Sunday, March 11, 2007

...and now for something completely different...

Ah, Spring is here, and this blogger's fancies lightly turn to thoughts of reenacting. Wearing funny clothes, camping out, cooking over an open fire, and generally getting sunburned and dirty while having fun. So, in spite of suffering from the jet lag of time change, some thoughts on historical reenacting.

This year's first big, multi-day event is the third School of the Renaissance Soldier (SORS). Held at a large park (aka "the site") north of Sacramento, the goal is to spend 3 days playing soldiers (and attached others) in Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries. This year's theme is "Action in the Low Countries," so we'll all be pretending to be slogging through the mud of Flanders. Hopefully, it will be "pretend"; last year's SORS took place during Week 4 the Great Bay Area Deluge--6 straight weeks of rain, from March 17 to May 3. Considering that I like rain about as much as a cashmere goat (basically, they don't), I passed on last year's event. However, this year I'm expected to be there, so I'm going to drag myself, my gear (including my new Schacht-Reeves), my tentage, and assorted other stuff to spend a couple days camping out and spinning in the Great Outdoors, all the while dressed as a 15th century hausfrau. That's a picture of me as a hausfrau up above.

Most people are familiar with medieval reenacting through seeing (in person, on Websites, or on TV) the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). Yes, this is somewhat like the SCA: we are all interested in reenacting a period (for us) between 1485 (the elevation of Maximillian I to King of the Romans) and 1603 (the death of Elizabeth I of England). Like the SCA, what we're interested in is recreating (briefly) living in western Europe during that time period. However, there are a couple of big differences:

--In the SCA, the combatants use duct-taped rattan sticks for swords; we don't.
--In the SCA, once the fighting is over, it's the 21st century; for us it isn't.

The goal of the type of reenacting we do is to make it as real as is safely possible. Therefore, most of the events I attend are known as "24/7" events--you have a certain amount of time to get to the site, get your gear set up or put away, and get changed into appropriate attire, then you stay in the appropriate attire, using the appropriate tools, and doing appropriate things, eating appropriate food, until you are ready to leave, or the event is over. It sounds difficult, and in some ways it is--you do a lot of research, build and/or buy clothes, equipment and weapons, learn a lot of very survival-related skills (I can start a fire with nothing more than some dry wood, a sturdy knife, flint, and steel), and have to arrange your schedule to attend events. However, when it all comes together, it's nothing short of magical--you step back in time and really experience what life might have been like.

Part of what makes this very real for the guys that participate is the use of real weapons (swords, pikes, halberds, horses, etc.). Yes, this is every mother's nightmare--boys thwacking each other with sharp pointy objects--but the guys are armored, just as the knights of old. Knights and soldiers during the 15th and 16th centuries didn't just magically pick up weapons and have their skills; they had to practice, just like anyone trying to acquire a skill, and the best way to acquire that skill is to properly, safely, learn to use the weapon in a controlled situation. The guys, in armor that includes helmets and face shields, "spar" to gain skill with swords. Most also spend lots of time learning medieval military tactics (some of which date back to the Romans), and how to manage pikes (14-16 foot long spears) without hurting themselves or others.

While the guys are enamored of swords, pikes, and drilling, I much prefer to spend my time "in camp," doing things that women of the period might have done. My accommodations would be considered pretty luxurious by women from the period; I have a very large tent, furniture (including a bed!), enough clean underwear to see me through the entire weekend without washing, and different things (such as my wheel) to keep me occupied. I spend my time cooking foods appropriate to the period over an open fire, knitting, spinning, and keeping a tidy "house" for my soldier/husband. In the evenings, there is plenty of entertainment: eating, drinking, singing songs, playing appropriate card and dice games, and conversation keep everybody busy and happy.

So that is what a multi-day camping reenactment is like. But before I go off to the SORS, there is a party to celebrate Kaiser Karl's birthday! Nearly every year, many of us get together for an evening of eating, drinking, and "general debauchery" (definitely rated PG-13), all in our best 16th century finery, like what I'm wearing here, known as the "Emperor's Birthday Party." Originally it was created to celebrate the birthday of Charles V, and Charles' victory at Pavia (which happened on his 25th birthday) and was always held around February 24th. This year it's at the end of March, due to difficulties finding a place to have the party. Try finding a place to host a party of 50-100 people, that has the feel of a 16th century building, is not too expensive (under $750), and available on the weekend closest to February 24th. It's well-nigh impossible! However, we (the group of friends in charge of putting on the party) found a site, and the party is now less than 3 weeks away.

Other people are in charge of decorating, and coordinating the food and entertainment, but I managed to snag one of the best jobs: I'm the "Keg Coordinator." This means I have to calculate how much brew we're going to need, reserve the keg, pick up the keg, and return the keg after the party. This can be a trick, but not now, thanks to a clever little "kegulator" a couple guys (obviously with too much time on their hands) developed. Once I know how many people will be attending, and estimate how many people are going to get hammered, I plug the info into the kegulator, then call BevMo and order the keg(s). Being the Keg Coordinator means I can also get something I like to drink (no fizzy yellow macrobrews for me!).