Thursday, April 9, 2009

National Silver Key - "Renaissance Faire" by Isis Yoon

Isis Yoon, 13, is a prolific writer who could not finish a story... but when she finally did, she won a 2009 national silver key from Scholastic for her memoir, "Renaissance Fair"!! Please help her celebrate by reading her work:

Renaissance Faire

I’d kept my umbrella up for so long that I didn’t notice it had stopped raining—the sky was still flat with fog from horizon to horizon. The rain had faded from a vigorous shower to a drizzle to a fall as fine as mist, and it was only when I started absently gazing around the park that I realized the drizzle had ended. I collapsed the black umbrella and stuffed it inside my bag.

It’s slightly disconcerting how much an umbrella blocks your upper vision, so much that you don’t detect it until the obstruction’s been removed. You can see all the things you didn’t notice before: the crows perched heavily on the top branches of trees, the bare boughs on some twisting and reaching with spindly fingers to the gray heavens, the enormous orange banner hooked on two opposite trees on either side of the road reading something like, “WELCOME TO THE MEDIEVAL FESTIVAL!” in curly Gothic script. Below, a slow but steady stream of people trickled into the festival filing past the costumed performers with the air of vague embarrassment like tourists in their own city.

Inside, a few men dressed in gaudy uniforms stood with fake halberds in their hands and called for donations to be dropped into “Thee Wishinge Welle,” a wooden cart painted red, green, and gold, built in the shape of a well. The occasional person stuffed a dollar through the grid of wooden slats over the top. Next to it was a cheese-tasting stall, and further on were three lonely-looking people playing the accordion. Past them were booths full of T-shirts emblazoned with dragons and swords and sorcery, tents of strange wooden sculpture and silvery necklaces, and a stand presenting barbecue ribs proclaimed to be “Dragon Fingers!” Two sweating men with pots on their heads battered at each other with heavy wooden swords, armored feet slipping in the damp and chilly mud; a bored-looking woman sold incense and Celtic-knot earrings; a man with a small goatee, a red and black leather outfit, and the air of a marquis surveyed the fair accompanied by two laughing women in black corsets.

This is Fort Tryon Park—but for one day, cold and wet, it pretties up the past and sends it tearing through the fields and pathways of the modern day. This is the Medieval Festival, the bizarre time that makes reasonably sane but eccentric people dress up in odd costume—the event that has taken over my life.

* * *

My first home, the memories of which are lost in the foggy mists of childhood, was a small apartment in Washington Heights, near the George Washington Bridge. I can’t remember it for the life of me, the only proof I had ever lived there being pictures of my two-year-old self, swaddled in duck-patterned blankets like some huge wailing grub, and my long-haired parents looking unusually proud of creating such a fat little creature. We were only a few blocks away from the park, so my parents had probably stumbled upon the festival by chance, maybe while taking a walk or driving to the Cloisters museum.

Some families have traditions like donating money to worthwhile causes every Christmas, or baking the best cakes in the neighborhood for their children's birthdays. Mine? We go to the Medieval Festival every year, a slapdash revival of a romanticized version of the Renaissance. And people wonder why I’m such a dork.

Even when we moved to a different part of the city, we still attended. Even when we moved out of the state when I was six, we still attended. We crossed the bridge from New Jersey just to bask in the strangeness that permeates the whole festival for a few hours. Though it proclaims itself to be a messenger from the past, there is really nothing very accurate about it. All the nasty bits of history have been sliced off by some overzealous editor and cast onto the cutting-room floor to make a prettied-up, toned-down version of the Renaissance with about the realistic depth of a kiddie matinee. Of course, the costumes are rich and exotic and the weapons are gloriously sharp and pointy, but why is there a Viking wandering around with a corseted vampire duchess on his arm, gazing at steel ninja stars inlaid with golden dragons which are more fit to hang on walls than to be thrown into someone’s skull? Reality was politically incorrect, had far too much blood, and was way too smelly. It’s all smoke-and-mirrors enchantment, which fades away the next morning.

I suppose we also went to rejoin old friends and meet new ones, but that reason for attending became null once most of our old friends moved to Arizona or Europe and I became increasingly reluctant to strike up conversations with random children. At one point, as I searched for meaningful reasons that might explain why we have stuck with this anachronistic fair for so long, up till the present day, I realized a very obvious one. It wasn’t because it helps us reconnect with our inner child, or because it lets us fool ourselves into dreaming up a romanticized past, but simply because I need yearly confirmation that there are others weirder than me. Watching the warriors in their handmade armor and wielding thousand-dollar blunted swords (who are walking alongside self-proclaimed vampires with dozens of piercings who had apparently just bought pickles from a Captain Jack Sparrow impersonator), I feel almost comfortable in a black shirt, black pants, black Converse, enormous black jacket, and black hat that is nevertheless fading to lighter shades with accumulated dust and sun-bleaching—and almost normal next to someone carrying a gigantic replica Excalibur on his back.

And then I go to school the next day and glare at the idiot who shouts out “emo!” as I pass his locker and write German swearwords on my hands in ink and talk about how “morphodite” was actual Victorian slang for “hermaphrodite” and get mistaken for a boy and pin yet another button on my hat and realize that normality is relative, and that for the time being, I am about the strangest person in the class – at least in the eyes of the overwhelming majority. I don’t really mind. It’s fun, and I know that next year I’ll go back to the festival all over again and be able to feel almost-but-not-quite ordinary for just one day.

After all, who is really in the mainstream, anyway?

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