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Magazine Features in this issue:
Switzerland's Capital Cool
Prop 8 trial set to resume in mid-June
Gays speak out against Arizona
A league of their own?
Not just a riot
Northern Latitudes
An about-face over Don't Ask¸ Don't Tell?
 Magazine Feature Features Archive  
June 2010 Email this to a friend
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Northern Latitudes

By Paul Rubio

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The window-side thermostat dropped to minus 25 Fahrenheit as the morning snowstorm tapered off. I zipped up my fourth layer, strapped on my snow boots, shook off my hangover and headed to the lobby of the incredible Radisson Blu Polar Hotel, Spitsbergen. There I met Jonas, my guide and key to survival in the endless white terrain of the Norwegian Svalbard Islands, an isolated expanse of earth and ice the size of Ireland on the periphery of the North Pole.
 As we mounted our snow scooters and bid farewell to the 16 kilometers of paved road, I could not help but marvel at the intimidating tiers of snow, fascinated by how, even in the dead of winter, life carries on at this polar extreme.
 For the 2,572 brave souls residing in these remote islands far north of the Arctic Circle, daily life in the land of the polar bear is an exhilarating adventure. Scientific research, tourism and escapism entice transient populations, drawn to the extremes of existence: climate, seasons, solitude and silence.
 The robust personalities who live in this Discovery Channel wonderland embrace individuality and the Norwegian mainland's highly progressive views. Openly gay seal hunters and hotel receptionists alike can freely post their photos and sexual preferences on Gaysir, the national gay networking site (gaysir.no), obligingly entertaining the thousands of tourists who lose themselves in their Arctic adventures.
 We rode past the last musher camp, the handsome huskies loudly acknowledging our presence.  Just the day before, these cuddly canines had whisked me through Spitsbergen's valleys. Jonas loaded his rifle, required protection against potential polar bear attacks. He triple-checked the GPS and completed a final inspection of our supplies. We were now entering the wild North Pole.
 The mighty zoom of the snow scooter pulsated through my entire body as we gained speed. My heart raced as we pushed deeper into this unknown land, surrounded by 360 degrees of stark white. My vision blurred from the ice crystals forming on my eyelids, while my breath froze in the crevices of my ski mask. The dim March light reflected against the permafrost, delicately painting the colorless vista. The world of humankind seemed galaxies away. Sexuality felt irrelevant.
 We paused three hours into our journey, inhaling the fundamentals of life, at one with Mother Nature. We observed the majesty of the Svalbard reindeer, a bovid that bears more resemblance to a creature from Star Wars than its cousin Rudolph. I looked around curiously for Arctic foxes and perhaps a polar bear, but again lost myself in the stark panoramas. The beauty brought me to tears.
 I returned from my rebirth that evening and shared my experiences with friendly locals at the Radisson's bar, Barentz Pub, coincidentally the most popular watering hole in town. The rugged gents empathized with my epiphany. We bonded over numerous Arctic Mack beers, somehow transitioning from a discourse on Norway's liberalism to my Scandinavian sexual escapades.
I was more than eager to share my excitement over the stunning redheaded military boys I had met the weekend prior. However, I was a bit leery about giving all the gay gory details to these beautiful strangers. My new friends knew all about Tromso -- gateway to the Svalbard Islands, it's the largest metropolis north of the Arctic Circle and has a sophistication that rivals major cities -- but they did not know how their fellow countrymen had entertained my wildest Prince Harry fantasies, less than 72 hours before.
 When I boarded the empty bus from Narvik to Tromso, I had no idea we would stop at two military bases along the northern Norwegian coastline to pick up a busload of army boys headed in the same direction for a weekend of partying. Still in uniform and carrying their weekend rucksacks, the fair-haired, lightly freckled, blue-eyed soldiers boarded the bus, like Bel Ami clones entering an unsuspecting "bait bus." I salivated over the milky skin and the universal "guy" interactions, while noticing a few wandering eyes during the journey.
 Four hours later I had made a new friend, Eirik, who chatted with me while impatiently waiting for the bus lavatory.  We exchanged numbers and decided to meet later to indulge in Tromso nightlife, accompanied by two of his mates. They were all jealous of my posh crash pad at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Tromso - but I was not ready to invite them to spend the night. At least, not yet.
 Given a student population of 10,000 and a large military presence, it's no surprise to find more than 1,000 of Tromso's 67,000 residents cruising the web on sites like Gaysir and Gaydar. In fact, Tromso's relentlessly progressive vibe means gays don't need their own clubs. No bar in Tromso is gay per se; but none are straight, either. Most of the guys I hit up online were headed to Verdensteatret, the 1916 cinema transformed into a nightclub in the city's glorious shopping district. I had a back-up plan if things didn't work out with my harem of Prince Harrys.
