Gay-bashing at the Tuscan Seashore
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According to an opinion poll conducted by the Post Office, which one might imagine had more important things to do, the British now think of themselves not as the stoics they are reputed to be, but as people who like to complain if things don't go as they would like. But standing this week in a seemingly endless queue to check in at Luton airport for an EasyJet flight to Pisa, I was struck by how relaxed people seemed. They were chatting away happily, whereas I was on the verge of hysteria. I felt sure I would miss my flight, despite arriving 90 minutes before departure, and there was no official to whom I could turn for reassurance.
It's lucky for other people that they don't seem to need to talk to anybody. They somehow know whether or not they'll make it to the departure gate on time. They are also familiar with all EasyJet's finicky little rules and regulations – the benefits of getting a boarding pass online before leaving home, the restrictions on what you can carry on the plane, the extortionate charges you pay for checking in extra bags, and all the other ways the airline has devised for making your flight more expensive and more stressful than you hoped. And they don't seem to mind about any of it. As I get older, I do tend to fuss more, but this is partly because I don't seem to know the things that all other people know. But how do they know them? That is the puzzle.
'The summer of homophobia'
I arrive in Italy to discover from the newspapers that this is becoming known as "the summer of homophobia". There have been a series of incidents in which gay people have been attacked or driven off beaches for showing their affection for each other in public. In the most recent incident at Ostia near Rome, a couple of men were forced to leave a beach after bathers complained about them kissing each other on the lips. At Torre del Lago near Lucca, a lakeside town famous as the home of Giacomo Puccini, and now also as a gay summer resort, a similar kiss between two men earned them the threat of a fine, and at Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia, the threat of arrest. At Pesaro on the Adriatic, the summer home of the late Luciano Pavarotti, two gay people who had also been kissing each other were forced to take flight before a hail of bottles.
At Pescara, in the Abruzzo, a woman was fined for spreading sun cream on her naked bosom, but there have been no reported cases of protest against heterosexual kissing. As Paola Concia, Italy's first openly lesbian member of parliament, put it: "Suddenly a kiss has become obscene and illegal simply because it has taken place between two people of the same sex." She and other gay activists have decided to respond with a mass kissing protest at Torre del Lago, calling it "Many kisses against intolerance".
Another MP, Franco Grillini, is the president of Arcigay, Italy's foremost gay rights organisation, which is campaigning for parliament to declare that "homophobia is racism, pure and simple, and as such should be punished". The main problem seems to be growing public prejudice against displays of homosexual affection and a growing readiness of officials to take action against them, regardless of whether any laws have been broken. In Italy, as elsewhere, there are laws against indecent behaviour in public, but kissing does not qualify as indecent except, in some people's eyes it seems, when it is done by gay people. But as one columnist wrote in La Repubblica, "In what free and civilised country is kissing not allowed?"