On a +95° cloudless day, the Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire was a bustling strip stretched across a vast, dry, grassy, farming plot. Devotion won over reasonableness. A court of Lords and Ladies in full outfit—petticoats and collars—paraded to-and-fro between the royal tent and the half-timber towers of the front gate. Knights in full leather, chain mail, and plate armor grappled in the jousting field. Even the paying visitors braved the heat in wool cloaks and furr wraps.
The cashier at the crepe stand must have been no older than sixteen. She wore green eye-shadow, a brown, felt, lace-up vest over a frilly peasant dress, and corn-row braids on the just the right side of her blond head. So, sort-of renaissance-y. In this way she fit in with much of the rest, where decoration depended as much upon historical accuracy as fantasy and budget. The Red Dragon Pub was really a beer garden with a fence around it. Canvas cubicle shops sold everything from steel swords to paper parasols. Costumes ranged in authenticity from hand-embroidered leather to LED fairy wings. Alongside vendors offering smoked turkey legs and meat pies were those offering ice cream and pizza.
I remembered the crepe-girl because her stand was the only one that served iced coffee, and she kept calling me “hun.” This prompted my partner Chris and I to note the lack of codification of terms of social rank in English. For instance, there is no official English equivalent for the Japanese suffixes “chan” or “san,” nor are there ranked “you” conjugations like the “tu” and “usted”/“vous”/“Lei” of Romance languages. Instead, we have terms which tend to but not necessarily connote endearment/insult, respect/condescension, depending on who is saying them to whom in what context and in what tone. Calling a grown man “son” is different than calling him “sir,” and I was struck, to be called “honey” by a sixteen-year-old, when had she been sixty, I would not. Was she attempting to sound old-timey, perhaps?
I looked forward to Cirque du Sewer, supposedly the world’s one-and-only acrobat, cat and rat performance. At the hottest hour of the afternoon, acrobat Melissa Arleth wore her black bloomers with red polka dots and a matching corset over a red peasant top. Her hair was wound up in two buns, like rat ears. Sweat hovered on her face as she performed splits, handstands and walked the slack line. Pad Kee Meow, the acro-cat, reluctantly balanced on Arleth’s head, desperately panting. Of the acro-rats, only sprightly Bubonique could be coaxed off her chilled sleeping pad to run the gauntlet.
The knights! I was friends with a few of the knights—they throw awesome, Viking-themed birthday parties—, so I made sure to show up early and secure a front row seat on the bleachers for their jousting contest. The knights were divided into four teams representing England, France, Spain and Germany, and one knight from each team competed on horse, doing everything from chopping at rotten cabbages nailed to a post, throwing spears at targets on hay bales, spearing wicker hoops with their swords, and, of course, jousting. In between these events, ground-fighting knights squared off with swords, spears, daggers…
Of course, I understood that the stakes in these games weren’t “authentic.” Back in time, knights rode hard and aimed to break their lances against each other, often risking their lives in the process. Not so here, where the knights aimed to strike the other with as little impact as possible. Here, the ground-fighting was rough-and-tumble, but still a choreographed dance.
Even so, I was struck by how authentic the experience was. I cried myself hoarse, cheering, “Vive la France!” I winced at the bang of lance impacting shield. I had to concede that Spain’s rider the best, because of how precisely he sliced those cabbages in half. Back in time, people came from far-and-wide, and in their best costumes, to brave the heat and cheer on these exact same games. In my frilly skirts, I could be the Medieval Italian peasant girl Berenice for the day. Don’t mind my cellphone or rose-tinted sunglasses. They’re magic from the fairies.
Published by the West Seattle Herald 08/29/2016.