We went to a Ren Faire. I can’t believe I’d never gone to one before! It seems vaguely up my alley, as I am extremely interested in medieval and renaissance european history, although I have always been uncomfortable with role playing. They had a forest trail (confusingly named Sherwood Enchanted Forest, so I was unclear whether it was full of faeries or whether we would be pretend-robbed; as it turned out, it was both) and you walked along it and throughout the forest were all these people basically playing pretend, like pretending to be sprites or wood nymphs or bandits or whatever else. E.g. I saw one lady who was barefoot and wearing sort of a tattered minidress made of leaves and vines and she was skipping joyfully around a tree and beckoning dramatically to passing travelers. I would like to know more about these people, their motivations and what kind of pleasure this gives them. Their faces were intense; a lot of them were REALLY inhabiting the space, expressing puckish wonder as they pretended to commune with nature spirits. You were supposed to go up to these people and give them a feather and then they would give you glitter. I stood and watched one faerie stand alone on a stump and do mystical dancing for awhile. I do not think these people were on drugs; they looked very wholesome. Role-play stuff always kind of gives me hives but I was thinking about the different ways we find to escape our presently-existing realities and this one seems no worse than any other and probably better than a lot. I’ve also been reading about immersive theater which can be a means of encouraging group political awakening and although this certainly was not that it was interesting to think of it within that tradition. At one point as I crept through the woods I looked over and there was a guy in full black cloak and hood wearing a very elaborate skull mask with twisting horns and carrying a staff and right as I saw him through the trees he turned and looked right at me.
I was very interested in the haziness of the historical concept on display. The official font and iconography of the fair was pretty clearly drawn from some point in the English Renaissance (or, more accurately, from movies about the Renaissance) but in terms of the actual eras different people and elves and theater troupes seemed to be inhabiting it was really a mixed bag. There were musical consorts playing music from many different eras, including a bagpipe group that was playing straight-up contemporary rock music (“do you think they had syncopation in medieval tymes?” I asked my old man. I actually don’t know! I don’t think Western Europeans had syncopation in the sense of using syncopation to construct a regular rhythmic pulse, which was what these bagpipe guys were doing. Then again, they loved hocketing, which is super complex syncopation, but was it in support of a rhythmic pulse ever? God now I’m suddenly thinking about the history of cultural constructions of rhythm and realizing how little I know about rhythm. I will have to ask my colleague who studies Renaissance music. I’ll report back, I’m sure you are all dying to find out. Or maybe one of you knows the answer, if so do tell). The food also was all over the place, but I guess that’s to be expected (e.g. giant roasted turkey leg you eat like a medieval king; mead; wood fired pizza; quesadillas; budweiser). Some people were dressed in vaguely Renaissance appropriate garb although I was also thinking a lot about social position and how that did NOT come into play in people’s costume choices. Like a 60 year old woman in the 1600s would not be wearing one of these off-the-shoulder dresses with the epic push-up bustier, unless she was a prostitute, I imagine. There were also a lot of lady pirates though which I thought was cool and who knows, perhaps accurate. But then other people had gone further back than the Renaissance and were fully medieval, in monk’s cloaks or heavy shapeless woolen tunics. One group was barefoot and in loincloths (“must be Polynesians or something” said Gary) and were selling decorative water fountains for your home or office. And then within all of this period stuff there were also people dressed as sexy cartoon animals, which, why do THESE two things go together?? I get why you’d go to a Ren Faire wearing a cloak and actual dagger but what does a sexy cat with neon blue hair or like a guy in assless chaps with a perky fox tail poking out the butt have to do with Olden Tymes?? The role-play stuff was periodically somewhat poignant, when the undercurrent of erotic fantasy jarred awkwardly against all the middle-aged dads in khaki shorts eating fried dough; one guy was wearing an enormous tiger head and as he waited in the pizza line a drunk man yelled AREN’T YOU HOT IN THAT THING? And the tiger man simply regarded him without speaking, conveying an impression of wounded mystification, like, am I hot in WHAT thing, this is simply my real head sir, how dare you invade my fantasy space.
The horsemen were pretty firmly Renaissance-era though, and they were also amazing. That was something else interesting, which was the incredible skills on display. These horse people! One guy came riding into the jousting arena standing on the backs of two galloping horses, which he then led in a series of complicated loopty-loops while everyone yelled. Since we don’t live in Renaissance times when such horsemanship would win you the favor of a Lord and a sack of fine gold, how and where do people learn such stuff? Our friends were speculating that they’re just “local horse people” who make extra money doing the Ren Faire horse show, but the skills on display at this thing would take ages to develop and I don’t think just any old horse person could do it. Like riding horses full-tilt at each other with big-ass lances and shields and hitting each other dead center and then whipping the horse around in a tight turn, flinging the lance into a hay bale, grabbing another lance out of the ground and immediately spearing it through a ring tossed high in the sky by a squire, then grabbing a sword and knocking off a bunch of dummies’ heads? Where are they practicing this stuff? It was awesome
There was also a woman who put on a show with her trained cat that I at first scoffed at and then became legitimately awed by.
