Part of what pried me away from my desk Labor Day weekend to attend a wedding anniversary party was that this one was golden. Former Port Aransans Alice and Sam Marks were celebrating 50 years of marriage. An event like that doesn’t come around every day.
It didn’t hurt that they recently moved to Duluth, Minnesota and my attendance at their party took me to the Land of 10,000 Lakes. “Minnesota” comes from the Dakota language and means “clear blue water.” Clear blue is right; not a sargassum mat in sight. Virtually every road in the state wends its way around some body of water. My route from the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport to Roseville where the party was held took me across the Mississippi River
You would expect “gold” would be the motif for a Golden Anniversary party but Alice and Sam are unexpected people. The theme wasn’t gold but white, as in White Castle, as in hamburgers. Quite a few people are fans of this iconic fast food sandwich known as a “slider.” A family run company, White Castle has been in business since 1921. It was the first hamburger chain to sell a million burgers and the first to sell a billion. The Marks’s party was decorated with blue and white balloons, napkins and plates, and the menu featured the small square sandwiches. Yes, Alice and Sam are partial to the food but their connection to White Castle goes deeper. Alice is in the White Castle Cravers Hall of Fame. A writer, Alice submitted a winning essay to their 2013 contest. She and Sam were flown to corporate headquarters in Columbus, Ohio for the induction and were feted all weekend. Follow the link to the Island Moon story that I wrote about it and you can also read Alice’s essay.
As if that wasn’t enough of a treat, Alice and Sam escorted me to the Minneapolis Renaissance Fair. The 2014 season is this festival’s 44th year. Originally rather informal, with tents and booths on 22 acres in Jonathan, MN, the festival now occupies a permanent site in Shakopee. It has grown to be one of the largest festivals of its type with an annual attendance of 300,000 people. Quite a few of those guests come in costume. Some wear authentic 16th century outfits, others come dressed as pirates, fairies, or gypsies. It’s hard to distinguish the visitors from the street performers.
The 16th century is quite a bit later than the medieval setting of my literary fantasy series featuring King Bewilliam but what’s a few hundred years between friends? Strict adherence to historical accuracy was clearly not a big issue, as the pizza, ice cream, and taco salad in the food court attested. I found the prime rib sandwich that I had to be quite tasty and my hosts enjoyed their bread bowl soup.
Hundreds of vendors are on hand offering everything from costumes and candles to chain mail, swords and leatherwork. Many of the artisans offered demonstrations, including glass blowing, painting, pottery, spinning and book binding. One could spend an entire day taking in the craft demonstrations but there was even more entertainment, and it was nonstop. It began outside the main gate where a fellow in a kilt animatedly pointed the way to the box office or offered to spare you the trek by selling tickets for 50 bucks. We took in part of a humor stage act put on by Puke and Snot, marking three decades of MRF performances, and the juggling/knife throwing Danger Committee. The entertainment included story telling, musical groups, and street acts. Everyone who works the fair gets into the act, from the animal wranglers at the petting zoo to the pickle vendors, and they are “on” 24/7. (As a teenager, present-day singing star Jason Mraz got a taste for show-business by playing the role of a pickle boy for several seasons.)
Of course there’s jousting. Having done some research into jousting for my latest novel, The King’s Redress, I was surprised to see women jousting. Jousting began in 1066 as a way for knights to practice their horsemanship and show off their skills with the lance. It later became a way to settle judicial disputes. Female knights weren’t unheard of in the middle ages but they were rare and they didn’t normally joust. In later years, jousting became a test of physical strength for both the horse as well as the knight. It is now a popular event at Renaissance Fairs across the country and the jousts that I saw at the MRF were impressive to watch with one participant providing running commentary the entire time that he jousted. Check out videos on my YouTube page .
If this puts you in a medieval mood and you’d like to stay there, I invite you to explore the bewildering fantasy world of my King Bewilliam novels.