Thursday, June 19, 2008

Life's Better With a Giant Turkey Leg

Among my hit parade of getting other people to cook/buy me food was home-cooked dinner courtesy of my mentor and his wife. (Pretty good pasta, too.) Now, before dinner, the afternoon's festivities were a trip out to the renaissance festival, that staple of elementary school field-trippers and counter-culture high schoolers.

There are lots of things at the renaissance festival that anyone can appreciate. For instance, when the falconer is so good that he can attract a bird of prey just by holding out his arm, and then doesn't get taloned in the process... that's impressive Various acts of juggling and swallowing fire. And of course no real day is complete without watching a joust, whether you happen to be nine or ninety.

Of course, a nine-year-old isn't going to have as developed a sense of subtext, observation, and historical relevance as an older viewer. That's why it took my second visit to a renaissance fair to notice something interesting about it. The fair is, necessarily, presented as an artifice. Nobody rides horses at each other with lances for honor anymore. (Well, perhaps that does exist; enthusiasts seem to exist for every conceivable hobby.) There are belly-dancer shows today, but long gone is the notion that a wealthy patron can go up to the show runner with a couple of silver pieces and take one of the dancers home for the night. In other words, though the performers try and maintain a respectable sense of verisimilitude, all the attendees know what a facade they're getting into.

And despite this, I don't think the experience for the average fairgoer is fundamentally different now as it was for a real fair six hundred years ago. In either time, it's not a common event to see a leatherworker or a blacksmith in action. Of course, the reason why is completely different: in the real renaissance, you were probably too poor to afford transportation to the industrial center where those things were being made, instead merely buying them when the traveling merchant decided to show up. Now, it's uncommon because of globalization and industrialization.

At both fairs, you're likely to see wondrous sights that only a few people in the world can perform. Maybe the methods of sword swallowing are more accessible now than they were, thanks to the internet, but that doesn't immediately imply that more people know how to do them. It's still a spectacle. And the entertainers now are no less eager to make a living than they ever were. Whichever ploy they use to try and gain the audience's favor, whether it be flattery, self-deprecation, or merely impressing us with their talent, they're not about to give a free show.

Two things I do wonder about. First, was the S&M pretext as strong at the fairs hundreds of years ago as it is now? Costumes. Leather as far as the eye can see. And more cats o' nine tails than at the "Johnny Vegas Adult Boutique" down the street from my apartment. That's sure as heck something that a nine year old isn't ever going to notice... hopefully.

Second, did it cost the equivalent in florins to eight dollars to get a turkey leg back then? No matter. I'm sure it was every bit as delicious. And no real man would come to a joust without one.

Currently listening: "Cemeteries of London", Coldplay

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