Thursday, August 1, 2013
Sunday afternoon at the Renaissance Faire in Bristol, Wisconsin. Always a pleasant family activity, some low-key wandering amidst the booths and trees, crowds and commotion. We enjoyed what we always enjoy — the dollar sarsaparillas, the sauteed mushrooms, the ornate costumes, the well-made crafts for sale. We bought handmade soap, and howled at the exuberant, vaudeville fun of the Mud Show, the highlight, as always.
Cool weather helped — not so much for us, dressed in our 21st century cotton dishabille. But it can be uncomfortable just watching hardcore Faire-goers sweating under all those layers of velvet and brocade and armor beneath a fierce summer sun. Not this time.
My boys speculated on the historical accuracy of it all. Was this really the Renaissance? Northern or Italian Renaissance? Wouldn't it be closer to the Medieval? (I didn't reply "Medieval Times may have already been copyrighted." Nor did I point out the growing Steam Punk presence, which might be historically accurate, but historically accurate to 2116. What I did say is, "There's no such thing as a historically accurate elf.")
I'm not one to quibble over someone else's fantasy. This is a carnival, not a textbook. Visitors are offered plenty of undraped bosoms and weaponry — really, what more could a guy ask for on a Sunday? There's also mystery at the bottom of the Renaissance Faire, something substantial to chew on. What is it about the past that is so appealing to these people? What is buried there that they would dig for it so energetically, making costumes and assuming roles and talking in accents? Is it just fashion? The chance to dress in feathers and silk and steel? To escape the comfortable if drab casual of today, with our cargo shorts and t-shirts and flip-flops?
Or is it the sense of freedom suggested by a more disordered time? The idea that you can take your staff and your tankard and wander the forests of yore? And maybe score with some woodland sprite or garden gnome? Or is this what you do instead of having a sex life?
Of course their view of the past as an enticing fable is a lie. Pardon my buzz kill, but the true stink and cruelty and disease of that era would send any of us shrieking back to the modern world for a shower and a slug of penicillin. But why be harsh? It's a lie, but a benign lie. An illusion that harms no one and seems to embroider the summer for many. (As for sex, well, one shouldn't speculate; it's probably more of an enhancement than a substitute). Nothing wrong with a thread of fantasy to help us grope through our lives. Maybe the allure is the new start that we like to repeatedly discover for ourselves, a fresh beginning in the past, a blank slate, a step away from our plain and ordinary, scrape and struggle workdays, to re-invent our personalities in some imagined superior past where we can finally get to be the kings and queens we know ourselves to be, if only for one golden afternoon.