But many other skills were on display as well, for example spinning yarn, roasting chickens with a homemade spit, cheesemaking, blacksmithing (there was an on-site forge where you could watch men in tunics hammering on shit while confusingly a woman in sexy leather gear and animal horns watched them and yelled encouragement), archery. There was a guy selling beautiful wooden bows and arrows! There were guys putting on swordfighting demonstrations. I kept thinking about the Dies The Fire series of post-apoc novels where the only people who survive the apocalypse are dark military guys and Ren Faire people. And the Ren Faire people immediately found a new society based on like vague Wicca stuff mixed with Tolkien, and they are very successful because they already know how to drive a horse team and card wool and tan leather and shoot arrows and shit.
I bought a decorated human skull and I ate fried dough. My husband drank a thimbleful of mead that he pronounced “sweet.” I saw a man drinking out of a straight-up drinking horn, and it looked badass. A group of goth teens passed by and I heard one of them say “see, instead of rednecks, it’s white nerds,” which also made me wonder about the alt-right component of these things. On its surface it seemed very gentle and fun and extremely welcoming to all kinds of people but I bet also this is the kind of shit those alt-right guys love. They are after all essentially nerds, just mean ones. They love all that stuff, all that creepy excalibur white european fascist fantasy stuff. This made me sad. However although I did see a guy wearing an NRA shirt I did not see anything I recognized as white nationalist so who knows.
I did see:
A middle aged man dressed sort of as a wizard, who was walking around with a dragon puppet on one hand, which he was manipulating to look very “real” and to which he was talking very sincerely. This mystical mage with his dragon familiar, speaking of spells and dark magick! In his other hand he held a long, gnarled, Gandalf type staff. But then as I watched, his cell phone rang, and he answered it, holding it between his ear and his shoulder and using the hand with the dragon puppet to hold his staff, such that the dragon was just kind of smushed up against the staff, forgotten, while the guy was like “yeah? Yeah ok” into his phone
As I was walking past the jousting arena where horsemen were yelling into headset microphones to get the crowd amped up (“GOOD PEOPLE! DO YOU CHEER FOR SIR WILLIAM”) a man in a monk’s tunic walked past me and he was squishing a plastic water bottle in his hand and looking at it in wonderment and then he said to himself “Aye! ‘Tis crinkly!”
We took refuge from the blasting sun of the jousting arena and went to sit in the shade by the spare horses. After awhile one of the squires came back there leading the horses from the arena and although we were the only people back there he yelled “MAKE WAY FOR THE STEEDS!” and then he said “in truth ye should not be back here.” So we left
A man selling pottery gave me a small metal dragon figurine and tried to engage me in pretending it was a real dragon that had just hatched. I told him I was happy for him and that it was cool.
A wildlife organization had a bunch of raptors on display and I got very sad watching the raven who was bored and agitated. There was also a very tiny wood owl who was staring wide-eyed at a giant hawk next to it. What a weird life animals have in the modern age.
Last night as we lay peacefully abed, trying to sleep but instead discussing capitalist logic and how it rears its head everywhere even in conversations with loved ones, even in our own predilections and perceptions, and getting more and more wound up, we then tried to calm ourselves back down by talking about our favorite film, “The Hoax,” which is about a man (the titular The Hoax (pronounced “Tay Ho-axe”)) who pretends to have interviewed Howard Hughes and writes an authorized autobiography of him even though it is all a scam. All jokes about the title aside, this is a true story, the man’s name is Clifford Irving and he had the chutzpah of a thousand medieval warriors to do what he did. “It was a different time,” my old man protested, meaning, I suppose, that no one could use the internet to somehow disprove Irving’s wild tale; furthermore, Irving was clearly banking on the hope that Hughes was too far gone in his descent into madness to even be aware that a book had been published. Which, sadly for Irving, turned out not to be the case. I encourage you to watch The Hoax starring Richard Gere as The Hoax/Clifford Irving (“Clifford Irving IS……THE HOAX”) and even more so “F for Fake” by Orson Welles if you are interested in this bananas tale of fraud and tomfoolery. Clifford Irving is still alive and not in jail, which I feel represents a great triumph and he should probably be our president.
