On Labor Day Monday, my sister had the day off, and she’d suggested that we go to the very last day of their local Renaissance Faire, called the Bristol Renaissance Faire. I was a little ambivalent because by then, I’d done one heck of a lot of walking (and stair-climbing!), it was still hot and very humid, and I was pretty wiped out.
But…I had never been to a Ren Faire. Seriously! A very large percentage of my friends will find this hard to believe, but I have never been to our local event, King Richard’s Faire (and I could still go, it just started and runs through October 21), nor any similar event anywhere else. I’d always been curious to attend one, had never made it. This was the Bristol Ren Faire’s 25th anniversary year and the very last day. So, off we went.
Well…I had an absolute blast. I really, really loved it! Yes, we walked…and walked and walked and walked. I didn’t try any food because I was being so careful about money, and also about my food intake in general. My sister had some falafel, but I figured I could wait until we got home for dinner; the Faire closed at 7:00 p.m. We checked out every single booth and vendor. I bought some really high quality essential oils and incense, which I needed and wanted. I asked some leather crafters about a leather project I want to have made, but I’ve found that leather crafters are a grumpy sort who don’t seem interested in talking about custom jobs—at least, not to me, for some reason. So I gave up on that. There are local leather workers I can deal with when I’m ready for this project. I spoke to a book vendor about possibly carrying BLUM books, and she took some book postcards and my business card. And I bought horns. I’ve wanted a pair for years. They tie on, and since I’m keeping the bangs, and the little horns look rather natural poking through bangs, I plan to incorporate them into a costume I’m assembling.
My sister was interested in some of the humorous acts, and we saw a couple of these. In “Vegetable Justice,” people can throw tomatoes at a guy with his head sticking out of a hole in a wall, who keeps up a patter of creative insults and jibes (my sister didn’t think the two we saw were as good as one she’d seen before). Another act, Dirk & Guido, was an elaborate spoof sword-play that was cute and went on quite a while (and “Guido” was replaced by another actor whose spooky resemblance to Orlando Bloom probably doesn’t hurt his career). But I was less interested in those than some of the more serious offerings—like the falconer.
We first saw the Royal Falconer, Ray Pena, when he came into one of the shops, walked right by me and set his bird down on a counter a few feet away. I think I had to pick my jaw up off the floor, because I hadn’t seen him before and this was completely unexpected. My sister and I went down to his main show at the big arena later on, where he flew several types of falcons and hawks, with a continuous educational spiel (the 16th century Discovery Channel ). The birds were mesmerizing, but that’s how we expected to see them: at a safe distance, in a big arena.
We didn’t expect to see them again, being flown from the middle of town square just a few feet away (no calls for the audience to stay back, but if you didn’t, you’d get smacked by the lure, so that was a non-verbal boundary marker of sorts). The 11-year-old apprentice was flying a merlin for the very first time (it didn’t go quite smoothly, but it was his first public try; my sister opined that he was swinging the lure too fast, and he was probably nervous. At one point the merlin was so confused, it alit on the ground—right in front of me. I immediately froze still so as not to alarm it, hence I did not get a photo of it). Gods, but those birds were stunning. I wish I’d gotten more photos—one of the assistants was holding a screech owl, too—but I did get a few. (Below: assistant with hawk, then Mr. Pena with a falcon.)
So that was pretty amazing. The second most amazing thing, for me, was the performance by three singers from The Seelie Players, an a capella trio singing as Sirena. They used drums and long staves that they pounded rhythms on the stage with, but otherwise no musical accompaniment, and they are just…incredible. I sat through one and half of their shows, I was so enthralled by them. And gave them some money. And promised them I’d blog about them, so here it is! I did not, alas, get a good photo of them. But if you Google “seelie players bristol ren faire,” a couple of YouTube videos come up, and you can “like” their page on Facebook. My sister bought me their CD!
Of course, we had to see some jousting. We ended up at the last show, the Joust to the Death. It was entertaining and dramatic, because there can only be so much artifice to these things; you know they’re taking every precaution and it’s still pretty scary. Maybe that’s why I screwed up when I tried to video some of it and the camera didn’t record. I did get some photos, but the arena was large and the knights were at quite a distance. One of the horses had its ears laid back a lot and seemed rather unhappy, and I overheard another audience member telling her friend that the horse “had been giving them trouble all weekend.” Jousting is pretty hard on the horses, too. They eventually went to choreographed swordplay on the ground, including flaming swords. The bad guy (seen below) won, and everyone booed.
While we were at the joust, two people sitting behind us noticed my “Vampire Stories for Grown-ups” button, asked about it, and took book postcards and a business card! They’re huge vampire fans! Wearing the button was an impulse and what do you know—it paid off. At the Ren Faire!
And I rode a camel. I know the ride was meant for kids, but, hey. It was a real camel, with very little between you and the critter, you just climbed up there and sat on it. I’ve never ridden a camel before, and who knows when or if I’ll ever get another chance; I wanted to see what it felt like. So now I can say I have ridden a camel—and I even have proof!
At the very end of the day, the players (and I’m sure, some costumed attendees) all processed out of the park, and that, I did get video of. So, you can see how elaborate and well-made the costumes were. We all followed behind and gathered outside.
The Queen thanked everyone for sharing in their 25th anniversary season, and thanked all the players, and one of them gave the speech from the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and some of the musicians played a last piece. They finished with a hearty call of, “Merry Meet, and Merry Part, and Merry Meet Again!” which I chimed in with. It was rather moving to be there for their very last day.
My sister and I went home and took turns on the shower and getting dinner ready. We were pretty wiped out! The next day, Tuesday, I was flying home, and my brother-in-law was returning a couple of hours before I left from an orienteering event he’d been at all weekend. That made the airport transportation somewhat awkward. We compromised by meeting my brother-in-law at O’Hare and going out to eat at Giordano’s, after which my sister and brother-in-law dropped me off at O’Hare for my flight home.
I don’t eat pizza very often, but you can hardly visit Chicago without trying authentic deep dish pizza. Chicon 7 actually had a pizza (and pajama) party in the Con Suite on Sunday night after the Hugo awards, but it started at midnight and that’s when I had to catch a cab for Union Station. But I got to try a broccoli and onion deep dish pizza at Giordano’s, one of the “real” pizza places (or as Chicon 7 put it, “the good stuff”).
All I can say is…bread, melted cheese and veggies? What’s not to love? You can never have too much melted cheese and veggies, in my opinion! It was pretty darned good. Alas, I gained 2.2 pounds in Chicago, all the exercise notwithstanding, and I’m sure I gained 2.1 of them at Giordano’s. And now I’m fiending to try the deep dish veggie pizzas at Uno’s here at home, which I’m sure are just as fattening!
So that concludes the account of my very enjoyable and very economical working vacation in the Windy City. My sister is pestering me to come back, early and often, heh. We’ll have to see how my financial situation shapes up, but there are certainly other SF/F conventions and other events in Chicago that beckon!
Since I didn’t have it ready when I posted the Chicon 7 report, below, here is the photo of “Secret History of Science Fiction:”
Left to right: Gardner Dozois, George R. R. Martin, Mike Resnick, Joe Haldeman, Robert Silverberg.
And here is La Salle Street: