Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | September 18, 2002

Renaissance Faire’s an eye-opening experience

Attending the Renaissance Pleasure Faire – a first for me – was an eye-opening experience.

Why? First and foremost were the bosoms. Heaving, spilling, pushed unmercifully upward in opposition to gravity’s natural downward force, the only thing I could think upon passing overflowing bodice after overflowing bodice was, “Who knew Wonderbras were around in Elizabethan times?” If only Victoria had discovered her secret in the 16th century, she apparently would have done a booming business.

I have my doubts about the historical accuracy of the prominent cleavage, but no doubts that it entices many more men to attend the faires than otherwise would.

Putting aside the constantly displayed décolletage, I believe the dusty atmosphere at Casa de Fruta is likely authentic. Although I tramped along the dirt paths of the replica English Renaissance village for just a few hours, I was blowing dusty remnants of the afternoon from my nose for two days after my visit. It makes you appreciate modern-day wonders like asphalt.

I wonder if the mood at the faire – slightly forced joviality – is accurate. I imagine the amount of physical labor the average Elizabethan-era peasant had to perform just to eke out a sustenance-level existence would leave little energy for bawdy jokes and merry-making. But this was the period that produced William Shakespeare, so I must be wrong.

While at the faire, we ate lunch – fish and chips, very English to be sure, but I’m not so sure how Elizabethan a repast it was. But at $6 a serving, the price was a far cry from the 4 or 5 pence lunch might have cost a typical hungry wench of the period.

My husband overheard a conversation between a woman selling “drynks” and a customer who asked for a straw for her soda. The drynk-seller’s reply: “Straws haven’t been invented yet.” A creative response, to be sure; however, if we’re looking for authenticity, I should point out that Queen Elizabeth didn’t contemplate the intricacies of running her empire while sipping a Coca-Cola.

My son, Andrew, who arrived at the faire hatless, made an immediate purchase of a felt Robin Hood-style green cap with a jaunty red feather. The hat purveyor told Andrew that people would think he was one of Robin Hood’s men, and indeed, he was asked by one of the performers if Robin was about. Andrew enjoyed being part of the experience, but my research indicates that if a real Robin Hood lived, he led his band of merry men in the 14th century, not the late 16th century of Queen Elizabeth I’s rule.

A band of performers sporting conservatively styled black-and-white costumes wandered the grounds looking for witches – truly common activity during the Renaissance. Witch hunts were much more deadly business in the 16th century, unlike the amusing encounter I witnessed. A woman visitor carrying a broom was accused of being a witch and asked to guess the answers to several questions, including guessing the size of one of the witch hunter’s “manhood.” Her accurate guess – small – was further proof of her guilt, but she saved her skin by scaring the group away by giving them the “evil eye.”

If you want to be transported – sort of – to the 16th century, set aside a weekend day to visit the Renaissance Pleasure Faire at Casa de Fruta. It’s in South County – just 12 miles east of Gilroy – and it would be a shame to miss it. The faire runs Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., through Oct. 20. Tickets at the gate cost $18.50 for adults and $7.50 for kids aged 5-11. Close-to-the-gate parking will set you back $10, but get some exercise by parking in the far lots for free.

And gentlemen, if you bring a date, wear your shades, so you can discreetly eye the bountiful bosoms.


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