T: Knave at the Renaissance Faire D: Sept 14, 1999 A: Hank Hyena C: (c) 1999 Hank Hyena
Vacaville has a new Time Tunnel!
Hasten, merry maids & lads, to this "cow shire" that bovinely swelters off I-80 -- traipse anon to ye olde Nut Tree tavern, which hath bestowed its vast oak domain to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire.
Pay the meager tithe and mingle medievally with ribald folkes from the venal days of yore. This reenactment of a 15th-century English village offers squalid, interactive whimsy -- 'Tis feudal to resist the funne!
I arrive with a cynical "show me" attitude, clothed anachronistically in nylon shorts and tank top. Immediately in the parking lot, I glimpse my error -- piling out of autos are Knights in chain-mail armor, lusty Milkmaids, balding Friars, Yeomen in leather, pregnant fairies and Bubonic Plague victims.
Everyone's talking like Chaucer, and ... they're just the customers!
I've entered an Elizabethan extravaganza, where we'll all play "make-believe."
"This is our 33rd year in Northern California," publicity director Shannon Wood informs me at the press tent. "We have 200 craft booths, eight continuous entertainment stages and 1,200 costumed performers!"
Shannon herself is a green-eyed buxom lass, garbed in a red rose garland and a low-slung white bodice. My curious questions about her apparel are rewarded with an exhibit of her silk bloomers, scarlet stockings and cotton nightshirt.
I'll be a Knave here!
When Shannon tells me, "Queen Elizabeth is visiting the shire at noon. She enjoys escaping the foul stench of London," I chortle, "Old Betty? That hypocrite -- she hasn't bathed since the Spanish Armada."
When "Sir Francis Drake" walks by, I yell, "You're a pirate!" Five centuries ago, he'd skewer me, but today, he simply smiles.
At the gate, I torment a dour Puritan who's warning tourists to avoid the ale houses and harlots. I pester him for precise directions to each, until he bellows, "Begone, you walking catalog of the Seven Deadly Sins!"
Touring the Renaissance Faire grounds is like falling into a Brueghal painting. Kilted Rob Roys, metal-bustiered Xenas and self-flagellating monks shuffle down the dusty lanes. Tattered peasants try to sell me withered cabbage; escaping them, I bump into a toothless hag named "Lady Eddy" who delusionally babbles about her friends in the court.
Mercantile stalls are amusing: A feathered nobleman's hat for sale prompts a customer to remark, "only Dennis Rodman would wear that," and a black & blue T-shirt proclaims, "The Floggings Will Continue Until Morale Improves."
At the "Wishing Well," four wild wenches are flogging their soggy cloaks dry -- one of them insists on scrubbing my neck.
"Is this water clean?" I wince.
"Absolutely!" she assures me. "There's even some pig piss for bleaching."
Next, I encounter a giant green Dragon, a bar called "End of Ye World," and numerous booths where you can practice bloody medieval mayhem and slaughter. There's Catapult Rock-Heaving, an Archery Range, Fencing Lessons, Knife Throwing, Swords for Sale and Battle-Axe Tossing.
My eyes widen -- I'm ten years old again, lost in the heroic pages of my "Prince Valiant" comics.
A blaring bugle suddenly signifies that the Jousting Tournament has begun!
I run, like the little boy that I'll always be, to the stadium where Real Armored Knights on Huge Helmeted Horses are actually fighting! The lances are blunted and they probably don't get to actually kill their opponents, but -- it's dangerous!
Foam-flecked, gigantic Clydesdale stallions are sprinting full-speed at each other. Exhausted knights are cooking in their metal containers in this 95-degree heat; after five passes and a few glancing blows, the mustachioed emcee barbarously goads us into a frenzy:
"Scarce yet they stir each other in their saddles," he sneers. "So ... would ye see them charge again, to deliver a goodly hit?"
"YEEEESSSSS!" we scream.
The Blue Knight and the Red Knight stampede forward; they aim their long lances -- BLAAAMM!
The blue lance shatters explosively into splinters against the Red Knight's breastplate. Jolted, the paladin tumbles over his horse's arse, into the sullen dirt.
Aroused by the combat, I scamper back to the Round Table Training Area, to perfect my own Galahad skills.
Hmmm. What savage weapon should I choose? Sword, Axe, Bow and Arrow?
Because there's an irresistible booth here called "Pelt the Privateer."
An insolent, loud-mouthed man has his head "pilloried" in stocks 30 feet away from a firing line. The trapped, loathsome creature taunts all bystanders; he challenges them to revenge his insults with a well-aimed sloppy vegetable.
"Hey, eunuch!" he screams when he sees me. "Yeah, you! Anyone ever tell you you need muscles to wear a muscle shirt? You inadequate old fossil! You middle-aged balding fool!"
My wallet flies out -- I fish out some cash.
"Gimme three tomatoes!"
I heave the first moldy beefsteak as hard as I can; unfortunately, it crashes embarrassingly wide.
"You puny maggot!" he cackles. "You throw like a leper girl!"
My second toss is considerably closer -- but he swats it aside with his hand.
"You revolting ugly rat-faced twerp!" he screeches. "You impotent jackass!"
Carefully, I propel the third missile -- it lopes directly at his face, but he twists his viperous neck, and eludes it.
"C'mon, throw some more!" he snickers. "You fecal, mutant toad!"
I'm distracted, though, because it's time to giggle at the SeaDogs or jeer at the Queen or admire the Manly Men in Tights. There're 300 Things to Do, and Watch, and Be, in this long-ago far-away land that's only 50 miles east of my "real life."
Hail Imagination! And the Renaissance it doth create!
The Renaissance Pleasure Faire operates from 10 am-6 pm every weekend until October 17. Call (800)52-FAIRE for general info.
Hank Hyena teaches "Subversive Humor" at New College and "Comic Monologues" at UC Berkeley Extension. He's also a frequent contributor to Salon.