Still, it is totally shocking when you think about it, how easy it would be to fabricate somebody’s biography without their consent or knowledge and then pass it off as real. Why doesn’t this happen more often? Why hasn’t someone published a book of interviews with J.D. Salinger or somebody like that? If Salinger protested, I mean, how could he PROVE you had never interviewed him? It’d be his word against yours. Really it seems like it would only take just a bit of forethought (e.g. actually buying some plane tickets and traveling a couple times to Salinger’s town, which ticket stubs you could later produce as evidence that you had visited him).
We started laughing so hard, imagining doing this. Who would we try to profit off of in this way? Salinger would be a good one. It would also be useful if the person were probably dead but unverifiably so, like poor Shelly Miscavige or something, except that would be a stupid move because the cult-that-shall-not-be-named would have you killed. But then we started laughing harder, imagining doing it as an obvious joke–not intending anyone to think it was a real book. Like, not doing any research and just making it up. Ten years ago I think you could have made a million dollars writing such a fake joke biography of Banksy, for example, and it would be great because you know he’d probably think it was funny and wouldn’t sue you; it would just add to the ambiguity and mystery.
We finally settled on David Beckham. Somebody very famous, not reclusive at all, somebody who has given a million interviews that you can easily find on the internet and disprove everything in the book, somebody currently alive and in full possession of his wits, who seems like basically a pretty nice guy, and who would probably not understand the joke. It would be amazing. It’d technically be a novel, but it would never acknowledge itself as such; it would simply be a made-up biography of David Beckham. The cover would be a straightforward photo of him, à la all celebrity memoirs. It would be kind of like “Being John Malkovich” only it would seem to be earnestly non-fiction. But we would do no research whatsoever; we wouldn’t even read his Wikipedia page. The book would obviously be written by someone who knew almost nothing about soccer–we’d use the word “soccer,” for example, even when supposedly directly quoting him and other Brits–and nothing about Beckham’s life. We’d make up dialogue in an awkward British idiom that would have no relation to his actual speech patterns. “I was born in Leeds in 1965. Me mum was a washerwoman and I never knew me da.” The soccer talk would be extremely vague. “I got the ball from my teammate and kicked it down the field. I scored a goal. I scored the most goals of all. My team beat the other team in the big soccer competition.” We also decided the biography would also just be about Beckham’s lifelong desire to be a famous movie actor, and would focus primarily on all the film cameos he’s done; soccer would be sort of secondary, something he did to make money even though it wasn’t his real dream. The book would be called “I, DAVID.”
And we would also include things in the book like “when this book is published, I will deny everything in it. I will insist that the author is a fraud and that I never met them in my life. But you will know, reader, that my denials are themselves false; everything in this book is the absolute truth.”
If you steal our idea I will hunt you down
Yesterday was July the Fourth, one of my least favorite holidays. Actually I am of two minds on most holidays: I hate the concepts most of them are founded upon and yet I enjoy having a day off work and think it is important for society that such days off be enforced by law. July Fourth is no different. I don’t like: hot dogs, America, patriotism, drinking during the day, fireworks, the way fireworks absolutely terrorize dogs and how you have to sit there listening ot every dog in the neighborhood screaming in fear for two hours. And yet, it’s a fun day off and you can go to the river with your friends and all your dogs. And, I do enjoy a parade. So that’s where I’m at, w/r/t July Fourth.
We had big plans for the day, specifically we were being taken to a secret place by our friends about which I have been sworn to secrecy but rest assured it was amazing. It’s an island you can only get to with a boat (in our case, a canoe our friends purchased on the side of the road for $80), and we went there, and there was no one else anywhere near, and it was silent and we sat on a beach idly swimming in the warm lake and listening to bullfrogs and it was simply delightful. Anyway we were late for the meet-up for this event and as we were driving away from our house in a panic we saw that our neighbor two doors down was having a yard sale, and at the yard sale there was a piano! I yelled STOP and we screeched to a halt and ran over there.
I’ve been, as you know, somewhat stressed out by the need to have a piano in my house combined with my unwillingness to pay a lot of money for the privilege. Pianos are a very weird type of object–so far as I know, there are only two options: spend a lot of money on a good one, or spend zero money on a very bad one. The bad ones are more or less fine for my purposes (I shall never be a Yuja Wang nor even a moderately talented amateur, lets be real), yet you still have to pay $400 to somebody to move even a very bad piano, and it feels weird to spend that much money on such a junker. Plus I was balking at the hassle of setting it all up, all the phone calls and negotiations and I knew I’d have to get the mover to come scout out my house before I even hired him because the piano has to go into a kind of awkward space and I wasn’t sure it would work. Anyway, et cetera. SO, as soon as I saw the piano at the yard sale, I thought, this might be the answer to all my prayers! Or anyway my piano-based prayers. I ran over to our neighbor, Scott, who was sitting there tuning it as I approached.
