There seems to be an unwritten rule when you step through the log-hewn gate into the forested area which houses the annual Valhalla Renaissance Faire at Lake Tahoe: become someone else.
The Faire, which is held the first two weekends in June, is a magnet for the history buff, the shopper, the hippy and anyone who has ever wanted to live in another time and country, specifically Yorkshire, England in 1580. Here you have been invited to attend a country faire where you may co-mingle with shopkeepers selling knives, boots or haggis, march with Spanish guards dressed in the authentic scarlet uniforms and carrying halbards and avoid the roving bands of thieves and bandits who proliferate the crowds and attempt to steal your purse or camera. You may also catch a glimpse of a group of knights jousting atop Shires in an attempt to catch the eye of the queen or any of her ladies. This mass of color, this crowd of people in costumes costing up to thousands of dollars, this step back into time is held every year to accomplish one thing (besides getting drunk on mead): to become any character you want to be.
Of course, you should read up on your history and figure out an appropriate character for the time period. England in 1580 had a specific mix of characters: the peasants with leather jerkins and their women with the bustiers and snoods, the Spaniard royal family dressed in black velvet, the Celts with their braids and tattoos, the shepherds, the wenches, the Ottoman traders from the Middle East, the mercenaries, the jugglers, the gypsies and some barbarians, pirates and fairies thrown in for good measure. Everyone dresses the part down to the boots and takes the time to perfect the accents. You will never hear "Excuse me," but instead a "Pardon me, my lady," which I could get used to.
On this particular visit to the Faire my boyfriend and I had become seduced by the pageantry, the lust for wine, mead and ale, the clothes and the dusty battles with swords, rapiers and spears. We had decided to go shopping for our own costumes and next year appear at the Faire as a pair of pirates complete with the weapons, the "Avast, ye swabs!" accents and the feeling of being accepted into this world of strange and historically twisted role playing. However, as pirates we would be just off the boat and looking for a little bootie (not "bootay") and a little trouble. Our kind of party!
On our search for the ideal costumes we stopped to watch a jousting match with knights dressed in the actual bucket-like helmets and using the authentic wooden jousting lances. They charged at each other from opposite ends of a dusty field with their red, black and blue robes flying and slammed the lances into each others shields. Crash! Lances splintered and some guys actually got hurt. In the end they do it to appease a crowd dressed in clothes of the Middle Ages and carrying Nikons.
From the jousting match we walked along the dirt roads lined with stalls selling costumes and weapons of choice. The stalls were built from wood and on the floor most of them had machine-made oriental rugs. Many of the shopkeepers reclined on large pillows or sat on wooden stools. Many also decorated their stalls with branches from the local manzanita bush and leaned up against the pine trees that covered the park where the Faire is held. As you walk along you do really begin to believe that you are in an ancient grove that is located in a medieval town in England. We passed by a group of falconers with leather gloves and trained falcons on their wrists, we stopped to watch a female juggler juggling two glass balls on her hands. The balls barely seemed to touch her hands as she rolled them and flowed them over her fingers. As we were watching her a band of barbarians in black leather, studs and black furs stormed through the street on their way to the food court and the "First Ayde" station. We noticed near the food court there were a group of well dressed people of the court who were talking about attending a wedding. The wedding was to be held in the Wedding Grove in the center of the Faire. We were curious to see who would get married in the chaos of a Renaissance Fair and walked with the courtiers to the wedding.
The bride was in a red velvet dress fashioned after the Elizabethan period, her hair was crowned with flowers. The groom stood beside her in black velvet of the same time period and both had a canopy of flowers held over them by several lords and ladies in similar dress. Small children dressed as fairies with gossamer-like wings flapped around and threw small handfuls of petals on the ground. A tall, bald Celt in a kilt and with an unsheathed sword stood guard over the couple as they said their vows in front of a priest dressed in a red coat and hat. Very authentic looking, except for the numerous spectators in shorts and t-shirts taking pictures. A very unique way to get married if you can stand the crowds of people, the impromptu music, singing and talking while trying to tie the knot.
On our shopping search we dug up black leather gloves for about $30, black pants and white shirts for about $50 each and cutlasses and daggers as low as $10. I am still on the search for a great black captain’s hat and black boots, but it’s a good thing that our shopkeepers partake of the wonderful world of the web. Most of the people you meet with have a website as well as a regular shop in the local area. The prices for costumes can range from peasant level up to royalty level, but you are pretty much guaranteed handmade articles. Many of the artisans you meet are very skilled. We met weavers, mask makers, brewmasters, seamstresses, cobblers, weapons makers and even a woman who made tabletop catapults which could launch vegetables far into the treetops.
It will take us until next year to get the authenticity of our costumes and our personalities right. We plan on practicing by watching a great many movies and visiting the Renaissance Faire every year. Until then we say "Adieu" and "Fare thee well".