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Thursday, November 2nd, 2006
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What's New?

What's Going On? The Penn Renn Fair

If you missed last week's report, you may not know that we've decided not to move as far away as Canada, but to choose instead a city within a donut-shaped area around Washington DC (which we call the Donut). And if you've missed the report from two weeks ago, you may not know that I enjoy going to Renaissance Festivals.

I've been to the Maryland Renn Fair dozens of times, having gone almost once a year since just after they started having them. (They just finished their 30th... I have in my file my souvenir program booklet from the 3rd.) But even though I love Renn Fairs and new ones have since cropped up all over the place in the last 3 decades, I've never been to any Fairs other than our own. (It's part of that George Baileyitis thing, I guess, that makes factoids like this bug me.)

Anyway, as we now ponder candidate cities within the Donut, we couldn't help but notice how well Harrisburg PA fits certain criteria, since it's an interesting little city right in the middle of the donut and is near to all 3 of these example cool things: an Amusement Park, a Chocolate Factory and a Renaissance Festival. Of course, HersheyPark is one of my very favorite theme parks and I love visiting the Factory (though it's never been the same since they stopped doing actual tours (which I barely remember) replacing that option with "Hershey's Chocolate World."

To get to the point, I suddenly realized that there was one weekend left in this season's run of the Pennsylvania Renn Fair, and we had nothing else special planned as a Sunday Adventure, so I said "Hey, let's go check it out!" And we did!

Just as in that great Pulp Fiction quote, it's all about the little differences. By the way, have I ever ranted about the scene in that movie that bugs me the most? It's when Vincent and the Uma Thurman character are dining at the way cool retro-themed restaurant, right before the dance contest. She asks about the rumors that he just got back from living for a few years in Amsterdam, and she says she goes there for about a month every year. And then... nothing! There's a kind of a pregnant pause and then they just start talking on a new subject! I find that ridiculous.. Two Americans who've been spending that much time in Amsterdam would suddenly launch into all sorts of reminiscences. "Wow, what's your favorite coffeeshop? What part of town to you like to hang out in?" "Hey, wait a second, no wonder you look familiar... didn't I see you in the Grasshopper about a year ago? Yeah, I remember you!" Instead, they have nothing to say to each other about their experiences in that extremely interesting city. Sheesh.

But I digress. Like Vincent said, it's the little differences that you notice, and I was quite surprised by several unexpected differences between the Maryland and Pennsylvania Renaissance Festivals.

The biggest difference was all the pavement. I just couldn't stop noticing it. One of the things that makes the Maryland Fair so special, it suddenly seems to me now, is the way it's built out in the woods, with no real roads anywhere and certainly no blacktop pavement. The Penn Renn Fair instead had that theme park feeling... and the pathways where smoothly paved over. I just couldn't get used to it, and kept noticing things like manhole covers and drainage grates. It seemed overall to have fewer trees, again removing the "out-in-the-woods" feeling. On the other hand, the Penn Fair does have a more interesting topography, with lots of little hills and valleys, and it also seemed even more sprawlingly huge than does ours.

In general I just felt like I noticed a lot of things that took me out of the experience rather than enhancing it, far more than I'm used to, which is why I think I like ours better. If you think of the whole Renn Fair experience as being like a person playing a role and trying to be believable, then the Penn Fair has a greater tendency to break out of character than the Maryland Fair (which of course has a hard time staying in character too).

Nothing typifies this feeling more, I think, than hearing the audience at some show being encouraged to sing along to the Mickey Mouse Club Theme Song. Nothing breaks you out of the feeling that you're actually back in the year 1560 than hearing an audience at a show yelling "Mickey Mouse! Donald Duck! Mickey Mouse! Donald Duck!" and of course, you could hear it just about everywhere in Festival, thus making it inescapable for everyone there. (If it were up to me, I'd ban that sort of thing.)

