Monday, October 26, 2009

On time travelling

I’ve always been fascinated by time travelling. Actually, it’s probably more my fascination for history that makes me appreciate time travel as well – since the idea that we somehow could find a way to experience events of times past is, well, fascinating (my friend, also a Mari, will by now have told me that I have used the word fascinated too much in this introduction, which is true, but as it’s an old joke of ours, I won’t edit it out…).

There are of course elements with history that makes me aware that after all I am more comfortable in the present. Modern hygiene standards come to mind as something I would be hesitant to give up. Human rights is another (though ironically a second. I appreciate the freedom of speech, but I appreciate toilets and soap even more). Also, the fact that I am a woman probably makes the present a far more comfortable century to occupy than any in the past (thank you suffragettes!).

Still, there is so much I wish I could have experienced from the past. Much comes down to romantic impressions of beautiful dresses, buildings and manners. And this is probably why it is so popular to engage in the only means of time travel we have (until science finds a way of opening the can of worms endless books and movies has described real time-travel to be): pretending.

Today I went, for the first time in my life, to a proper, American Renaissance Festival. I must emphasize the Americaness of it. I have in the past visited similar events in Europe – the Medieval Festival in Oslo, for instance; and my entire visit to Tallinn, Estonia, last year was like an extended “costume festival” – but let me assure you, they are nothing like the American version.

First of all, what struck me was the way the term “Renaissance” was generously applied even though many (if not most) of the costumes, activities and sighs hardly looked like they belonged in what I conceive as “the Renaissance” (the 14th to 16th centuries cultural movement, which originated in Italy). Some might suggest this is because America as we know it today did not exist at the time, so that Americans are happy to adopt whatever history they can get their hands on and that it does not seem to be of fundamental importance whether they do it accurately or not. I am not entirely disagreeing with this point of view, but at the same time I consider a further reason that the festival included so many un-renaissansesque elements could stem from another American trait – the individual spirit and general acceptance for people’s desire to express themselves. I therefore though it not just amusing, but also somewhat inspiring that no one seemed to mind that Elvis and the Blues Brothers were walking around among Harlekins and Fairy Godmothers (there also seems to be a lot of mythical creatures in the American version of the Renaissance).

The enthusiasm and creativity behind the costumes amazed me. I would roughly estimate that about a third of the people I saw had some costume of a kind, though this includes people being normally dressed except for wearing devil horns (why is this renaissansesque, I ask?) or having their faces painted by some of the talented artists at the festival. The elaborateness of the costumed varied enormously. Some wore a simple dress, but were still carrying their iPhones and wearing sunglasses. Others were 100% in character.

In total I had a lot of fun at the festival. I enjoyed the people-watching, I enjoyed the activities, and I enjoyed the entertainment. And I really enjoyed the fact that since we got there early, we did not have to sit and wait in the 2-mile plus queue of cars that had formed by the time we left. Apparently, I’m not the only one who is fascinated by time travelling.


Chary Johnson said...


This was a really interesting point of view. I have also been to a couple of Renaissance Festivals and thought, "Well, is that costume right for the time frame?" But all in all, one does have a great time at these things. Good blog entry!

Marjorie said...

Did you get to choose what you were locked up for? Funny picture. I have often wondered what it is like to go to one of those things, but I never have really had the chance to. Definately a fun post.

Cruella Collett said...

Chary - I agree with you that the fact that you have a good time is much more important than the accuracy of the costumes. It's all done in good fun, and I think it's great that people can come in whatever state of costumeness (or lack thereof) they like.

Marjorie - I didn't choose; Nick (the kid in the family I live with) did. I don't know what the other alternatives were, but I thought this was amusing. And I highly recommend going to one if you get the chance :)

Watery Tart said...

I love it, Mari! My home town has a Renaissance Fair every summer and at least when I lived there, it was pretty authentic (may have changed as people farther from the origins began to join in)--but its summer timing, small college town location, (and I suspect importantly) distance from Halloween possibly ALSO fed in. It was pretty cool. Heavy emphasis on hand created goods being sold, old fashioned craft activities for kids, and era music and theatre stuff.

