Friday, August 8, 2008

"Meet Me at the (Renaissance) Fair!"

Have you ever been to a Renaissance fair?

Believe it or not, I've only been to one. We live in Northern California, so several years ago we attended the Renaissance Pleasure Faire held in Novato (this fair, one of the country's oldest, has since relocated to Hollister). It was a wonderful afternoon. The setting was lovely and the weather not too warm. Eleven and eight years old at the time, the kids really got into some of the activities, trying their hands at archery, munching roasted turkey drumsticks, and waving to the Queen and her courtiers as they paraded through the site. The highlight of the day was the tournament, where riders in armor jousted with pine lances. I still remember the thud of hooves as horses pounded down the list and the clash of lance colliding with shield. It truly gave me a glimpse of how exciting a real sixteenth-century joust must have been.

I'll have to admit, though, it took me a little while to get into the spirit of the fair and to stop reminding myself that these were modern people running around in costumes and pretending to be something they weren't. The bawdiness of some of the acts and behavior at these fairs of can reach questionable levels; with kids in tow, one really has to be careful what one stops to watch. I was a little put off, too, by the commercial nature of event; there were many vendors selling things that were only remotely tied to Renaissance culture. On the whole, the fair seemed more show than substance, more an excuse to dress up and have a good time than to learn about life in a different era. From what I gather, this controversy over the nature and purpose of Renaissance fairs permeates the field. The detailed Wikipedia article on Renaissance fairs claims that whereas European fairs tend to resemble living history museums where the re-enactors strive to explain historical life to modern visitors, American fairs tend to cater to their patrons' greater interest in eating, drinking, shopping and watching farce than learning about the past.

Knowing better what to expect now, I think it's time to try the Northern California Renaissance Faire again. It will be held weekends, September 6-October 12, at the Casa de Fruta in Hollister. I'd love to hear about your experience with such fairs, in the US or abroad. And if any of you plan on attending the Hollister fair, let me know and maybe we can coordinate our visits.


Emily said...

Hi Julianne,
This weekend a renaissance faire will be held in San Fransisco at Golden Gate Park. I'll be there, along with my guild. The theme for this faire is the short reign of Lady Jane Grey. She gets court on Saturday, while Mary I reigns on Sunday.

Julianne Douglas said...

Thanks, Emily! I hadn't heard of this one. I'll have to check it out the family schedule and see if I can make it. Thanks for the heads-up. I'd love to talk with you sometime about what it's like to be in a guild.

Sheramy said...

I used to go to the Georgia Renaissance Fair every year when I lived in Atlanta. It's a good one. I've been to the Tampa Bay fair only once since I moved here. We used to have lots of fun at the Georgia fair. I enjoyed the musicians and street theater, the shopping, and the snacking. Learning wasn't really on the menu, no. I didn't dress up though: never wanted to spend money on a whole outfit I'd wear only once a year.

Tess said...

I went to one eight years ago just outside Toronto. Friends of ours (from Ohio) are big on the RF circuit and they convinced Sean and me to do the Ontario Ren Faire with them. We had a blast :) I even got Sean to dress up.

There used to be one near where I'm living now, but alas, it has disappeared. Would love to do another one one day.

Julianne Douglas said...

Sheramy--I'd love to do the dress-up thing sometime. Glad you had fun at the fair (even if you didn't learn anything :) )!

Tess--It's too bad there's not a fair close to you. Especially if your husband is willing to get into it like that!

cindy said...

i hope you have fun! i've always enjoyed the ones in los angeles (in the mountains?) yes, it's commercial, but it's also different and fun!