I arrived late Friday night, basically on time despite some hiccoughs in the airline, and Kage and Sophrani met me just outside security, exactly where they normally do. On the drive home, we discussed our plans for Saturday. I'd picked this particular weekend to visit because it was the weekend Kage, Sophrani, tkurogrym and kamots planned to do Halloween Stuff. Before arriving, I'd been offered several different Halloween Stuff options:
- A Gaelic festival, anticipated to be an hour or so away and somewhat Ren-fest-ish
- The zoo, also an hour or so away, which offers Halloween-themed events for a week or so leading up to Halloween.
- A Renaissance Festival in Charlotte, about three hours away.
I'd picked the Gaelic festival, since I'm more interested in historical re-enacment type things than zoos, generally speaking. The Renfest in Charlotte is a good one, but we all agreed that the timing didn't work well for such a long drive. Perhaps next year I'll fly in to Charlotte and meet them there. I can even get a non-stop flight to Charlotte, so it's actually more convenient than Raleigh.
Sophrani had found out that another friend of hers and Grym's, bonbonbabs was going to be in the area this weekend. Babbles had some reservations about the festival we planned to attend.
"Apparently," Sophrani told me in the car, "she had a friend who went a year or two ago and didn't like it. From the advertising and the webpage I saw, it looks good, though. It's got a lot of mainstream sponsors and a bunch of musical acts, some of whom are flown in from quite a distance."
"But we don't really know," Kage added. "We've never been to this one before and we don't even have any secondhand accounts of it. For all we know it we could get there and it'll turn out to be a Greek Whipping Festival."
I laughed. "That could be ... um ... interesting. What did Babbles's friend say it was like?"
"Kind of a bad sf convention. Grym said, 'Lots of people flitting around dressed as fairies.'" Sophrani paused. "I asked her, 'Would that be fairies as in 'glittery costumes with wings' or fairies as in 'gay people'?' Because it kind of makes a difference." As Kage and I laughed, she went on, "Grym told me, 'I assume people with wings, but I didn't ask.' Because winged costumes at a Gaelic festival, that made sense to me."
I was still giggling. "Dressed as gay people would go with Kage's 'Greek Whipping Festival' hypothesis, though."
The plan, assuming I was undeterred by the possibility of fairies, was to meet Grym, Kamots and Babbles at the Gaelic fest when it opened at 11AM. Afterwards, we'd go back to Grym and Kamots's house and/or out to eat. If we didn't stay long at the Gaelic fest, we might hit the zoo after dinner. We all felt that hitting two different festivals as well as getting dinner was probably over-ambitious, although the zoo had a late-evening attraction that went from 7-10PM, so it wasn't out of the question. In any case, I was happy with this as a working plan. In truth, I wasn't feeling picky. I was going to dress in costume and hang out with good friends also dressed in costume. The exact place we went didn't matter: I was sure I'd have a good time whereever we were.
Saturday morning, we woke around 9AM. After puttering around a little, we decided that making it to the fair by 11AM was unrealistically optimistic, so we called Grym and Kamots to reschedule for noon. Then we started to get ready. I was going in my swashbuckling outfit and Sophrani was wearing her Renfest garb, but Kage was torn between wearing the lizard mask he'd planned to wear for Halloween, and simply going in Renfest attire. I encouraged him to wear the mask, because, y'know, some costuming is good and therefore more is better. Or something like that. Anyway, he decided to wear it. He has solid black theatrical contacts to go with it, the kind that turn both the pupils and whites of the eye black. Very spooky effect. I braided back some of his hair, and he remarked, "I should've gotten little bone-colored spikes to inset in the braid, like a spiked ridge down the head." We agreed this would be a good idea for next time.
We left the house at ten to noon, but fortunately the fair took much less time to reach than anticipated, and at 12:20 we arrived. Sophrani called Grym while Kage and I went to the trunk to fish out hats and swords. Grym, Kamots, and Babbles were already inside and were not too impressed by the festival, so Sophrani and Kage decided not to wear their swords. I already had my borrowed cutlass in my sash, so I left it on and we went on up. We'd brought both my battered tricorner hat and Kage's gorgeous leather hat, which I'd considered wearing. The day was gusty so I settled on the tricorner, as it fit better and was less likely to blow off. At the entrance, the attendant was a little concerned about the sword: "Is that real?"
We assured her it wasn't coming out of the sheath; she accepted that and let us through.
The festival was at an open-air amphitheatre, and there was a long paved walk through a stand of trees that led to the grounds. This walk was populated by costumed performers. A woman with a severed human head on a stick greeted us first. Then a skeleton hanging from a tree with a sign reading Pirates beware! above it. "You'd better watch out," Sophrani said to me.
A drowned sailor -- one of the best costumes there: a good period outfit accessorized with zombie makeup and lots of seaweed -- pointed to the skeleton and said, "'e's my cabin boy, but 'e's useless. All 'e does is 'ang around all day."
After him was a woman in a red bellydancer outfit with a vacant expression, wandering aimlessly in circles and coming creepily close to the tourists; she had huge manacles and a chain around her feet and the overall effect was striking. There was a piper and a group of four fiddlers, and my favorite player: a mumbling woman crouching in the path over an open book. She kept up a constant patter of nonsequitors: Biblical and Shakespeare quotations, rhymes, threats, all delivered in rising and falling cadences accompanied by darting eyes and quick, sudden motions. Impressive delivery, very convincingly insane. I gave her a dollar and got a couple of pictures taken with her, but our backs were to the sun so they didn't come out very well.
