Evan's Eyes

Web Log Entry #0079, Sunday, June 15, 2003: Day 209

Anchorage Sunrise: 4:21am Sunset: 11:39pm High Temp: 64° Low Temp: 45°

Stan and I HAD to go to the Anchorage Renaissance Faire. I mean, when you think "Humanistic revival of classical influence expressed in a flowering of the arts and literature and the beginnings of modern science in Europe between the 14th and 17th century," you think Alaska, right? Me too.

I must admit, I was surprised how large the Faire was. From Tudor Road, it appeared to fit in a 70' square, which looked to hold a dozen tents and some picnic tables. That was just what was visible. The site was truly Alaskan: a sled-dog practice track. Being June, there wasn't much snow on the ground, so the long, muddy field was perfect for recreating the long, muddy Renaissance. The section visible from the road was merely the Food Court. The rest was divided into three "Baronies"; Green for the "evil" Baron, Red for the "good" Baron, and Blue for the vaguely Middle-Eastern Baron. And like any good carnival, there were games of skill, like the "Pop The Queen" booth, which involved darts and balloons covering the image of an anatomically fortunate Queen. Children were allowed to play, so the picture probably wasn't as bawdy as it would actually have been back then.

We arrived just in time for a Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA)* fighting demo. I know, the SCA deals with the pre-Renaissance period (making their presence there an anachronism, but I guess that actually fits their charter), but most Americans identify the Renaissance as "some sort of meat," so it isn't as if people complained. The demo was pretty good. A dozen fighters using a variety of weapons, from fencing swords through rattan-wrapped-in-duct-tape broadswords and pole arms cheerfully hacked and slashed at each other for our entertainment. There were all appropriately armored, which ranged from hockey shin guards up to and including elaborate hand-made metal helmets. My favorite bit was the closing "Conan" demo. First, one sword-wielding "hero" was attacked by a half-dozen "minions." Just like the movies, the minions ran at him one at a time. You can guess what happened. Then they all magically sprang back to life, and enacted the second, "Real World" scenario: they all charged him at once. It didn't go so well for "Conan" that time. They finished with a third "Most Realistic" version. When the minions charged, "Conan" did the intelligent thing: He ran away. It may not be so mythic, but he would live to fight another day.

Next on the schedule was the Baron's Tourney. The crowd gathered around a small arena and the three Baronies arrived in a processional, chanting and looking seriously committed to their roles. Each barony had a group do a synchronized routine; flag waving, sword waving, or belly dancing. Then the show really got going. The stage was opened to challenges, usually warriors from one barony would duel with someone from another barony, but there were a few dramatic intrabarony bouts. Most were one-on-one, but they did get have a few multi-person melees. The Green Barony warriors weren't above dirty tricks, but they didn't always win. One guy from the Red Barony kept showing up, winning all his fights. This was all done with "live" steel blades and no armor; the first clue that it was all staged. The second hint was the careful choreography. They'd swing at their opponent's sword, instead of their actual person, and the flat of a blade bumped against someone's torso caused them to drop from the "hit." So we all knew it was fake, but everybody cheered when the good guys won, just like Pro Wrestling I enjoyed the show, but the safety-minded part of me still cringed at swordplay without eye protection. (When I took fencing in college, the teacher was a French fencing Master, probably the best person with a sword I will ever meet in my life. Still, one time he was demonstrating a maneuver with a student, both without masks, and the student deflected the teacher's blade, and almost lost an eye. All demonstrations used masks after that. Point is, if an expert could come that close, a bunch of actors who have taken one course in Stage Fighting waving swords at each other just screams "impending liability claim".) Fortunately, all the cast made it through without serious injury, and everyone seemed happy.

Stan was hungry, so he got some fish and chips, which gave me a chance to look around at the performers in vivid, festive costumes and reflect that they all shared one thing: They didn't date much in high school. But they were having a good time and entertaining people, and those are good things. I must confess a fondness for the social misfits that seek out camaraderie through re-creation of historical periods, for I was one, too. Most people assume that I was fantastically popular in high school, but high intelligence and glasses aren't qualities the popular set seeks out in small town Arizona. But I found acceptance with the SCA crowd. The SCA welcomes those who are NOT rich, popular, or conventional; it even encourages them. If you can role-play nicely with others, you're in. Oh, sure, there are the paranoid egomaniacs, mind gamers, and political manipulators, but what organization doesn't have those? And if the SCA and Renaissance Faires give people a chance to fight to the death for a lady's honor, then get up and feast, dance, and mingle with others who enjoy escaping from the mundane aspects of their lives for a little while, so be it, even four hundred years and half a world away from the original Renaissance.

* Since my readership is unanimously in the top percentiles of intelligence, looks, and personality, I can hardly imagine that anyone reading this journal DOESN'T know about the SCA. But in the name of thoroughness, I'll explain: The SCA (www.sca.org) is an international organization for people who enjoy recreating the arts, combat, cooking, and other lifestyle aspects from 600 - 1600 C.E. (C.E. is the trendy way to say "AD"). They're structured roughly based on a European feudal system, from "households" up to "kingdoms." Kings are selected by Divine Right, demonstrated by winning the annual Crown Tourney. SCA Kings aren't technically allowed to execute people, but let's just say a lot of things go on at SCA events that nobody talks about later in the "Mundane" world.

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© 2003 Evan M. Nichols