Is it really eroticism or just neuroticism?

  • 2001-11-29
  • Jorgen Johansson
RIGA - A life-size Arnold Schwarzenegger forearm dildo, vibrating vaginas, strap-on breasts and pornography in every format, from calendars to CD-roms, were part of this year's second Erotic Exhibition in Riga. Set up in the Kipsala exhibition hall and organized by the Latvian company BT1, the event attracted more than 14,000 eager and curious viewers.

Most people stood near one of the two stages and waited for shows that would display some of the gadgets, but a few braver individuals ventured off to lose themselves among the many toys and huge variety of lingerie.

BT1 spokeswoman Solvita Velde said that judging from the crowds there is a clear need for erotic festivals like these.

"I think it's quite normal to be interested in these things. Here you can see almost everything there is to buy when it comes to eroticism," she said.

Another organizer, Merlina Vitola, who was standing in a booth offering people to use a webcam-supported love chat - the only one of its kind in Latvia - agreed the desire for this sort of exhibition.

"People can learn a lot about their bodies and how to make people feel good," she said. "I know there are a lot of good looking women in Latvia, but I don't know if they are erotic."

Three girls, introducing themselves only as Natalia, Evita and Ilze, working for an organization called Youth Against AIDS, said there is a certain urgency in Latvia for erotic exhibitions. The world of pornography is still a fairly new one for most locals, they agreed.

Their stall did not appear to be attracting much attention. They had plenty of fliers, but few people stopped to ask the girls about AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases.

"Usually people don't ask us any questions. But they do stop by to take our brochures so they can read for themselves," Natalia explained.

Any buyers?

Walking around the huge, echoing exhibition hall left a feeling of despair, a sense of emptiness. Sure, there were a few interesting things to look at, but not much was actually being sold.

Most were content with just browsing through what was on offer. There were plenty of red faces and giggles. One typical couple standing next to some latex underwear and other fetish gadgets looked rather perplexed. The man was eyeing a latex bra, which made the woman teeter nervously from side to side. Eventually they opted not to buy.

The air in the exhibition hall was permeated with the buzzing sound of busy tattoo needles, forever carving different images into the skin of whoever volunteered. A small tent boasted private dancing, but nobody seemed very interested in taking up the offer.

Girls dressed in skimpy lingerie sauntered through the crowd handing out discount coupons for pornographic magazines and fliers for nightclubs.

Riga is often described as the sleazy capital of the Baltics. Almost all of the city's many nightclubs which include erotic dancing in the bill were invited to perform on the stages. There were also dancers from clubs in Russia and the United States. Some of the onlookers refused to leave their places in front of the stages in fear of missing out on a close-up of the spectacles.

But there was clearly a misunderstanding somewhere about what's erotic and what isn't. A blonde with surgically enhanced breasts lying on her back, spreading her legs with a burning candle sticking out of her private area was what the crowds were treated to. It wasn't even faintly erotic, and the show gradually became more and more irritating.

The only show that rendered some interest was the gay club XXL's drag-queen routine, where one guy came out and did a hilarious impersonation of Tina Turner and Donna Summer, much to the audience's delight. There were a few condescending comments, though, from some narrow-minded thugs in the audience.

Roy Bides, who works in a sex shop in Stockholm, said there could have been a lot more shown. He was rather disappointed with the whole thing.

"I went to a similar exhibition in Germany recently. There was much more to look at," he said. "But it's necessary for Latvia to have these happenings, because this kind of business is not so developed here. Then again, I haven't seen many of the people who I know are involved in the erotic business in this country at this event."

Bides said he was used to the more open Swedish mentality when it came to sex and eroticism, where people were genuinely interested in all the accompanying paraphernalia. "I have a problem with Latvia's generally homophobic society. A lot of people here have come just to see the shows and then go home."