Keeping this blog has stirred in me the memory of my very first experience with faire. The year was 1993, and the faire was one of the originals, the California Pleasure Faires, established in 1962….
Stepping through the main gate of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire is like stepping back in time. Faire-goers become participants as they are beckoned by living history actors to join the revelry in Chipping-Under-Oakwood, a fictitious shire of Elizabethan England. Comely wenches crowd the windows above the gate and try to entice those below to join them. Inside the boundaries of the gate is an overwhelming array of peasants, nobles, and merchants all interacting without ever stepping out of character. A group of tiresome Puritans linger just inside the gate, warning participants of the evils awaiting them in the shire. Strolling through the main fairway are the diverse citizens representative of another place and time. There are jugglers and jesters, Shakespearian actors, magicians, visiting Scots, and the occasional madman. The background atmosphere contributes to the feeling of belonging to another time. There is the constant jingling of bells worn around waistlines, on wrists, and on ankles. Merchants cry out, hawking their wares. “Fresh straw-BER-ries!” one might call in a distinctive sing-song. “Wrap your lips around our sausages,” taunts another, with devilish innuendo. Refreshment stands are plentiful and meade (a type of wine made with honey) and ale are available to those over twenty-one. Perhaps a great deal of spirits are consumed, contributing to the air of reckless abandon that seems to grow as the day progresses.
Other groups have set up on some of the paths that branch off the main road. There are several stages including one for the ever-popular “Manly Men In Tights” revue. There are also other forms of entertainment such as jousting, hawking, games of skill and chance, mazes, fencing, and even a few rides. The latter includes wooden ponies on a manual carousel for the children and a large swing pushed by two young cavaliers. The swing is a favorite of the maiden girls. It will seat four or five, and the men who push it tend to charm the girls with outlandish flattery and quick banter intended to bring a blush to a maiden’s cheek.
A more remote path leads to “The End of the World,” a quiet hillside that marks one of the fair’s boundaries and is less populated. It is here that one might find a fortune-teller or a group of dancing gypsies. The rhythm of drums and flutes and the scent of burning incense fill the air. Toward the end of the day the Queen’s Processional winds its way through the faire and it’s hard not to get caught up in the fantasy that is the Renaissance Faire. I remember timing my curtsy at just the right moment as Her Majesty passed, lowering my head respectfully then rising to the Queen’s praise. “Well met, good mistress,” she called to me as she passed.
My heart quickened, and for a moment I felt as if I had truly been graced by the approval of Queen Elizabeth I herself…