Another thing that kept breaking the spell for me were the prominent signs pointing out that this part of "town" was "Swashbuckler Grove" and so on. Such zoning just makes it feel like you're in the Pirate Area of the Medieval Theme Park rather than an actual section of a recreated town. And then there were the rides!

Of course, as I mentioned two weeks ago, my favorite thing at these things is the "authentic" medieval food, and while many of my favorites were there, differences abounded. ("Nachos? I've never seen those in medieval times. But hey, where's the deep-fried Macaroni & Cheese on a Stick?") Overall, here again, I liked the food at Maryland's Renaissance more than at Pennsylvania's version.

But there was one thing I did really like about the Pennsylvania version of this time travel trip: open air fires. You never see them at our Renn Fair, but I remember when they did... I think they must have gotten banned around the time of the move from Columbia to Crownsville. I miss them... they add a nice bit of realism that's also very pleasant on a nippy fall day.

Anyway, we had a great time. And guess who we unexpectedly bumped into at the Penn Renn Fair? That's right, it's these friends shown here, 'Becca and Dan and their almost-two-year-old toddler, Nicholas.

And as if talking to them weren't enough to remind us of how appealing Pittsburgh is, we also started hearing this week from another friend from Pittsburgh, who I met a few years ago at Origins and who now lives right near us, who's totally telling us the best place for us to go to is not just Pittsburgh, but Squirrel Hill, the very neighborhood Dan & Becca are from, and which we've visited and found to be undeniably wonderful.

But it's outside the donut! But hey, it's such a big soft donut, we can probably stretch it out to Pittsburgh... it's only 4 hours away, which is great compared to the 10 hour drive we were looking at when we were thinking about moving to Canada, even though it is a bit long for the Movie-Length Drive Test. (You really need an intermission for a movie that long, but hey, I've seen longer...)

But we're not making any more decisions just yet! Our brains are open. Our other main candidate at the moment is Philadelphia, but we're also talking about Harrisburg, Wilmington, & Charlottesville. Keep the suggestions and opinions coming!

In other news, we had a pleasant if boring Halloween. I'm already way too late with this week's report to add anything more, and don't expect to have time next week either, so the full pumpkin gallery will just have to wait for awhile. But here's a glimpse at this year's Class: a trio of hippie pumpkins carved by myself, Janet, and Melanie. The Peace pumpkin (along with the remarkable sphericalness of the pumpkin I chose) inspired me to create the Globe-O-Lantern. The Peace on Earth theme was perfectly complimented by Janet's daisies, leading to this image, which is what we put on the candy bars we were giving out this year. (We had a huge drop in Requests For Free Candy By Costumed Strangers this year: just 26, down from last year's 42.)

Thanks for reading, and have a great week!Andy

Thought Residue
I have a new travel goal: I want to be like that guy who goes around trying to eat at every McDonald's there is, except with Renn Fairs. I see each one now as being like a different group's effort to create artificially a time travel trip to the middle ages. I want to visit each one and see how they compare! I want to eat Steak-on-a-Stake at every different medieval village in the nation, and judge which one is the best! I want to hear people in an English town who speak with a Texas Accent! And finally, I have a reason to book a trip on a cruise ship (since I'm still waiting for them to build that recreation of the Titanic): I read on the internets that there's a Renn Fair onboard a Cruise Ship somewhere! Can it be true? The mind reels.
"as for us we cannot help but speak of the things which we have seen and heard." -- Acts 4:20, a verse that has become my favorite to use when I'm playing Fluxx with the Christian expansion and I get the Bible Verses card. (Thanks for pointing that one out to me, Carol! But I'm still on the lookout for a cool, interesting, obscure Hebrew word to memorize for when I run into the Hebrew Knowledge card.)
It's a sad day when our National Space Policy's primary goal is changed from "Enhance knowledge of the Earth, the solar system and the Universe" to "Further U.S. national security, homeland security, and foreign policy objectives." I'm glad I don't work for NASA anymore.

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