By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Where can you find a modern-day Renaissance man? According to Nydia, a short, paunchy chick in an FIU sweatshirt and a gold checkered court jester hat with bells: in Hollywood.
Jennifer Lopez, she says, is "a total Renaissance woman! Think about it: She's an Oscar-worthy actress, a gifted musician, and a successful entrepreneur. She's also married to a handsome, talented man and juggles all this while being a mom."
Maybe Nydia is on to something. J.Lo's twin babies, Max and Emme, share the same names as the two main characters on PBS's Dragon Tales, and her pale, skeletal husband, Marc Anthony, does look like a victim of the Black Death.
But then again, so does the Florida Renaissance Festival (ren-fest.com) on Virginia Key Beach Park (4020 Virginia Beach Dr., Key Biscayne), which looks like it's been hit by a plague that might have claimed most of its patrons. It's a frigid 42 degrees, and wenches with corset-enhanced cleavage shiver. Booths that typically brim with dream catchers and colossal turkey legs are, for the most part, draped in white tarps.
One bored kid in a fur cape mans an oversize, unused, man-powered rocking-horse ride. He whines loudly in a Latinized British accent: "It's so cold. It's torture standing out here — sheer torture! Fuck, man! Que pinga!"
But most of the cast members, like true professionals, stay in character. "Good morrow," greets a tall maiden standing by a crêpe-making stand. She wears a long lavender dress with a lace-up bodice, bell sleeves, and a pink muff to warm her hands.
"Thy pink mittens are lovely," she says, pointing to my bubblegum-hued gloves. "They be my favourite colour!" Tickled the same color as our matching hand garments, I ask if there are any multitalented males at thine shire.
"All the men here be Renaissance men."
Can milady be a little more specific?
"Yea, milord," she says before curtsying and hurrying off without giving a more specific answer.
On my own, I track down a real Renny man. John is a 28-year-old, dirty-blond Texan in a stained leather apron, a leather rope necklace adorned with tiny skulls, and a cloak featuring random furry animals' tails. He's been "cleaning game — raccoons, deer, squirrels" — since he was 9 years old. And this good olde boy knows his way around a katana. Gesturing to an array of daggers lying in a glass table display case, he proudly points out which weapons are best suited for "thrusting," "dismembering," and "disemboweling." Then he takes a long sword from a wooden rack behind him and, channeling Beowulf, dramatically jerks it from its sheath as if he's about to slay Grendel. As he gently sets it atop the glass case, he says, "Don't touch the blade, and keep it over the glass."
After I quickly fulfill all of my childhood She-Ra: Princess of Power fantasies, John points to the tip of the massive saber.
"See how it bends?" he says. "If you were to stab someone, it would create a triangular wound, rendering it difficult to stop the bleeding."
On that note, I promptly place the weapon back on the table. John cleans the edge using a bushy tail from his cloak and shoves it back into its scabbard. After he picks up another blade and hacks the crap out of a rolled-up rice mat, I ask whether he is a man of many talents.
"I'm not really into much other than swords," he admits. "I'm not an intellectual, and I don't read all the much... unless it's a biography about a serial killer."
Just past a bloodless jousting competition, I run into a pretzel vendor shouting gems like, "Thou art a dizzy-eyed canker blossom!" to patrons who refuse to buy his salty treats. I fork over $3.
"Whoa, thanks! I might actually fill my quota today," he responds as I bite into a completely frozen treat. Could he be a modern-day Renaissance man?
Frustrated, I head toward the exit, where I meet Trevor, who floats from Ren fest to Ren fest. The thin 30-something sports a Holden Caulfield hat, complete with ear flaps, and a necklace that consists of a rope tied to a lighter. He's hawking woodwind instruments — snake charmers, tall walking sticks that double as flutes, and didjeridoos. After blowing into a few of his bamboo creations and playing the entire soundtrack to The Legend of Zelda, he explains the origin of his business.
"I was playing racquetball at a YMCA with a preacher while working with another vendor during the Louisiana Renaissance Festival. After we were done, he invited me over to his house. When I got there, I noticed the guy had acres and acres of wild bamboo in his yard, so I said, 'Maaaan, you're sitting on millions and millions of dollars!' So, we went into business together," he says, finishing up with a slow, stoner-esque chuckle. "See this hut we're under? I constructed it myself, completely out of bamboo. I've got eight more too, chilling back at my home in Orlando. I wait until the bamboo ages, turns brown, ya know; then I disassemble the hut and use the bamboo to make flutes."