold any insane gays.
After a few minutes of procrastination, I swallowed my fear and buzzed the Multiclub’s entrance. A Tarzan look-alike wearing nothing but a white towel appeared and gave me a once-over—to see if I was hot enough, maybe?—then opened the front door.
Inside, I joined the line behind businessmen in suits carrying backpacks—the postwork closet-case crowd was just arriving, I guess—and examined the portrait behind the receptionist of two gay men jerking each other off in an empty disco, until the receptionist shouted at me in Italian.
“I only speak English,” I explained. “I’m an American on vacation.” Silence.
He looked at Tarzan as if I had said I were Amanda Knox visiting Rome to murder a few sodomites.
“So you’re new?” he asked.
These Italian Dwarfs Love Getting Their Limbs Broken
Achondroplasia is a form of dwarfism caused by a genetic mutation, affecting one in 20,000 people. In Italy, there are about 2,500 people living with achondroplasia. Italian dwarfs, as opposed to other nationalities, are particularly fond of a procedure called surgical lengthening. This is a long and painful treatment that consists of breaking bones and applying a fixer, to be lengthened by a third of an inch per day. On average, a person affected with achondroplasia is about four feet tall. Thanks to the surgical lengthening of the lower limbs (femur by about four inches, tibia by about four inches), that person can reach a height of about five feet. The best age to begin the treatment is between 12 and 16 years old. The treatment lasts about three years.
The idea of physically stretching a dwarf out sort of blew my mind, so I got in touch with Emanuele Satolli, an Italian photographer who has been documenting achondroplasia sufferers undergoing treatment, to find out more.
VICE: How long have you been working on this project?
Emanuele Satolli: I started in January 2012. I realized that I never met any people with dwarfism in Milan, in the streets or the clubs, so I wondered, where are they? I started looking into it and spoke with the president of AISAC (Association for Information and Study of Achondroplasia). He told me about this popular lengthening procedure, which I found really interesting. I looked into it further and discovered that around 90 percent of Italians with achondroplasia undergo this surgery, while in the rest of Europe it’s something like 8 percent.
What is it about life in Italy that makes this surgery so popular?
Well that’s what I was wondering. It’s a very long and painful treatment, but there are also psychological issues involved. These people feel that they have to change their body because they are wrong, or they need to fit into a society that doesn’t take their needs into account. It’s a very interesting thing to look at. When I met the people undergoing the treatment, all of them were very satisfied with it. They all felt that they had done the right thing, and also that the jobs or successes that they now have can be attributed, at least partly, to the surgery. I think that they are right. They did benefit from this because they felt more accepted in our society. However, in other countries they could be happy without this surgery.
So in Italy it’s harder for dwarves to exist without this surgery?
Yes, of course. Without the surgery it’s very hard for them to live a normal life. What other explanation can there be for 90 percent of achondroplasia cases opting for lengthening? If you look at the United States, or other European countries, the percentages are much smaller. It is only in Spain that you get a comparatively high number of lengthening surgeries, but still nowhere near Italy’s rates. Also, when parents talk to the doctors after birth, the doctors just say: “Don’t worry, when he or she is 13 years old, he or she can have lengthening surgery and everything will be fine.” It’s a cultural approach from the beginning.
Did you meet anyone who was unhappy after having the surgery?
No. Everybody was happy. I mean, even basic daily things like taking the subway were hard for them before—they lacked independence. This one guy I met was still in a lot of pain a few weeks after the femur surgery, but he was happy. He knew he had to undergo more surgery but was still very excited about becoming independent.
A Friendly Visit With Italy’s Premier Curator of Naked People
We recently drove up through Piedmont, a couple dozen miles or so beyond Genoa, and into the sleepy northern Italian hamlet of Ponzone to meet Ando Gilardi, an 89-year-old Italian photographer, author, journalist, editor, and the perviest old perv on the peninsula—a man, we’re embarrassed to admit, we hadn’t known existed a few short weeks before. It was then, on a glorious day in Milan, that we had found two of his magazines, Fhototeca Materiali and Phototeca, in a secondhand bookshop. They were unlike anything we’d ever seen.
His magazines featured strong, principally erotic images, grouped by precise but obscure iconographic motifs. Their garish layouts would go from a two-page collage of dozens of blowjobs to a juxtaposition of Victorian-era erotic cartoons and 1980s porn-VHS covers, with poems and bits of esoteric texts strewn (seemingly) at random throughout. As an editor, this guy was unmatched in his talent for titling and assigning themes to issues: “Racist Dickheads and Sons of Bitches, There’s a Pogrom Tonight and I’ve Nothing to Wear,” “The Artificial Whore,” “Assocracy,” and “Catastrophes, Damn Bad Luck, and Final Solutions” are a few. We soon discovered that these wonderful works were only a sampling from an oeuvre of half a dozen publications that Ando has guided during his career. We were instantly hooked.
Neomelodics - Part 1 of 3: Alessio - Music World | VBS.TV
Bred in the crime-ridden, corrupt, and all-round despairingly sad working-class of Naples, Neomelodics sing stories of love found and lost, of the crime that surrounds them, of dreams of success and escape, and of running away from the law. Meet Alessio, star of this garish, heavily-tanned soundtrack to Naples’ mafia-controlled ghettos.