Work and weather permitting, J. and I set out for Bristol Renaissance Faire after a stop at Bonjour. This time we ended up on 41 in lieu of the Tri-State, which (1) didn’t slow us down as much as I would have thought, (2) J. found a less tense drive, and (3) didn’t cost anything. Because we were earlier than usual, we went to Apple Holler first, where a sign announced that there were a couple of days until apple picking began. A woman behind us seemed incredulous that picking would start so early, but one of the young women assured her that these are a small, tart variety (presumably for cooking). She seemed to accept that explanation somewhat grudgingly. And they call Missouri the “Show Me” state.
Both of us ate about one third of our lunches, by which time the sun seemed out to stay. At the faire, we scored the last of the front row bench seats for Adam Winrich’s fire whips show. and afterward J. picked up tips from a professional insulter while I explored the Black Pearl. We didn’t plan or do anything in particular, or at least I didn’t. J. bought memberships to Friends of the Faire, and we were given a tour of the garden. Nice group. We were told they have quite the appetites.
I decided Highland Park would be a good stopping point and discovered that it’s the home of Bluegrass (a restaurant), where I’d been been once before earlier this year.
When I opened the car door in the parking lot, I heard what sounded like hissing coming from the car. That’s one of the problems with hearing loss; the angle and distance of a sound changes its character dramatically. Even as I asked J. what the sound was, thinking it was a leaking tire, I got out and realized it was the deafening song (whine) of many, many cicadas, or dogday harvestflies. They sing in the evening here, too, but not in such quantity over such a sustained time. On facebook, Morton Arboretum had asked something like: “Cicadas — sweet sound of summer or really annoying?” Not surprisingly, the answers were divided. My guess is that your response depends on the density and volume of your resident cicada population. Hyde Park: Sweet sound of summer. Highland Park: Really annoying.
Bluegrass can be crowded and noisy, and I adore dining al fresco, so without thinking I’d opted to sit outside to enjoy the cicada chorus in the twilight. Their song wasn’t as intrusive as the din indoors. What I hadn’t considered — I don’t know why — was the army of other six-legged creatures that couldn’t leave us alone, including mosquitoes, gnats, and flies. I retrieved some spray from the car, which staved off some but not all. Poor J.
He went with barbecued bison ribs, while I ordered ribeye (rare) with bleu cheese crust. Mmmm. More leftovers.
At the Flamingo, I watched the Doctor Who episode, “The Waters of Mars.” Afterward, I realized, I needed a drink and a shower. Both made me nervous.
Summer’s heat has dissipated, and now a few more trees have joined my beloved but ill horse chestnut (brown from a fungal infection) in deviating from the deep greens of summer. It’s been a subtle change, but lighter greens, yellows, and other shades are starting to appear, and the young maples by the parking lot have already dropped most of their leaves, leaving them even more bare than the poor horse chestnut.
If that were not enough to herald summer’s end, there was this poor dead dragonfly, forever grounded.
On the first, JT and I went to Lookingglass Theatre for Lookingglass Alice. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was as charming as the cast of five plus crew could make it, with appearances by many of Lewis Carroll’s dodgy characters and by a stuttering nebbish named Charles Dodgson. Although the parlor seemed conventionally Victorian, the rabbit hole was an acrobat’s hoop, and so a modernized, yet true evening of Alice began. By the end, the little girl who chides her stuffed animals seems to have been transformed into a young woman — a transformation that seems more melancholic than joyful. As with Anne of Green Gables, I’m reminded of Samuel Clemens’ admonition in Tom Sawyer: “So endeth this chronicle. It being strictly a history of a BOY, it must stop here; the story could not go much further without becoming the history of a MAN.” To me, the history of children, with their lives and unknown and limitless possibilities before them, can seem more interesting than the story of adults in whom, whatever else may be unique about them, we recognize too much of what we have become — a known, familiar entity.
After J. returned from his eventful trip, we went to Bristol Renaissance Faire Sunday and Monday of Labor Day weekend. The first day’s clouds spat drops of rain at us randomly in defiance of my assurance that rain wasn’t in the forecast. I bought CDs to add to the collection I already don’t listen to and a DVD to replace the VHS version of The Adventures of Robin Hood. We watched some of the games, then checked out the Black Pearl (jewelry), where I wistfully thought about how much I’d already spent and the fact I don’t need more earrings. Still . . .
On the way out, we passed a costumed young woman saying, “Does no one want to deflower this girl?” (presumably a flower seller). I heard her; J. did not.