(Stockades are a good look for you)

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

We have a Renaissance festival going on in Charlotte now. It comes every year and we try to go every couple of years. Everyone seems like they're in such a good mood, like they're so caught up in the dressing-up and fun of it.

My friends Jim and Joyce Lavene write the Renaissance Faire mystery series. Great books...I just wish that I had thought of the idea first!


Cruella Collett said...

Tami - I agree that proximity to Halloween probably was a reason the costumes occasionally strayed far from Renaissance ideals. Also, it might be that I was wearing my "Norse glasses" ;)

Elizabeth - I adored the mood of the festival. And a mystery series linked to one sounds like a good idea - plenty of opportunities to hide a crime there, and with 20 000 or so potential suspects (judging from the number of cars), there should be enough to choose from...

Will Paisley said...

From the pictures and the descriptions, I can tell exactly which faire you were at, and which day. You happened to stumble into their "Day Of Wrong", which is the last day of faire. Cast members will wear something slightly out of place, which is wrong. The regular patrons wear things that are wrong in the biblical sense. That is why you saw Blues Brothers, Elvis, Imperial stormtroopers, a Ghostbuster or two and anything else they could come up with (and if you remember seeing a guy with moose antlers wearing a sandwich board talking about cheating on someone, that was me making an extremely inside joke).

American Renaissance festivals are not intended to be historical reenactments. The time period is mostly an excuse to provide low-tech, interactive entertainment, such as magicians, juggler, tightrope walkers, swordfighters and acoustical musicians. If you saw any of the shows, you probably noticed that much of the humor was based on deliberate anachronisms. Even on regular faire days, you'll see people in everything from medieval garb to early 18th century (which are predominately pirates), and if a few Klingons or Starfleet personnel come down for an away mission, nobody really cares. Recently we've been seeing more and more people in steampunk outfits, which only fit in the Victorian era in an alternate timeline sort of way.

BTW, you're dead on with your guess for the number of people there - I heard that the attendance figures that day were around 23,000. Good thing you missed Saturday - even in weather that would've had Noah scrambling for his ark, thousands of us stayed from opening to closing, and the acts and the shows all went on.

Cruella Collett said...

Will - how weird to think about the fact that we were at the same place at the same time (granted, along with 22 998 other people), and then you somehow came across this post about it afterwards! I've said it before, and I'll say it again - it's a small world! Sadly I cannot remember any sandwich board, moose antler-wearing people - somehow I must have looked at the 22 999 others when I passed you. I did see a Ghostbuster, though!
And I'm aware that historic accuracy isn't the point of the festival. I was, however, not aware that this day was even less so than usual. Fun! :)
(Now tell us the inside joke...)

Will Paisley said...

The inside joke: This probably won't make any sense even after I explain it, but here goes:

Due to a long, improbable course of events over the past five years, I have ended up being an unofficial part of the O'Danny Girls performance whenever they sing the Moose Song. (The O'Danny Girls are a wench singing group that defy description, and the Moose Song is a song about shagging animals.) I started out holding up the various stuffed animals they were singing about in an attempt to crack them up, and it worked so well that I kept doing it, to the point that they now invie me to performances outside of faire and ask me to bring my props (which now fill up a chest-sized Rubbermaid storage bin).

At the beginning of the faire year, a lady with the band going on after the O'Danny Girls was standing next to me, and said "Hey Moose Man, why don't you dress up and wave stuffed animals for me?" Well, as is often the case at faire, "be careful what you wish for". the lady's character's name is Kat Fairbanks, and among the many songs she sings for the Pyrates Royale is a song called "Swing A Cat", which talks about bringing cats aboard ship to get rid of vermin. Well, the day before Day of Wrong, I showed up for one of their sets, where I had arranged for Swing A Cat to be on their set list. I sat near the front, wearing cat ears on my head, and on the chorus I swung all manner of things that rhymed with cat, but wasn't (a bat, a welcome mat, a cravat, Borat, and a picture of William SHATner). She kpet yelling "NO, Cat with a 'C'!", in between muttering "Oh God, I'm afraid to see what's next". Unbeknownst to me, one of the O'Danny Girls saw this going on, and came up to me at the end of the song, hands on her hips, glaring at me for "cheating" on the O'Danny Girls with another act. I looked sheepish, she yelled "How could you?" and stormed off, and I ran after her yelling "We need to talk" (and then yelled back to Kat Fairbanks, "We'll always have Borat!"). So, as penance for my "cheating", I wore the sandwich board the next day (which was a reference to the news story about some guy standing out by the side of a busy street while wearing one, supposedly being punished for cheating on his girlfriend, but that turned out to be a hoax perpetrated by a local radio shock jock).