 The gingers and I began our night early at Perez, an uninspiring hole in the wall with a capacity of 35 and a significant gay presence, good enough for two drinks but definitely not more. We then walked down to Verdensteatret, which was already packed at 11:30. The mix of American pop, Scandinavian rock and Latin beats intoxicated the young, energetic crowd, who were clearly living it up this Saturday night. It was pure entertainment watching the gays and straights pick each other out in the crowd and nervously approach the opposite or same sex, depending on inclination.
 An hour later, serendipity led us to the city's self-proclaimed official fag hag. Frighteningly mesmerizing, like Medusa, with her tattooed eye brows, surgically raised cheekbones, Meg Ryan lips and bright red Bree Vandeecamp hair, Gjertrud lives in a nearby flat with four gay boys and knows everything about everyone in Tromso. She took great pride in giving our waning gaydar a rest and answering possible doubts about our prospective hookups.  
 Gjertrud soon dragged us to her favorite places, beginning with the trendy and tasteful Strut, and ending at Arthur, a gritty, butch rock bar, which ironically served the best girly cocktails in town. At 4am, she invited her many gay friends back to her flat for a guaranteed scandalous party. When things got messy and out of control, Eirik and I left his friends behind and retreated to the Radisson, igniting my first ring of fire in the Arctic Circle.
As I digressed deeper into my story, I noticed two of my Svalbard comrades had grown mildly uncomfortable, yet they were too politically correct to stop me mid-sentence. I also realized their friend had become noticeably aroused. I did not want to draw attention and embarrass him, so I toned the XXX talk down to PG-13 and broached a different topic all Norwegians enjoy: Sweden.
 While the Norway-Sweden rivalry exists mostly in jest these days, both nationalities exhibit a slight superiority complex over their neighbors. However, neither side debates the crown jewel of Scandinavia -- the magnificent city of Stockholm.
 Though recognized for its diversity, Stockholm's purebred neo-Vikings rule the city -- tall and muscular in stature, well endowed, with large, piercing eyes, meticulously defined jaw lines, full red lips and baby soft yet thick locks of blond hair. The stylish Ken dolls seem to grace every corner of the regal city, giving new meaning to gay Stockholm's slogan, "Take a liking to a Viking." Stockholm is by far the most pristine of all Scandinavian cities; on every corner there's another fairy tale setting and another Prince Charming.
 While I thoroughly enjoyed my winter visit, I still preferred my experience of the city's glory the spring prior. Spring's the time when the layers come off in tandem with the rise of the perpetual sun. From May to September, you can watch the gladiators jogging over the bridges that connect the vast archipelago and lose yourself in long ambles through the gingerbread streets of Gamla Stan (Stockholm's Old Town). By day, visitors and locals are spoiled for choice, with charming boat rides through the archipelago, countless picnic spots around the "European Green Capital" and visits to the city's first-class attractions: the Kungliga Slottet (Royal Palace), the Vasamuseet (Royal Warship), the open-air Skansen Museum, the National Museum of Art and my personal favorite, Carl Milles' sculpture opus, Millesgarden.
 Come early evening, the horny he-wolf is drawn to the banks of the RiddarfjŠrden for cocktails and copious eye-candy at a waterfront bar/cafŽ called MŠlarpaviljongen. Making up for the time lost in winter, the Stockholm party rages seven nights a week for three months on either side of summer solstice, with insane Sundays aboard the MS Patricia, fierce Wednesdays at the palatial F12/Ficks, extended weekend chats and chill time at Zipper Lounge and Torget, and electronic/house/go-go boy throw-down at Libra on Saturdays or the hard-core leather alternative, SLM Stockholm.
Another hour into our travel talk, my Spitsbergen pals and I called it a night, and I retreated alone to my warm den and five-star creature comforts. We never exchanged names, but I was confident we would run into each other again the next evening.
 The outdoor thermostat was up to a scalding minus 10. As I peered out the window, I reflected on the first two weeks of my Scandinavian sojourn and realized that -- as a traveler, an explorer, a sexual gay man and a dreamer -- I was indeed on the trip of a lifetime.
Stockholm, Sweden
Zipper Lounge Norrlandsgatan 23, zippersthlm.com
F12/Ficks Fredsgatan 12, f12.se
Libra Kolingsborg, librasthlm.com
SLM Stockholm Wollmar Yxkullsgatan 18, slmstockholm.se
Patricia Slussen, patricia.st
Torget MŠlartorget 13, Old Town, torgetbaren.com

MŠlarpaviljongen Norr MŠlarstrand, malarpaviljongen.se

Tromso, Norway
Arthur Storgata 57
Perez Skippergata 6
Verdensteatret Storgata 93b, verdensteatret.no
Strut Gronnegata 81, utelivsbyen.no

Author Profile:  Paul Rubio

Paul Rubio took a break from his life as a Harvard economist to document his world travels as a gay man. 65 countries and 6,500 stories later, the Cuban-American's seductive syntax graces most gay publications around the country.

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