We made a mad dash to Apple Holler to get there before the 7:30 closing — and just made it. Rose took a shine to us, or seemed to, and strongly suggested we ask for one of her tables the next day.
On Labor Day, we set out a little earlier, arriving in time for the joust. I lost J., who was off buying pretzels, so I sat on the ground by the fence among the children — the only spot left. He arrived later and kept walking around. As seems to be my lot, I found myself in the section whose champion was the evil knight, Sir Morrick (sp.?) of Saxony. Even if he had not insulted us as “putrid sacks of meat,” we’d have known he was evil from the vivid purple scar running down his cheek from his eye and from his jet-black hair.
While Sir Maximillian couldn’t stay focused on the games (“I’m flirting with the queen!”), Sir Morrick won them, growing more unsportsmanlike and belligerent with each one until he slugged his squire, drawing blood from her face. (Maybe he was trying to give her a matching scar.) As I told J. later, I went to a joust, and a World Wrestling Federation bout broke out. The upshot was proclamation of a “joust to the death,” to be held later in the afternoon. Despite his vile loathsomeness (handsomely packaged though it be), Sir Morrick posed patiently for photos with fans after he returned to cool off his horse. Maybe he’s not such a bad guy after all.
Ray Pena and his raptors were next — a pair of adult Harris hawks and 3-1/2-month-old gyrfalcons. He also called out his 11-year-old pointer, who seemed loath to leave the shade of the pavilion, but finally plopped in the dust of the arena. It’s hard to picture her hot on the trail of prey.
If I remember right, a kestrel demonstrated mantling, which was a crowd pleaser. Pena explained, then demonstrated, the differences between hawks (slow flyers, catching prey on the ground) and falcons (fast flyers, catching prey on the wing). The female hawk caught the lure, while the male, as Pena said, “watched like a hawk.” The falcons were fabulous, swiftly diving at the lure and somehow not catching it on the first few attempts. Once rewarded, hawks and falcons tore voraciously into their freshly thawed meat, so it was amusing to watch Pena and his assistant smoothly but cautiously slipping the hoods back onto the highly aroused birds.
After watching the sledgehammer strength game, in which a thin, wiry man outperformed his brawnier predecessors, we returned to the Black Pearl, although I was just as determined not to buy anything — until I saw the sugilite earrings.
As she was fond of purple and intrigued by anything uncommon, my aunt Marietta loved sugilite. Once when the Library of Congress was closed to all except researchers, she went in to look up what little published information there was on sugilite. Among her gemstone necklaces she had one or two of sugilite, although it’s pricey as these things go. I couldn’t help myself — I bought a pair as a tribute to her. They were relatively inexpensive because they’re veined with copper and aren’t beautifully translucent, but they are a rich pinkish purple.
As we crossed the boardwalk bridge over the turtle pond, a young woman with a scourge offered “FREE BEATINGS!” to passersby. J. didn’t notice her, either.
After a cloudy start, the day had turned perfect, and so it was a lovely end to the faire (except for the loser of the joust to the death, presumably). Rose claimed us in the queue at Apple Holler, where we satisfied ourselves with more apple-themed food.
And so back to the free beatings so generously provided in the contemporary world.
Refreshed after a full day and night at work, J. wanted to head up to Bristol Renaissance Faire on August 22. After a haircut and a stop at Istria Café, we set out a little after two o’clock. The traffic imps smiled upon us the whole way, except for a short snarl around the Loop. It’s often been such a bad drive that I forget how easy it can be, too.
Once there, we picked up the note cards he’d ordered, then wandered around more or less aimlessly. Work and lack of sleep have drained him, while my only excuse is what had become Chicago’s 9th hottest recorded summer. nothing enervates me like heat and humidity.
I thought we might see something at the lists, but at the moment the event was the melee, during which children (including some children of adult age) take on some official defenders, using padded weapons. When the defender touches you, you run back to the line and give your weapon to the next person. It looks fun — I suppose the kids are wise enough to enjoy the game more than mind the heat. I suspect the kids nearly always win — their numbers are always greater, and perhaps the odds are stacked in other ways.
