“Come to mass!” said the scantily-clad man with a drum, “stripping nuns!” He left it at that, running away to spread the word to other campsites. I was sitting below a fair amount of archaic ship’s rigging when I heard this, wearing a frilly shirt and a sash about my waist. A friend of mine, also dressed as a pirate, said “sounds interesting.” We decided that stripping nuns could make for an amusing evening.
For years in Eugene, I knew several people involved with the Society for Creative Anachronism, the historical reenactment group wherein people go camping whilst dressed as people from the late Middle Ages or Renaissance. Because of my work schedule I never went to an event, and it was only until this past Memorial Day weekend, years later, that I finally was able to join some of my Eugene friends in their camp that was set up, rather impressively, to look like an old ship.
“It’s basically camping,” said most people, “but with funny clothes.” That much was true. For much of the event, we did normal camping-type activities, but dressed in historical costumes. After a bit, my self-consciousness about my appearance left, and I just took in the experience of it all- the experience of being surrounded by people in sashes, tunics, bustiers, boots, and an assortment of impressive hats. Tents were set up with flags and banners announcing the names of the households and such, and a the guy who went around collecting the trash bags in a wagon shouted “bring out your dead!” as he made his rounds.
In the center of the campground was a merchant’s pavilion with a variety of vendors selling mostly clothing. There was the normal kind of silvery jewelry that you would expect to find from street vendors, a very large tent selling historical garb, a guy selling swords and other implements of destruction, belly dancing supplies, pirate-themed flags, pottery, and stickers that you could put on your car that said things like “I believe in dragons” and such. Celtic knots and pirate flags were everywhere, and in the center of it all, several people were fencing.
Having fenced in college, this was really the most impressive bit for me. I spent most of my time as a sword groupie, watching lots of rather impressively armed dudes stabbing each other. It’s been a while since I did any kind of martial art or sparred with anyone, so watching the simulated violence very much made me want to pile on a bunch of gear and stab someone. If I go to one of these things again, I’m hoping to con someone into loaning me a spare set of stuff so that I can I fence.
This fencing, though, was very different from what I was used to. At the U of O, my instructor was very much a classical foil fencer, and we spent most of our time with the standard French foil. This stuff, though, was much less formalized. For one thing, it was in the round rather than on a line, and most of the fencers held something in their off hand, be it a dagger, additional sword, or buckler. About the only person I saw who didn’t have a parrying tool was my friend, the self-styled “Captain” of our ship camp. He just had a foil, which is probably how I’d fight.
Anyway, I want do something combative again in the near future. On a totally unrelated note, an acquaintance of mine who was a former amateur wrestler showed me a rather amusing throw the other day, and that was fun.
Oh yeah! Stripping nuns! See, I opened with that bit because it was catchy and such, what with the “stripping” and all.
Quite some time after dark me and few friends made our way to campsite set up by a “religious” group. When we got there, a guy dressed up as a cardinal was exhorting the crowd from a pulpit, while several dudes in miters looked on. Someone had a rather dramatic ram’s skull on a staff, and it loomed over the crowd in nicely spooky/ironic way.
“I think there’s a fifty/fifty chance,” said one of my friends, “that the stripping nun is a dude in drag.”
“I think it’s greater than that,” I said, “an ordinary strip show wouldn’t be weird enough.”
The cardinal got the crowd good and worked up with a comedy routine, and soon enough he announced the coming of the stripping nun. Sure enough, it was a rather sizable (but spry) dude removing bits of a nun costume to reveal rather un-nunlike lingerie beneath. Of course the crowd went wild. It’s a simple formula, really. It goes like this:
Sex + The Catholic Church + Homoeroticism = Pure Comedy Gold
After the stripping nun, a guy dressed up as cardinal/pimp did a comedic sermon, and later on there were songs with filthy lyrics. All in all, a good, bawdy time at the expense of one of the world’s most prominent religions.
So, I quite liked my first experience dressing in historical garb. It seems to be the sort of thing that attracts the sort of quirky, odd, creative people that I like to associate with. It may very well also attract socially dysfunctional mouth-breathers as per stereotype, but on the whole I enjoyed myself. Most of it seems to have a “Hey guys, look what I did!” sort of feel, with people showing off their garb/artwork/martial prowess/crafts/performance skills/general oddness.
Quite nifty, all of it. Ridiculous, yes, but also awesome, which is no contradiction, as far as I’m concerned.