Monday, November 21, 2011

The Texas Renaissance Festival!

Blacksmithing at
Texas Ren. Fair 2011
 My Lords, Ladies and Readers, I only put on a dress twice a year (three times if you count 2010, when I wore my wedding dress). Those two days in which my regalia involves something other than jeans and a tank top or t-shirt are crammed into the one weekend a year that I spend at the famous Texas Renaissance Festival in Plantersville, Texas, just a few minutes north of Houston (give or take two and half hours of traffic during festival time), and according to certain female comedians, past the Magic the Gathering, Quidich teams and the LARPers, but not before the war re-enactment clubs.

The Texas Renaissance Festival: Its attraction to Fencers

Saber fencer Rachel, 2009
Though I do not like to lump the two together, fencers are often nerds. Many of the same people I clashed steel with at fencing club were also people I played D&D with, watched Star Trek with, saw Lord of the Rings, Batman Begins, and many of the opening nights of Harry Potter with. The draw of real swords, chain mail, plate mail, leather armor and fancy dresses need not be the only alluring part of the Ren. Fair that draws nerds to it like flies to electric lanterns during a burn ban, but its a big part of it. The other part is getting together as friends to enjoy being what we are: nerds, somewhere between LARPers and Civil War Re-Enactment clubs. We donned our Lords and Ladies costumes and made our way through a mile of mud, pavement and more mud up to the front gates of the Ren. Fair in style.

Humble Beginnings

Epee fencer Jeremy 2009. 
Lidia (foil) and John (epee),
Ren. Fair 2009
I began attending the Texas Renaissance Festival in 2007 with our friends, The UTSA Fencing club. We didn't camp, and we soon found out all the reasons why we should. In 2008 we camped for the first time with my then fiance and his friends from work. In 2009 my fiance and I were roughing it alone until we stepped through the gates on Saturday and saw a line of fencers, all of our usual friends, standing inside the front gate waiting for Zarissa and Lidia to come out of the bathroom. There they all were, as if in a dream, and that night we re-pitched our tent next to theirs. In 2010 we were forced to skip Ren. Fair as my wedding, honeymoon, and trip to South Carolina put a damper on funds. This year we were glad to return with our couple's couple, Jeremy and Lidia.

Texas Renaissance Festival 2011, November 18-20, Barbarian Weekend
Jeremy and Lidia, 2011

This year, like so many years that have come before, involved camping in the great out doors for two whole days and two whole nights. By Sunday afternoon, we had achieved a stink that was too historically accurate for comfort. However, this does not deter us from getting back out there the next year and doing it again

There was a certain something lacking this year. Its absence was noted mainly in that the bugs were a bit of a problem and it was dark. What was it?...Oh yea, we were not allowed to have a campfire...or smoke cigarettes (or a lovely pipe, as the case may be)...or hang our real kerosene lamps. Despite several days of moderate rain as a respite to almost a year of drought, the burn ban was still in effect. We were lucky they let us turn on propane cook stoves to warm our hot dogs in the pitch darkness that was camp without a fire pit. Magnolia, and most of Harris and Waller Counties, was still intact after the fires that spread to the railroad tracks just outside the fair grounds, part of the same fires that laid Bastrop to waste in August, prompting the Fire Marshall to keep us all on a tight leash. Even the stars were afraid the surrounding forest would spontaneously burst into flames if they let too much of their luster through. The skies remained mostly overcast, shrouding the pine forests of East Texas in even more shadow.