We were sitting (my idea), and I was admiring the view of a pond and a great bird — a heron? — flying over it when a handful of costumed men appeared and fired their muzzle loaders. We hadn’t seen them before, so we drew nearer to listen. One of them explained the evolution of the muzzle loader, beginning with a manually fired stick contraption stuffed with missiles like pottery fragments. Its main purpose was to induce “shock and awe,” but neither lasted long as people realized that they didn’t do much damage. He talked about the mechanism and the various improvements and calibers. Fortunately for the heron-like bird (“and your carriages parked yonder”), they fired only cloth. Both rounds were very loud, except for the second gun, which misfired the second time. These weapons are not noted for velocity, range, or accuracy, although the real point was to be able to pierce plate armor at a little distance. It made me think of an episode of How the West Was Won, in which a party discovers a Confederate soldier who doesn’t know the war is over. If I remember right, one of his weapons is a muzzle loader. They are impressed by the speed with which he can reload, and they count the seconds between rounds as they pinpoint his location and surround him — but not before he has killed one or two of them.
As we wandered and shopped and checked out the entertainment, we saw a young woman taking a photo of a very buxom friend in the typical bosom-enhancing costume. She hesitated, then said, “I don’t need a zoom lens for THAT!”
Although cooler than the previous day, the afternoon was warm and so humid that I noticed that one man’s calves were soaked in sweat. Just as we were getting ready to make our final round and leave, about an hour before sunset, I noticed that the air suddenly felt fresher, almost bearable. It was the first sign of an autumnal turn in the weather.
As we usually do, we went north to Apple Holler. This part of Wisconsin strikes me as a strange place. The faire is in a wooded area with ponds; much of why I like going to it is for the feeling the area gives me, of trees and sun and summer and even the past, my past. A little north and across the way, a stack belched white smoke at a furious rate, forming an enormous low-lying plume in the still evening air, while to our left, the sun was painting the sky many subtle shades of pink, purple, and blue over the fields and pastures. Indeed, I90/94 cuts like a scar through what otherwise would seem to be bucolic countryside, attracting box stores and chain restaurants. Even parts of the frontage road feels like a world away, although you can still hear and see the expressway’s relentless traffic.
Not far from the exit for Apple Holler, I noticed a billboard for another restaurant four miles further on and wondered if it’s been there for awhile or is new competition.
If so, Apple Holler seems not to have suffered. After we fed the “sweet” goats, as J. calls them — even the big billies who bully the smaller nannies and young ones with their bulk and horns — and did a little shopping, we found the restaurant nearly full 45 minutes before closing, with a table for 10 forming the queue in front of me. We had a good dinner complemented by flavored apple cider, then came out to find a couple of the goats on their bridge, silhouetted against the deepening evening sky. The air really did seem to have freshened — the first hint of autumn to come.
And so home for me, and back to work for him. Yes, work. Overnight. It’s beyond my understanding.
At Bristol Renaissance Faire on Saturday, J. and I came upon these two combatants. The objective is to be the first to pop the balloon on the helmet of your opponent. The smaller of this pairing appeared to be two to four inches shorter than the larger, who, we thought, would win in short order (so to speak).
To our surprise, the tiny knight not only was the victor in both duels we watched, but he won them relatively quickly by taking an active, aggressive approach to the bigger but more defensive knight, whose strategy seemed to be to hold his sword up as much as possible to protect the balloon — unsuccessfully, as it turned out.
The match over, they removed their borrowed armor and gear — which is when we realized, to our great surprise and bemusement, the wee winner was a little girl, and the defeated enemy apparently her older brother. Now that I see the photo I notice the girlish white flip flops. Neither the boy nor the girl spoke, but he seemed ready to move on to the next amusement, while the girl couldn’t wipe the ear-to-ear smirk off her face. Truly a Kodak moment I hope she remembers forever.
It’s when you’re in a hurry or late or in some other strait that you take greatest note of life’s conspiracy against you.
After we’d decided to go to Bristol Renaissance Faire, I asked J. to pick me up, then we could get on the Stevenson at McCormick Place and connect to the Tri-State from there. It sounded easy enough until we got to McCormick Place — only to see that the on ramp was closed. Now what? Don’t ask me. I don’t drive. Per J.’s direction, I programmed my eyes to look for 57, but it didn’t turn up during several trips around Chinatown. I asked if he had any maps, and he dug out a street guide with a high-level overview of the expressways. While he drove and his blood pressure peaked, I took off my glasses and peered cross-eyed at the map. “Say, it looks like I55 connects with the Tri-State,” I said.
We were about a block away from a cluster of signs near a ramp, including one indicating 55. Had he not had both hands on the wheel, J. would have slapped himself. “That’s what I meant — 55, not 57. 57 is by me. What was I thinking?” he said. One closed on ramp equals one half hour in lost time and probably an unhealthy amount of blood pressure points.
