Monday, November 26, 2007

(More or less) Living History

Those familiar with the deck and its fittings here on the journal will recognize my intermittent need to bitch about living historical interponstration events and facilities. Because you recognize that as a part of me. A casual fly-by (one who Googles™ "Syrlebtamia," say) need only espy the young bloke wearing the lieutenant outfit in the "About Me" station to know that the author has, at one time or another, had to wear silly clothes and say things nobody really wants to hear about. Yes, I worked in documentary films and AM radio, but I'm talking about living history museums.
Yesterday, I put away my former professional integrity and spent the day in Historic Plymouth. Or Plimoth Plantation. Which is what it's known by in all the paperwork.
Yes, my Beloved and I waited until the last possible moment to visit the same damned dusty village to which we had been dragged when we were way too young to appreciate any of it, except to walk away with a sense that strange foreigners had come to America a very long time ago and died off because they got thrown out of everywhere else and were the most miserable bastards on earth. Even before the rest of Massachusetts got that way.
At least, that's how the poor employees at the plantation appeared. I know. Last day of the season. Days after BIG holiday. Probably had to work Thanksgiving for the idiots kindly patrons who answer every begging letter and figure Thanksgiving at Plymouth with reinterponstrators in stinky wool is worth pulling out the platinum.
My experience in historical interponstration is varied enough to make me feel uncomfortable whenever I drive near a Ren Faire or the Civ War encampment. I was asked to emcee a gypsy dance show at one, and because I love the woman who asked me and because, well, belly dancers, I almost booked the gig. And then I thought: "Ren Faire."
I do not begrudge anyone's choice of work or recreation. It's just that I've, well, done it. I know what it's like to have some kid keep hitting you with a belaying pin or ask you why the sheep don't drink all the cow's milk. I've been "directed" by habitually-angry little women and perpetually chirpy little men who insist that the lady of the house wants her servants to sing until guests show up and pay to be "escorted" around the manse. I also understand that breaking open the lady's liquor cabinet and taking turns secreting behind the smokehouse is routinely advisable.
In small, I understand that the last day you're open can sometimes lead one to play fast and loose. Saying things like, "And this is where the captain hides his stash." Or pretending to be asleep as visitors step into your cozy fire pit. Leading a team of horses up and down the thoroughfare during a climactic moment in some twerp's narrative. Forgetting character, losing accents, dropping lines, striking tourons, encouraging tips. "No, just right here, in my ditty bag. Thank ye."
Later, in the real world (where my work costume was hi-tops, a work belt, painter's pants, and a pack of American Spirits), I worked for a homebuilder who had, back in his pre-wed days, worked at "Plimoth" demonstrating Seventeenth Century building techniques. I found this out one day as we were assembling a horrific Tudorbethan monstrosity with phony half-timber and stucco accents and useless jetties. He was waxing nostalgic about thatching roofs. I joked that, since it was the Seventies, he longed for the days of looking down from the thatch at women's blouses. You weren't there. (I just wanted to type "waxing nostalgic about thatching.") There. I'm done.
And yes, I was sure I saw some of his work yesterday, as I marveled at his precise dovetail mortice-and-tennon work and the other elements the current interponstrators shrugged off as some jerk trying to get them to say something obscure. I mean, I can understand growing tired of the adopted Welsh-Dutch dialect, especially when everybody else sound Irish-German or Glasgow-Swedish or like Baldrick from Blackadder. And the gal next door sounds like Fall River. Fair enough. Hide all you want. The livestock is entertaining. But you could've concealed the bottled water. I'm sure that at some other -- less exhausted -- time, you described it as Myles Standish's "bottawawa." You know, about which schoolchildren hear so much.
Look, I would've been so booted if my station ever had an AquaFina bottle visible. Mostly because my boss was running the CocaCola boycott.

(The author of this journal has worked -- costumed and not -- in house and farm museums and on historical sailing vessels. He doesn't call himself 'The Valet,' or 'van Bibber,' or 'Guy in Barn.' He's the Third Mate. Just so you know where his heart is.)


ThirdMate said...

To explain:
Re-enactors do costumed interpretation and demonstrations of historical events or situations, so (ReEnact - enact) + (interpret - ret) + (demonstration - dem) = "reinterponstration"

bitterandrew said...

Huzzah! I always feel self-conscious around re-enactors, and can't shake the "I'm uncomfortable; you're uncomfortable; yet neither one of us can acknowledge the fact" sensation.

ThirdMate said...

At work, if you'd told me you were uncomfortable, I would've just asked if you were wearing stinky wool too. (see above: "Lady's liquor cabinet" et al. )