The real punchline occurred when I showed up at the back of the Globe Theatre for one of the Pyrates (and Kat's) performances. Kat yelled to the audience "If loving you is wrong, I don't want to be right!", ran off stage and down the middle of the aisle back to where I was, and tackle-hugged me. Since the O'Danny Girls werethe next act onstage, they were in the back watching the Pyratess, so they ran over and started yelling at Kat (whereupon she yelled back "We're just good friends!").

Here's a pic of me from the front:

and from the back:

Kat later asked me why her name was misspelled on the back, and I replied "You said 'Cat with a "C"', remember?"

Right about now you (and anybody else reading this) are thinking "This man needs a hobby". I get that a lot. In fact, the O'Danny Girls have incorporated it into their presentation of the Moose Song - "You know, a lot of you are thinking 'This man needs a hobby', but if he gets one, we lose half our act." While I'm a somewhat extreme example, many of the regulars at faire will, on occasion, play (good natured) practical jokes on the cast and performers, and vice versa.

Cruella Collett said...

*is recovering from rolling around on the floor*

Actually, I think you should stick with the hobby you got and NEVER EVER stop!!! I love love love it! :D And now I have to add that I missed seeing you at the festival to my long list of stuff I "should have done" while in the U.S.

I think reading this just made my day - Will, you're hilarious! :D

*is still giggling*

Will Paisley said...

I'm barely a patch on what the performers do; the Pyrates work The Little Drummer Boy and Dire Straits into their sea shanties, and rewrote the CSN song "Our House" into "Our Boat". The O'Dannys rewrite Irish singalongs such as The Wild Rover or Tell Me Ma ("she is handsome, she is pretty, she's the girl from Belfast City"). Here's a small sample:

"Maybe all the boys love me
Because I defy gravity
Or because I don't say no
When they play "Tune In Tokyo" (makes turning motions in the air right at nipple height)
I'm so eager just to please
Why do I have bruis-ed knees?
The boys love me, don't be perplexed -
I have got no gag reflex"

I love to watch the faces of people watching them for the first time: it's a wonderful melange of laughter and shock with a light garnish of revuslion, visible only for a second, before they cover their face with their hands. There's also the unlikely aural combination of a simultaneous gasp, laugh and groan.

BTW, I found your blog via a link from an online newspaper article about the faire. Thank you for your kind words. Many people either judge faire as being a bunch of geeks and social cripples, criticize it for not being historically accurate (that's what historical re-enactments are for) or fixate on the beer, turkey legs and cleavage. You also hit upon the heart of what makes some people such devoted fans of faire: the "general acceptance for people's desire to express themselves". The author of the aforementioned newspaper article spent an entire weekend interviewing people at faire, and wrote four pages about it without understanding that one important fact.

For people first visiting the faire, the draw seems to be the interactive nature of the faire - it's like watching a show on TV and being able to walk through the screen and become part of the show. There's also the surprise element - you can never, ever tell what somebody is going to say or do. If you ever make it back, make sure you see Pub Sing at the end of the day. It's like a cross between the Rocky Horror Picture Show and Whose Line Is It Anyway via sea shanties. I used to have a website that recorded the mayhem (since the only way to explain medieval German bagpipers and a Vulcan gypsy playing Stairway To Heaven for bellydancing faires is with a picture - and a heavy dose of hallucinogens). I'll post the url if/when I manage to resusitate it.

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