The drive was uneventful, except that J. resents reduced speed limits in the absence of workers. Eyeing the concrete barriers and semi-trailers hurtling by in the narrowed lanes, I am more inclined to agree with the rationale.
Ignatius the thriving fibroid doesn’t care about lost time; my bladder makes its needs known as he makes his weight felt. At the O’Hare Oasis, we put a couple of dollars in the massage chairs and split a pretzel (while he was debating with himself whether he should get one, the counter person put out a sign, “Be back in 5 minutes” and disappeared, which perhaps was not the best customer service I’ve ever seen.
Earlier, I had teased J. that he times his arrival at the faire so that he can get free parking. This time, we benefited not only from free parking, but from free admission — we arrived at the ticket window at 5:59 p.m., and the man there told us to hold out for another minute. We did.
Despite the false start with the closed on ramp, we had a brilliant time. The weather could not have been one whit better for walking — sunny and comfortable. Perhaps because it was a little later in the day, the crowd had thinned. It was my idea of a perfect day to be in the woods.
We stopped for a few minutes to watch and listen to “Wheel of Sin,” where the man who sometimes portrays Little John chooses where he wants the wheel to stop by pounding on it, none too discreetly, and the group performs bawdy songs. J. didn’t realize it, but I knew it was time to move on when one of the men (the one who sometimes portrays Robin Hood) found himself with felt reindeer antlers perched on, then falling off, his manhood, which apparently was not up to providing support. His reddening face made his predicament seem genuine, and his smile is always infectious.
We ate, of course — the traditional Renaissance known as portobello bangers. J. was about six feet in front of me when I bit into mine, and the spurting juice and cheese just missed his back. You know food’s good when it spurts.
After we left the portobello stand, J. confessed that he couldn’t help noticing a woman with a generously sized chest (amply set off by her costume) sporting a large bandage over one breast. I admitted I had observed it, too. I told him he should have asked her if she’d had a rough night with the master. Well, perhaps not.
This brings me to what I saw next — a T-shirt worn by an older teenage male bearing the apropos phrase, “Please tell your boobs to quit staring at my eyes.” Men, how many times have you had that problem and wished you could so tastefully address it?
What would a Renaissance town be without a music and video store? Even Shakespeare must have popped a CD or DVD into his home theater and sound system every now and then. After numerous CD binges in the 1990s, I had stopped buying them, especially when I learned my hearing had become so poor, but on this occasion I couldn’t resist songs with titles like “Come, you pretty false-eyed wanton,” “Pined I am, and like to die,” and “I cannot keepe my wyfe at howme,” and so ended up with three CDs for my Elizabethan collection. Of course, J. bought CDs. And magnets. And tote bags. And Shakespearean insult chewing gum. And T-shirts. And personalized note cards for me and another friend. And who knows what all. I believe he’s determined to keep the economy afloat, or at least his bank and credit card company. Indeed, it was past 7:30 p.m. by the time he completed his purchases (and a half hour after closing).
On our way to the souvenir shop, however, we were waylaid. Not by robbers, who I might have found easier to cope with. No, we were stopped in our tracks by a singer demanding to be allowed to perform for such a “beautiful” and “fair lady.” (“You talkin’ to me?”) He didn’t believe me when I claimed that my name is “Gertrude.” Robin, whose manhood was unable to support toy antlers, was no more embarrassed or red faced than I was by the impromptu serenade. My investment advice? Glasses.
At last this tribute to my beauty was completed, and I took off for the bridge. J., fascinated by the turtles, had to pause to capture them on chip. Had the souvenir store not stayed open well past normal closing, he may not have made it there in time to get his credit card chewed up.
There wasn’t enough time for Apple Holler, so we headed home. As we stood outside the Flamingo and J. dug around among his purchases for my gifts (“Don’t buy me anything” being beyond his comprehension), I realized that I was shivering. Cold, on a night in mid August. I’m not complaining. August here can be and often is brutally hot and humid. I’m also not disturbed by summer rain because I’ve seen drought. But the dearth of butterfly sightings (and landings), the growing rabbit (he’s so big now!), sunsets before 8 p.m., cloudy days, and cool evenings all give me a sickening sense that another summer came and went, slipping from my grasp and separating me even more from the remembered idylls of my youth. Will I live long enough to look back at these days as fondly as I do the days of strawberry picking in Eden or visiting Old Fort Niagara? I wonder.
“My, what a handsome pillow it is!”