So, today was the annual trek into that blatantly innacurate anochronism known as a rennaissance festival, or renfest for short. Specifically, we went to Scarborough Faire.
Before I regale you with the events of this day’s excursion, I just want to take this brief time to set forth my viewpoint on these festivals in general.
Now, although they can have some extremely enjoyable moments, personally I have little faith in the “historical accuracy” of these festivals. Most of the Players (Player being another word for actor for those of you playing along at home) couldn’t act their way out of a leaking, wet paper bag if their lives depended on it and they sport a muddled cross-section of fashion faux pas from the 10th Century through to the 18th. They butcher the Queen’s English with alarming and shameless regularity and no matter how many ways you slice it, Having gypsies, knights, pirates, spanish moors, highland scots, vikings, englsh tudor monarchs and french musketeers all in one place at the same time tends to stretch one’s level of plausibility to the breaking point.
Out of all that mess, I think the butchering of the English language and the gross historical innaccuracies are probably my biggest gripes. Not only am I an English major, but I’m also an amateur history buff (especially of medieval europe and north africa) and what these people are doing in the name of “history” irks me to no end for its blatant innaccuracies. I like my history to be real, not to be some watered down fun event seen through the rose-coloured glasses of some daydreaming romantic. I may not like the squalor and filth that most of the population of medieval europe had no choice but to live in, but I despise the fact that these festivals try desperately to make you believe that only the way of life was the pampered and privileged life of the noble classes. The 14th Century sucked people. The Black plague sucked people. Personal Hygiene was nonexistent people. Hullo! These things happenned. Quit trying to make believe that all everyone back then ever did was run around spouting “thee” and “thou” every third word. Hearing people “thee” and “thou” every other word starts to feel like nails running down a chalkboard after about the 4th time. And to top it off, I tend to take the mimicking of accents fairly seriously… or at least british/scottish/irish accents, and to hear a non-native try to produce an authentic lilting irish brogue or scottish burr is frustrating to say the least. After awhile I just want to reach out and throttle the wee bastard for trying to give the real scots/celts/brits a bad name. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but there are some things that I consider sacrosanct.
I know this is all in good fun and some people would say I’m being overly sensitive over a stupid series of minor issues, but that’s how I see things and I doubt that will ever change. Some things just bug the living fuck out of me…
Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the festival to the bone. There are tons of interesting vendors selling lots of handcrafted knick-knacks of all shapes and sizes as well as quite a few excellent shows and performances. Sure the items are overpriced and the food is occasionally questionable but if you look hard enough there will always be something fun that you can do. Hey if nothing else you can always just stare at the bevvy of scantily clad wenches and muscled men in leather (depending on your preference). Or if the mood suits, you can try to see what really is under a “scotsman’s” kilt.
And now to today’s festivities…
Well, as I said earlier, today we (myself, my wife and her mom and dad) went to Scarborough. The weather started out fairly overcast and all the weather reports we had couldn’t decide whether there would be a thunderstorm in the afternoon or not. We decided to risk getting a little wet, and headed out. We arrived a little behind schedule and missed a small bit of the opening ceremonies. From my comments above you’ll all note that for me this was no stellar loss, but as this was Rachel’s dad’s first time going, we wanted him to experience everything.
Once inside we made our annual wandering trek towards the fabled delicacy known as Steak on a Stake and then towards the hillarious comedic stylings of Don Juan & Miguel. We managed to miss the first show due to the fact that we were taking our time letting Rachel’s dad snoop through the vendor stalls and ogle some of the scantily-clad girls selling flowers as they passed. *grin*. It wasn’t a big deal though as we caught the early afternoon show and laughed till our cheeks hurt. They put on a great show. If you have the chance of seeing them, I highly recommend it.
The crowds were fairly light in the morning as most folks probably stayed away with the threat of rain, which was good because we could explore the booths and stalls at our lesiure but also was bad as most of the hawkers were desperate for a sale and so we were innundated with fake fourteenth century British accents cajoling us to try their wares. My nails on a chalkboard meter was rising steadily. By midafternoon though all we had seen of the rain was a light sprinkle and the crowds started to get thicker so the hawkers had more targets and we were harassed less.
I won’t bore you with telling you about all the shops we went into as many of them were just carbon copies of each other, with thematic variations such as artist’s location, materials used, or just different colours available. Instead I’ll just blather on about the various cool demonstrations and shows we took in.
As I said already, we saw Don Juan and Miguel which was amazing as always. It may have even been more funny this year because they actually screwed up visibly and cracked themselves up more than once. It was just a great time all around.
I also was hypnotically drawn (and dragged everyone along with me) to a sheepherding demonstration using my favourite breed of dog, the border collie. Now for me, herding sheep is about as interesting as watching paint dry, that’s why I’ll never be a farmer, but watching the dogs and looking at them work was brilliant. They were gorgeous. I love the way they look, act and just are. They’re smart, athletic and as lovable as can be. We went over and petted the dogs after the show and that in and of itself made my day as I instantly became the new best friend to all the dogs there. To me, there is nothing more heartlifting and thereputic in the world as the unconditional, exhuberant affection a dog can provide…
*Ahem* I’m going to move on before I go off on a tangent about the merits of dogs over other pets… and before I start to talk about the puppies for sale….
We also took in a glassblowing demonstration which was interesting despite having a poor view of the work as it progressed. Glassblowing is one of those fine arts where a master craftsman can make things look so simple and can produce works of amazing beauty with so little effort that it fools you into thinking anyone can do it.
The final demonstration of the day was a falconry demonstration which, despite having a flock of really cool raptors, leaned too heavily towards the preachy “save our environment” bandwagon for my tastes. Not that I’m against saving the environment, it’s just that I went in expecting to see more falconry demonstrations and less preachiness. In a moment of poignant irony, the narrator for the falconry demonstration just happenned to be wearing a monk’s cassock. Strangely fitting if you ask me… but who knows it could have just been by chance. The birds were very cool in and of themselves. We saw two red-tailed hawks, one with a genetically recessive trait that made his feathers all white as opposed to the natural tawny brown. They also had a peregrine falcon, the fastest animal on the planet, but we never got to see it fly, which to me was a big dissapointment. We also saw a great horned owl, a vulture and a harrison’s hawk, of which only the vulture gave us a decent display of a bird in flight as he swooped over our heads by inches.
Overall it was a good show and a good way to end the day. We collected our last few remaining knick-knacks and headed for home. The weather wasn’t great but it didn’t stop us from having a great time. If we’re lucky, Rachel and I may go back before the season ends but for now all we have is the anticipation of next year.