That Time I Got Uncomfortably Excited About A French Renaissance Faire
I apologize if you think we’ve ever shared a special moment, because this day beat it
Time To Read: 8 mins | July 28, 2017
One day I’ll get married. Assuming I get the timing right, that will be followed by a baby. Both of these events, in turn, will probably be the best days of my life. Not to mention they’ll finally mark the end of my mother’s nagging.
But until those events come to pass, this was my best day.
I spent a week in Nice because it seemed like “the thing to do.” It’s situated on the southern coast of France, is full of beautiful monuments and five-star restaurants, and has a nude beach. Which I’ve now seen on at least half a dozen occasions and in no case did I enjoy the experience – 95% of the time because the only people naked were on Medicare, and 5% of the time because I got caught staring at the one nudist worth looking at.
Anyway, that’s very much not the point. I had 24 hours left in Nice before running off to Egypt and had been told that I simply must see Eze and Monaco before leaving.
Eze (pronounced “ease” not “easy”, which someone really could have told me sooner) is a village perched atop an oceanside hilltop. When you think of medieval villages in movies, they look like Eze. Monaco, meanwhile, is the definition of boujee (that’s a word the kids use these days to describe something fancy/expensive/over-the-top) (this paragraph has too many parentheses). The independent city state is world famous for its luxury harbor and hotels, hosts arguably the most exciting Grand Prix event of the season, and was the setting for one of the top-5 Archer episodes ever.
Both locations are just 45 minutes from Nice by car. Eze is slightly closer, so I hopped on a bus and, after sharing my Fanta and vodka with an elderly French woman, jumped off there first.
This is not a city designed for the overweight.
You’re dropped a few hundred feet below the old town and have to walk up obscenely steep roads to actually see what you came for: the impossibly thin cobblestone roads, shops built into ancient rooms with 5-foot ceilings, the picturesque views out over the Mediterranean. On any day of the week, rain or shine, Eze is worth the visit.
I just happened to pick the most fantabulous day to see the town ever.
As I was hiking up the hellish hill, regretting that cocktail all the way, I came across a man in a ratty jester costume. He was speaking in a funny accent and being way too animated, in the sort of annoying try-hard way clowns at a kid’s birthday parties can be. You don’t want to tell him to leave, necessarily, you just wish he’d move along sooner rather than later.
He wasn’t alone. There were several other people nearby, all acting 5% too over-the-top. Each was wearing clothes that looked like they’d been plucked out of a 1400s thrift shop. There was also a stall on the sidewalk selling novelty swords and plastic helmets for children.
I don’t want to admit that accidentally discovering a renaissance faire gave me an erection, but it’d be disingenuous to suggest every inch of me wasn’t uncontrollably excited.
These are my favorite places on this or any other planet. You were probably taken on elementary school field trips to see events like this – knights competing in fake jousts, old fashioned taverns that serve turkey legs and flagons of beer, carnival games involving throwing axes and knives. And of course, all the merchandise a fantasy video game lover could ever want for his parent’s basement.
Faires like these are obviously a blast for kids, but like many facets of my personality, I never matured out of this one. Los Angeles hosts a similar event every year in May, and I’m not embarrassed to say that I’ve regularly dressed up in full Viking attire (not really period accurate, but roll with it) and taken a party bus with twenty other developmentally-stunted adults for a day of heavy drinking and butchering old English. “Wherest thou we goest next?” “Pass me yonder ale!”
It’s the one weekend of the year I can yell “peasant” at strangers and not be called an asshole.
To spend a day at the L.A. renaissance faire always makes my heart happy. But to find a renaissance faire in a centuries-old French mountaintop village – literally where the renaissance happened – gave me a conniption fit.
Aside from the Subway guy, no grown-up has ever smiled so hard for so long at a children’s event. A band marched through town playing old timey tunes every fifteen minutes. One man with a ponytail to his ass cheeks was giving glass blowing lessons. Women in aggressively-tight corsets were selling jewelry and knives. There was even an obstacle course that I was a hundred pounds too heavy for.
But while this was truly what I imagine heaven to be like, it wasn’t quite identical to the faires back home. For one, the actors were all much more restrained with their accents and mannerisms. Although I admit, I may only be thinking that because I don’t speak French. I understood negative three words all day.
More striking, however, were the performances themselves. The juggler I passed at the entrance dropped his vintage bowling pins twice in one minute. The pencil-thin knight giving a broadsword lesson could barely swing the weapon without stumbling over his own feet.
And then there were the acrobats. It was a father and young daughter duo, from what I could tell, dressed in elf ears and tights. They delivered extended monologues, which I of course couldn’t understand, then the dad proceeded to lift and toss his child around – badly. She fell more than a few times, and they clearly weren’t holding the poses they’d practiced nearly as long as they intended.
In the U.S., we’re used to an absurdly high level of entertainment. I don’t just mean Hollywood – walk through an NYC subway station or down the Santa Monica boardwalk and you’ll hear/see performers of an extraordinary caliber, especially as compared to their venue. In Eze, at a poorly-attended public renaissance faire on a Sunday afternoon, the drop off in the performers’ skills was noticeable.
But doesn’t that make it more charming?
I wasn’t paying for Cirque du Soleil, I’d stumbled upon a free show in a picturesque mountain town, and for nothing more than some scattered applause a father-daughter pair enthusiastically performed their passion. I’ll take that over a polished professional show any day of the week.
After a couple hours of smiling like an idiot, I ran out of exhibits to gawk at and decided to leave. Walking down the hill I came across a man dressed like a medieval clown playing with torches. He was attempting to shoot fireballs from his mouth – a trick I’ve taught more than a few friends – and failing. Each time he blew the fuel out of his face hole he extinguished his flame. I watched him mess it up three times, and after the last one, just as the crowd’s faces started to shift from amused to disappointed, he said something in French that got a laugh & proceeded to do a terrible improvised dance to some distant music instead.
I never made it to Monaco. How could it possibly measure up?
photo: despite my bribery attempts, i was not allowed to wear this. eze, france