Monday, May 14, 2007

Pleasures of the Renaissance Faire

Been away from this for a while and have a fair amount to catch up on. I want to start with a few thoughts on why Renaissance Faires are so popular. I believe the first one in Southern California was in 1969 or so, and I went to one out in Agoura within a couple of years of that. It was fun, especially observing all the people who got so heavily into it, with costumes, authentic swords and the like. There's an obvious attraction for some people in dressing up, playing a role, and trying to revive or recover some of the pleasures and practices of the past.

I first sang at a Faire some 10 years ago, and the group I sing with, the Temecula Vintage Singers, participated again this year, on Saturday. Our function was to wander around and stop and sing madrigals for 10 minutes or so, then move on to another spot and do it again. We usually had a relatively large crowd listening, and maybe five or six people who really got into the music, closing their eyes, listening intently and applauding enthusiastically. Madrigals, with the fa la la la las, are kind of silly (at least the English ones), celebrating shspherds and maidens in love and all. There's a little more fun when you consider the fa la las are generally a code for getting it on, or a way for one person in the song to express something like f--k you and the horse you rode in on.

What's really striking to me, however, is the celebration, as in the title of those in Southern California -- a Renaissance Pleasure Faire -- of pleasures all too many in our increasingly puritanical and politically correct society view as vices. There's an emphasis on the bawdy. Many women wear those bustieres (or whatever) that push up and expose their breasts to just short of the nipple. One woman walked with a tankard of ale perched perfectly on one breast, perfectly balanced. One guy had his mug strapped to the top of his head. A prepared man, I saidf, and he acknowledged the compliment graciously.

Then there was the drinking. People back then drank a lot more than today, in large part because beer was less dangerous than often-polluted water. I didn't see any srtaggering drunks (maybe 6.50 for a beer had something to do with that) but perhaps a third of the people had their own pewter or ceramic or even wooden tankards and drinking was not something anybody was shy about. One of the shows celebrated drinking in almost every rowdy and raunchy song. Plenty of people were smoking cigars and cigarettes. I lost track of how many swords I saw, and most of them were real swords

Dressing up, play-acting, learning a bit of history (some of the costumed people were very particular about authenticity, and the costumes on sale cost a pretty penny) saying prithee, gramercy, and thee and thou. But I also think that enjoying a drink and a smoke, and carrying weapons, with nobody there to look down on you or lecture you about what a dreadful influence you are on society is a part of the attraction.

In short Renaissance Faires offer an outlet for people who want to indulge in pleasures that many of the scolds in our modern society consider vices. Good for them!

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