“I’m in the market for a piano!” I yelled at him.
“You are? Well I’m selling one!”
“My only issue is, can it be tuned to concert pitch? I made a mistake with my last piano”
“Well I’m tuning it to concert pitch right now!” and then he went beep beep beep on a little keyboard he was using to tune it and I yelled RIGHT ON
“If I buy it will you help us move it? We live two doors down”
“Oh, the little bungalow? Sure, I can help you move it. I’ve been trying to get rid of it for ages, I’m thrilled you want to buy it.”
“How much do you want for it?”
“I don’t know. Make me an offer.”
“Well…how about $100?”
I asked him to come scout the route and measure the inner hallways with me, which he did. While in our house he informed us that he’d done some carpentry work on it before it was sold. He’s a carpenter–comically, also at his yard sale was a table of the EXACT size and dimensions we’ve been looking for for over a year; finally my old man just built one, but now here was a lovely one all ready to go. “Yeah, you can’t find tables with those dimensions so I just built one,” our neighbor said. NO SHIT! He was also selling all these expansion packs for the game Carcassone, and he was also talking about how he’s been recording birds with a microphone in the morning. So basically our neighbor is my husband, it is very very strange. And we’d never met him before!
He scouted the route and said it’d fit. We went back to the piano and found our neighbor Henry there. Henry is very cool and helpful and just likes to know all about what’s going on in the neighborhood–he’s the one who likes to come over when we are doing yard work and offer us gentle suggestions that are somehow compelling yet unobtrusive. Like he’ll watch you hacking away at a log for awhile and then he’ll go “hey, do you wanna try my maul? It might be better, I don’t know…” and then you try it and of course it’s infinitely superior to the way you’d been doing the chore, which obviously Henry knew because he is a rad old new england man who knows how to do this stuff and you are a dipshit west coast city person who hasn’t hacked at a log since 7th grade when you did it poorly and grudgingly because your mom said you had to. Henry’s also the guy who painted a picture of our house and gave it to us! Henry rules–anyway he’d come over to see what we were talking about. “Do you want me to go get my furniture dolly?” he asked. Well yeah, we sure did! He ran off and was back in a second. “I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find it but it was right where I’d left it!” he announced. He and Scott hefted the piano onto the dolly and we all stood looking at it. “Well thanks for the dolly, Henry,” said Scott, “actually I don’t know what we would have done without it,” which was true. At that point our other neighbor Noel, who, like Henry, is cool, retired, profoundly competent (he recently yelled up at my old man who was on the roof trying to fix a leak to JUST CAULK IT, which totally worked) and interested in neighborhood goings-on, came over to see what all the hoo-ra was about, and he also started helping. It became an exciting neighborhood event–people were on their porches waving and cheering as we went past, and Noel’s wife came out and excitedly watched and yelled encouragement. I of course did not help at all and didn’t even offer to help. I could lift probably 0.002% of the piano with my small doll’s arms so I just stayed out of the way and tried not to yell things like BE CAREFUL and DON’T HURT YOURSELF, obviously unhelpful advice. I was so scared one of these nice men would hurt his back moving my stupid piano; so far as I know this did not happen although they probably would have hidden it if it had.
Well those fellas (plus Scott’s teen son, amiably conscripted into service) just rolled that ol’ piano down the sidewalk and hulked it up the steps and muscled it through the door and carried it through the house and wedged it into the hallway in front of my office, at which point it got stuck. A few timid jokes were made about just leaving it there, but then somebody realized they could just lift the whole damn thing up over the baseboards and then it would fit, which it did. They rolled it into my office and against the wall and Scott played a glissando all the way down the keyboard and everyone cheered. Then Henry and Noel just IMMEDIATELY said “well, see ya,” and left. No big deal, just another day moving a piano down the street for no reason! What cool guys! I’m going to bake them miniature blueberry pies today because our blueberries are ripe now. This truly has been a dispatch from Quaint New England, thank you
Anyway now I have a $100 junky old jangly-ass piano that stays marginally in tune which is all I ever wanted. Now I’m going to learn how to tune it myself using YouTube and a guzheng tuning wrench I bought on ebay. What could go wrong???? (cut to: piano falling over and landing on top of me, completely crushing my entire skeleton)
Well that’s about it for me, enjoy your day