Grym and Kamots were waiting for us just past the performer's walkway. We discussed our plans from here. Sophrani, Kage, and I wanted to look around the booths and listen to some of the music. Grym and Kamots decided to go ahead and get into their fursuits. I supported this enthusiastically. "Ooo, call us when you're ready to come back in. I so want to see you negotiate the gantlet in fursuits."
So we hung about the costume booth nearest the entrance, looking at the selection. I found a black felt hat with a broad flat brim, and realized that if I pinned one side up, put a feather in it, and pulled the other low, it made a passable imitation of the hat my character in Puzzle Pirates wears. They had several sizes, one of which fit reasonably well. I asked them to set it aside for me, since I didn't want to carry it around while we went through the rest of the festival.
Then Grym called, and we all trooped back to the entrance to accompany them back in. A new performer had been added to the line up on the walk: a skeletal man lurking by one of the trees, holding a black rose and beckoning to passerbys. We gave him a wide berth.
I'd seen pictures of Grym and Kamots's fursuits before, but pictures don't do them justice. In person, the best part about the suits isn't the way they look so much as the way the two of them act. One of the first things Kamots did upon entering was attempt to eat the performer's head-on-a-stake, and make tummy-rubbing, lip-smacking motions to indicate his approval. Very exaggerated and cartoony, and all in pantomine. They were a total hoot to watch. Halfway down the walk, I joked to Sophrani, "Maybe we shouldn't've let them get out the suits. They're totally upstaging us."
When we passed Death again, I approached at his beckoning instead of shrinking back . He held the rose out to me silently. I accepted it, and not quite sure what else to do, returned to my group.
"You can give it back on the way out," Sophrani whispered to me, laughing.
I turned the fabric rose in my hand, feeling guilty about my impulse. "I hope he meant for me to take it. I hope it wasn't his only rose." I reached behind my head to tuck it into the lace thong of my ponytail holder. For this event I was wearing the eight-inch long lace-up leather ponytail holder John had gotten me.
Back inside the fair, we attempted to see the booths. Grym and Kamots couldn't get far without atracting the attention of small children, and often adults. Little kids would come up and pet them. It was adorable.
A caricature artist offered to do a portrait of the six of us for $30, and we took him up on it, each of us sitting one at a time for him. So we hung out around him for some time. Fortunately, he was set up right before a group of reenactment fighters, who were doing mock combats with various weaponry. The fights weren't choreographed, but the weapons were real so the performers wore real armor and were careful about where they struck. Their announcer encouraged the crowd to cheer for the participants, which I did. Enthusiastically. As soon as I caught the name of a combatant, I cheered for him. This meant that in the first fight I was soon cheering for both sides, which Sophrani thought was funny. Well, they needed more people cheering, and I didn't want either fellow to feel left out.
The bands that had taken the stage at this point had an interesting style, heavy on large drums and bagpipes. I love the sound of bagpipes at an outdoor venue. I danced while we waited, and tried to catch the name of the group when they were announced after their set was over. I caught enough of their name that I recognized it later when I passed their booth at the fair: Albannach. I got their CD. They'd flown in from Glasgow, Scotland and were going back in two days. "Do you mind if it's an out-of-state check? Oh, never mind, you're from out-of-country."
After a couple of hours, we'd seen all the booths and had a good time, but everyone was getting hungry. It was 2:30 and I was the only one who'd had anything to eat so far that day. So we headed out. I wanted to go back out and come back in with my purse, to buy the hat and to tip the performers along the walk. To save us the trip, Sophrani and Kage lent me some cash.
So I got the hat and we made the return trip. I wanted particularly to see Death, in case he wanted his rose back, but he wasn't there. We looked around for him. "Where's Death?" I asked the drowned sailor after tipping him. (He'd switched from the front of the walk to the back at some point while we were inside). "Is he on break?"
"I didn't think Death got breaks," Sophrani said.
"He had to leave for a bit, but he'll be back," the sailor said.
"Apparently he does at the Gaelic festival," I said to Sophrani. The sailor offered to pass Death's tip on to him, so I gave him a couple of extra dollars and moved on. I tipped all of the costumed performers, which quite surprised most of them.
"What's this?" one woman asked as I handed her a dollar.
"She's giving us pretty pieces of paper," said one of the 'mad beggar' performers, in a dreamy, childlike voice. She put the dollar in her mouth.
Another stared at the bill with an amazed smile on her face. "Hey! I made a whole dollar today!"
I feel peculiar about it in retrospect. On the one hand, I wasn't tipping much; I wanted to give everyone on the walk a token, and there were 10 or 15 of them in all so it'd've been expensive to give any significant amount of money. And it seems kind of insulting to give someone who volunteered to spend eight hours working a festival walkway 'a whole dollar'. On the other, they were the highlight of the festival and added a great deal of charm and character to the event. And for me, the standard way to show appreciation for a street performer is to tip a dollar or two, so it seemed like the right thing to do. But I guess they weren't triggering anyone else's "tip now" reflex, so I stood out.
I still have the black rose. In retrospect, it's got to be one of the best souveniers I've ever gotten from a trip. "Where'd you get this flower?" "Death gave it to me." How cool is that?