Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bristol Renaissance Faire

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.

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