Despite the ban on fire pits, the lack of a traditional camp ground bon fire, the unseasonable warmth, the humidity and the looming threat of inclement weather, the camping experience remained largely the same. Rain pattered our tents at night, which sometimes we heard over the blare of heavy metal, techno and bagpipes. The loud music often stretches into the early hours of the morning. I usually wake up when the music stops, as the silence is usually more pointed at about 5 a.m. Saturday night I drifted off to sleep after congratulating the camp next to ours for allowing me all-night access to Blind Guardian's second album. For some reason, that was very relaxing for me. Our neighbor's cries of, "Hip, hip, Huzzah!" were as fervent as ever, and as usual, the wine did flow. At least in our camp it did. I have no doubt about the other types of alcohol that were being consumed all over the camp grounds, but our camp--that of myself, my husband Ben, and our friends Jeremy and and Lidia--reserves the right every year to maintain our dignity. We poured mead, bourbon, brandy, port and amaretto into our highly fashionable styrofoam cups rather than the other, more traditional, mixed and or shooting alcohols. By Saturday night we had quickly run through our supplies, forcing us to turn in early, before we had finished our discussion about the manifold qualities that made the French Revolution unique to revolutions, a subject we warmed to with a passion not seen among sober people outside of academia. Now, inebriate those academics, and you will have Lidia and Ben close to tears over the mind-boggling speed at which the French Revolution occurred.

Sights, Sounds, Food! 

The Nerd's new costume
Texas Ren. Fair 2011
Beef stew bread bowl.
Safe at last.
The fair itself is always exciting. Once you've been to one Ren. Fair, it does not mean that you have been to them all. There is always something to do, see, buy or eat at the Ren. Fair. As fond as I am of eating, drinking and spending money, one doesn't have to do any of those things to enjoy Ren. Fair. Sure its nice to have money to visit the vendors, but nine times out of ten you  never walk in anywhere to buy something. Even when I have money, the most I can afford is one really good piece of an outfit (like this red leather jerkin I saw with the black dragon embroidery), or several pieces of a cheap outfit. I mostly enjoy the eating and drinking aspects of the Ren. Fair--minus the Greek Agora. Trust me. There is no reason to eat there. Go to the King's Bounty or the Captain's Quarters for bread bowls of beef stew, or King Henry's table for scotch eggs, fish and chips or The Earl of Sandwich's once-a-year treat of a meatloaf sandwich. Mead is easy to come by at the Texas Renaissance Festival, as many of the beer and wine vendors sell the local brand found and Chaucer's Mead, which you can get at your local H-E-B (Texas, of course). However, if you are camping, one never has to eat or drink a thing in the park to enjoy themselves. You are allowed to come and go as you please with a hand stamp before six o'clock.You can go back to camp, eat and return to the park without much hassle.
Tartanic, the Gods of Bagpipe Rock n'
Roll! Texas Ren. Fair 2011.
Entertainment at the park is no big deal either. All of the shows are free, though the entertainers are often traveling folk groups and professionals whose sole occupation is performing at venues like the Texas Ren. Fair. It is important to tip them, even a dollar, and I try to give money every year to Tartanic, the Scottish gods of rock and roll bagpipes and drums, Sound and Fury and Cast in Bronze by Frank de la Pena (the big bells). If you have never seen Cast in Bronze, you are missing a vital part of existence. Rectify that with this video. Though this is not my video, this was taken the weekend we attended in 2009. I probably sat in the same area for one of these shows with the guy who shot it.

This year we saw a show that I had never seen before: that of Adam Crack and his famous fire whip routine. Sexy Adam Crack had just won the international award for whip cracking in Las Vegas and was eager to impress the crowd with the routine that had won him that award. He broke pretzel sticks out of his mouth with his whip; he snapped pretzels off the top of his head with his whip, and he spun fire around his head. He also impressed the crowd with a breath-taking harmonica solo.
Adam Crack and his fire whip.
Photo courtesy of Rebecca Latson
With so many amazing things to do at the Texas Renaissance Festival, it is no wonder that me and my friends return again and again. Its a nerdy tradition that goes back hundreds of years. This year was perhaps the most special, for Jeremy proposed to his long time live-in girlfriend, finally setting his feathered leather cap where it belonged--on a permanent peg in the hall closet of Lidia's heart.

Lidia's ring at the English Chapel
Texas Ren. Fair 2011
Though the Texas Renaissance Festival is mostly historically accurate, it is significant to a particular band of literary nerds who quote Shakespeare on a regular basis and are never too busy to load up our camping supplies, tighten our bodices, listen to bagpipes, eat shepherds pie and trudge around dirty, sweaty camp grounds in full regalia for two whole days.

I will be replacing many of the pictures of the performers on this post as my own become available to me.

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