I went to Renaissance Faires several times in junior high and high school but haven't been since then. I'd always wanted to go back. I've known about the Northern California Renaissance Faire for a couple years but hadn't yet made it until on Sunday, October 8th, 2006, I finally did, returning with a friend of mine.
The faire was fun and almost as I remembered it. Many people wore costumes from some era (Middle Ages, Dark Ages, Renaissance, Victorian, etc.). It was difficult to tell who was a paid actor and who was simply an enthusiastic participant. Acting the part, accents and expressions and all, takes practice; the few attempts I had at brief conversations with people playing it up really failed as I my skills weren't up to par.
Most costumes, foods, and shows were European, especially English, Irish, and Scottish, though pretty much anything within a couple thousand miles of the Mediterranean seemed to be fair game. My friend called the atmosphere surreal. The booths were traditional for a renaissance faire: many clothing (including costumes, cloaks, and hats) and knife stores, and an assortment of booths selling pewter figurines, jewelry, puzzle boxes, leather, ceramics, artwork (mostly fantasy), wooden mugs, etc. One booth had quite pretty and very heavy stone drink coasters.
Although these pictures and videos do a fair job of showing my experience at the faire, they're missing some events and observations described below.
We went out of our way to attend Marlowe's Shadowe, a hilarious troupe that presents condensed comedic interpretations of Shakespearian plays, frequently in verse.
With good fortune, we arrived to the show early and got to catch the end of the previous show, a musician named Kenny Klein. The one song we heard "What Do You Do With An Old Dead Gerbil?" cracked me up. Here's part of the chorus:
Hey hey rigor mortis,He sang it in many different styles including reggae, country, and bob dylan, each accurately portrayed. With the constant switching of musical genres, the lyrics never get old.
Hey hey rigor mortis,
Hey hey rigor mortis,
Early in the morning.
We also watched the Albion Schoole of Defense, a fairly decent show full of staged swordplay and historical information about the evolution of fencing. Do you know the difference between the English and Spanish style and the swords they used? And yes, they actually do teach swordplay, though the show was produced by their theatrical unit.
Some Scottish and Irish dancing done by Siamsa le Cheile was neat to watch and guess who was related to whom. (It seemed like it probably was a family dance troupe.) It turns out we were wrong; judging by the biographies, it's not a family troupe.
The final show we saw was a demonstration by an experienced glassblower. He's been blowing glass for multiple decades and it was obvious this was his life's passion. I had forgotten blowing glass actually meant literally blowing air into glass. Both watching glass expand as one blows and watching the molten glass simply change shape under gravity were cool. He made a large glass bowl (unexpectedly, as one couldn't tell what it would be until it was nearly done) and made and demonstrated the properties of a Rupert's Drop, a cool phenomenon with which I was already familiar. (Go read about it if you don't know what it is.)
I had what my memory of renaissance faire food is: a turkey leg. I ordered a small turkey leg which turned out to be huge -turkeys have big legs!- and dry -blah-. My friend has fish and chips and I tried the chips (fries) and they were definitely good. Other than that, the faire had a wide assortment of food from the expected regions, much of it offered on a stick/skewer/bone/whatever, including frozen chocolate covered bananas and the amusingly named sin on a stick (chocolate-covered cheesecake).
For dessert, we had a orange frozen ice, actually served in half an orange peel. It was so frozen it took half an hour to soften in the sun before it was easily spooned.
My t-shirt which says "wear art not advertising" in a fancy celtic script got three compliments, including one girl who said she wears her art on her and showed me a tattoo on her shoulder, and one guy that hassled me in friendly way, claiming that my shirt was an advertisement for art itself, but still gave me one of those chocolate coins with a gold wrapper.
The boundaries of the faire were demarcated by drapes (as seen in this photo). It's neat, because as one sees employees enter and exit, it's easy to imagine there are countless secret passageways leading who knows where.
We observed many costumed women in dresses with low bustlines and wondered if these were culturally appropriate during the renaissance or any similar age. After failing to find the answer on the web, I asked my knowledgeable ex-roommate. She said that yes indeed in some periods dresses with such low cuts were culturally acceptable and provided some examples: a low-cut a dress from the 1740s, a very low-cut dress from the 1630s (painted by Reuben) (zoom in to see what I mean), and even Mona Lisa's dress.
Getting to the faire was neat as well. We got to see the sprawling full service series of businesses that is Casa de Fruta. We witnessed countless quite artistic rusting discarded old farming equipment on the side of the road. And we got a odiferous drive through Gilroy.