by Ruby Comer
VD again. No, no…I mean Valentine’s Day! And who else would I rather be with and where else would I rather be? Well, with a red hot Latin lover at a delightful hideaway, Davanti Enoteca restaurant in the Little Italy section of San Diego. Opened just about a year ago, this place is delightful, the food delicious, and the atmosphere and staff divine. Don’t miss their scrumptious appetizer: focaccia, made with filo dough, stuffed with cream cheese, mascopone, stracci and topped off with a honeycomb. It’s served on a wooden cutting board that sits on a large commercial size Pomodori Pelati (Italian) tomato can. Fantastico! Their gourmet dishes are imaginative and carefully prepared, and the black-and-white vintage photographs on the wall make ya feel like you’re sitting in a friendly café in Positano.
From Italy we now go to Argentina. My VD escort today is Guillermo Fornillo, who was raised in the city of Rosario, Argentina. He has such a lyrical name. I like saying it over and over…Ghee-air-mo-for-neal-lee-oh! Both our sweethearts are away, so we decided to meet up in San Diego where we both are on business. I was doing an HIV-prevention workshop with high schoolers at Being Alive.
Guillermo and I met at the AIDS Walk a few years ago in Los Angeles, where he has resided for the past decade. He’s also volunteered for the AIDS Walk in Rosario and Buenos Aires and has participated in other HIV/AIDS-related events over the years. He’s currently involved with a food and clothing fundraiser that benefits African children who are HIV-positive. Guillermo is an artist who uses props and his stylist skills to create photos. He also works in mixed media, production, sculpture, and Photoshop. Late last year his work was exhibited at LACDA (Los Angeles Center for Digital Art).
Josh, the engaging and lively Davanti’s manager, greets us and sits us in the cozy “backyard” near the huge, expansive olive tree.
Ruby Comer: It’s so nice to see you outside of L.A. It’s been a while. Will you tell me exactly what you do? I never fully understood it, because you are so multifaceted.
Guillermo Fornillo: It’s great to see you too, Ruby. Well, I’m a storyteller who creates original characters for fashion editorials that are part dream and part nightmare, and it all comes together in a photo shoot. Say, where is your beau, Rudy, these days?
Well my dear, that hunk of a man is spending some time in Boca Raton with his mama. Don’t ask! Say what…[our adorable server, Chelsea, politely interrupts and takes our order then exits]…what do you think of when I broach the topic of HIV/AIDS?
I used to think horror every time somebody mentioned the word. Not anymore. It seemed the whole world of AIDS was surrounded in negativity, chaos, and darkness, but that was because I didn’t have enough information about it. In the beginning there was terror all over the world and thankfully we have professional experts educating people about it now.
Indeed and we have more and more people spreading the word. When did you first hear about it?
[He cocks his head to one side.] I remember that I was in my bedroom in Argentina working on some art project and my mother knocked at the door. I opened it and she said, “Something horrible is happening. Come and see on the news.” We both went into the dining room where the TV was and she pointed, “Look, Rock Hudson is infected with la peste rosa.” That was the nickname they used to use back then, the “Pink Plague.” She had a big crush on him and she was very disappointed when she found out that he was gay.
Gee, I remember that shocking announcement Rock made, too.
I remember back then people were talking nonsense and scaring people, saying that it could be transferred by sweat, saliva, and by even just touching the person who was already infected. It was horrible.
[Our entrées arrive. We begin to munch.] How has the epidemic affected you?
It affected me a bit in the beginning when people were splattering chaos about it and discriminating against homosexuals. I am fortunate, I have to say, because I didn’t lose anybody close to me.
How grand. Let’s keep it like that. You were in high school in the eighties. Were you taught HIV prevention in school?
Not really. It was taboo where I lived. My family was conservative and so were my teachers at school. [His luminous eyes squint as he remembers.] I do think that we had a brief class once but that was it. I learned on my own by getting information through magazines, newspapers, and also by sharing opinions with open-minded people.
You’ve been tested. When was the first time?
My first time was in Argentina, I was very young, and it was quite an experience…[He smiles, reminiscing, then takes a sip of white vino.] I went with one of my best friends. She and her boyfriend were having sex without protection, so she asked me to please go with her. I then confessed to her that I was having casual sex without protection, too, with a stranger I had met at a club in the bathroom, where we had sex for the first time. We both looked at each other, said, “Oh my god!”—and then just laughed. (He pauses.) I get tested once or twice a year now.
Looking back, what is better today in the HIV/AIDS community?
I like that there’s more awareness today, though it would be great if there were more campaigns that were not limited to just the gay community. There needs to be an increase of education in all different locations and public institutions.
Amen! [We pass up dessert for coffee.] You’ve always called yourself a “universal artist,” what does that mean?
I use that expression as it gives me power every time I remember that the energy I project through my images and art pieces are coming from the universe. That makes me feel that I am a free spirit who can travel miles and miles away beyond my actual point. My imagination makes me a universal artist, and once you get close [to my projects] you will see what I am talking about. [He takes a deep inhale and in his cute native Argentinian-Spanish accent, passionately states] Art for me is universal and has no limit.
Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected]