Thursday, September 26, 2013

Through A Child's Eyes

My neighbor, Art, a member of the festival
organization, presented me with a ticket to
the Faire as a most generous birthday gift.
Every year around this time I feel an irresistible urge to wax medieval on a visit to my local Renaissance Festival in Crownsville, about an hour’s drive from my home in northwestern Baltimore County, Maryland.  While not as elaborate as the Renaissance Faire I grew up with, set deep in a Novato canyon in northern California in the 1970s, this Mid-Atlantic version is likewise situated in an enchanted, woodland setting.

The weather on Sunday was picture perfect, even a little cool, which is preferred when one is wearing several thick layers of wool, brocade and velvet, or heavy coats of armor.  My Renaissance costume is neither heavy nor woolen, the bodice having been custom made for me almost 30 years ago out of simple corduroy and cotton (you can read about the outfit’s creation in detail at Faire).  But it does comprise several layers which, on a sweltering day, can leave me feeling rather wilted.  Sunday’s clime, however, was ideal for Faire-wear.
Anya slipped out of
her butterfly costume
as the day grew

Wanting to change up my festival experience a little bit this year, I emailed my cousin, Claudia, in nearby Rockville, Maryland.  She had mentioned months ago that it might be fun to visit the Renaissance Festival together.  Did she and her husband, Phil, and their two adorable children want to join me for a day at the Faire?  The answer was a resounding yes!  We coordinated our calendars and picked a date that suited our respective schedules.
King Henry VIII and Queen
Katherine of Aragon held
court on a day of revelry
Arriving at the festival grounds just as the gates opened in the morning, our dapper group eagerly joined the throngs surging forward beneath the stone ramparts as members of the royal party bellowed welcomes from above.  As we perused the shops selling fanciful wares and admired costumed stilt-walkers and aerial dancers along the shaded central promenade, I settled into a less focused pace, one set instead to the rhythm of the two young children in our care: dashing Riehen who, at eight years old, chose to dress in civilian clothes like his father, and five-year-old Anya, who donned a charming butterfly outfit to complement the faerie theme of the day.
The acrobatic troupe,
"Barely Balanced"
put on a good show

We stopped to enjoy several of the intermittent stage productions taking place in amphitheaters scattered throughout the grounds.  A juggler enthralled his audience with masterful feats of suspended animation, delighting Anya when he showed another five-year-old how to balance spinning plates on a stick. Later, an acrobatic troupe entertained us with gravity-defying feats of balance and strength.

We stopped to have our pictures taken with King Henry VIII, played by Fred Nelson, and his lovely consort, Queen Katherine of Aragon, played by Stephanie Offutt, who were making the rounds of the 15th century village of “Revel Grove” with the rest of their royal court.  We dined on roast turkey legs, ripping the meat from the gigantic bones with our teeth like uncivilized savages, and spent time throwing bean bags at a target in an effort to dunk a thinly-clad maiden into a tank of cold water.

Can you see the "smoke" coming
from the dragon's nostrils?
Along the way, we asked a benevolent sorcerer to pose for a photo, marveling at his magical staff with real smoke (from incense) emanating from its dragon-head’s nostrils.  We admired all manner of tiny vultures, bats and mice made from the shells of mussels, quite realistic in their creepiness, and were fascinated by an amazing glass-blowing demonstration.  Little Anya was delighted to become the proud new owner of a beautiful, glass-blown magic wand topped with the head of a tiny striped unicorn.

Anya holds her wand as
if for protection from
these fierce knights
Two knights in heavy armored coats agreed to flank Anya for another shot, and both children tried their hands at medieval pinball and bowling games, the latter known by the name “skittles”.  Anya and Riehen even spent some time slaying their own imaginary dragons in a delightful children’s area outfitted with a playhouse and a large pirate ship.

We watched in childlike wonder as a unicorn pooped “rainbows” (you have to see it to believe it) during a frolicking take on Rapunzel’s entrapment in a castle at the Gatehouse theater, and were enthralled by Riehen’s daring and ultimately successful climb up a nearly horizontal Jacob’s ladder, the only child to surmount the challenge and win a medal in all the time we stood watching.

Riehen made it to the top of the
rope ladder by balancing himself
Slowing down and seeing the Faire from a child’s perspective, taking in the whimsical role-playing as if I  really had been magically transported to a land filled with fire-breathing dragons, spell-casting wizards and gem-encrusted royalty, where brightly-costumed jesters competed for my attention with kilt-adorned men engaging in contests of strength and agility, allowed me to appreciate the Renaissance Festival in a way I have not been able to enjoy it before. Yes, we dawdled.  We meandered and window-shopped and stopped frequently so the children could shoot rubber frogs from a wooden lily pad, wander through a maze of colored sheets and ride a burlap sack down an undulating slide over a hundred feet long.  It was the most relaxing, and enchanting, six hours I’ve spent in a long, long time.

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