This Labor Day weekend is, for CUA Law students, the final deep breath before the plunge. We've been in class for 2 weeks now; we've all seen the elephant and we know what the next 13 weeks hold in store. It's time to clear the decks, screw your courage to the sticking post and, perhaps most importantly, do something fun to refresh your spirit and renew your gumption. I went into this weekend with *nothing* planned. Many of my classmates took this weekend to get out of town, return home and see their families. There were a few "bar reviews" planned by various law school groups but my heart wasn't in it. Socializing at bars is just not my scene. What I really needed was a chance to eat, drink, and be merry my way. But where? And with whom?
It Comes in Quarts?
In keeping with the fortunate serendipity that has been my life of the last 2 months, my old friend Brian called up and proposed the obvious solution: The Maryland Renaissance Festival! A ren faire is the perfect antidote to the deluge of dense reading and overexcited socialization-come-shameless-networking that all law students are prone to. Nothing cleanses the soul like donning a pirate shirt and a swagger for a day of revelry, wench oggling, and hoarse "Huzzah!"'s. The Maryland festival is blessed with a wonderful venue, full of trees and winding hills that give it more the sense of a forest village than a faire. Being finally of age I was able to partake in a cup of ale (Sam Adam's October Fest) with my turkey leg and I found the combination to be greater than the sum of its parts.
We wandered around reveling in the unabashed nerdliness of the faire. It did my heart good to see "cool" fly out the window, or at least become transmuted into something all together different and more joyful. Instead of cool being some sort of aloof reserve that disdains wholehearted abandon, the coolest people were the ones who plunged in and played along. Criers hawked their wares with bawdy slogans and enjoyed a running repartee with quick witted passers-by, fellow faire-goers became other characters in a collaborative play that routed around sticks in the mud and mere observers. Politically correct was suddenly socially unacceptable and I found myself cursing in silent embarrassment to have answered innocently to the shopgirl's offer of "If you boys see anything you like just tell me and I'll pull it out for you..." It's escapism, pure and simple, and if you don't give in and play along you won't receive your full measure from it.
I tried on a leather fencer's jacket at the leathermonger's and watched the fine lads at Badger Blades put their money where their mouth is in proving that they proudly make only the real thing. (If you want to see a show, just begin to doubt, out loud, that anyone can really forge usable blades anymore. You'll get a Cliff's Notes in medieval metallurgy, a magnificent display of functional craftsmanship, and exactly 1/2 of a US Quarter as a souvenir.)
While standing in line for my October Fest I heard a few wandering minstrels begin a casual jam session behind me. While a bodhran laid down a lively beat a bearded singer with a guitar began to sing a tune that sounded awfully familiar...
Come and listen, I'll tell you what happened to me
One day as I went down to Cork by the sea
The day it was hot and the sun it was warm,
So says I a quiet pint wouldn't do me no harm
I went in and I called for a bottle of stout
Says the barman, I'm sorry, all the beer is sold out
Try whiskey or paddy, ten years in the wood
Says I, I'll try cider, I've heard it was good...
That's right; they had launched into Johnny Jump Up! Of course I sprang over to sing along, but had to listen carefully for they were singing different words. I gave myself away on the chorus when they sang "After drinking a quart of the Johnny Jump Up". As the guitar player explained later, the "pint" lyrics are the English version "'Cause they canna stand bu' ah pint o'it!".
[Intermission. It's a long post. Sorry! ;-) Go do something else and come back and it will seem like two bite-sized ones.]
When I hear the word culture I reach for my spoon
This mystery invitation was not so much a mystery as to whether we were invited, but rather to what we had been invited. The gist of it was that on my first day at CUA I had met Edmond, an early thirty-something CS PhD student from Cameroon. He was a heck of a nice guy, earnest and really friendly in an English-as-a-second language sort of way. We joked about monolingual Americans and chatted in a rough-around-the-edges combination of French and Enlgish. I was happy to have met someone and so I exchanged numbers with him, suggesting that we go out for a beer sometime and I could learn a little more about Cameroon. Several weeks later he called me, very excited and invited me to...er..something. I honestly couldn't tell what it was, but the basic idea was that it was some sort of gathering of people from his village in Cameroon, to celebrate their culture. There would be food and dancing and revelry and I was invited if I wanted to come. Well, most of my friends know that he had me at "food". I tried to explain it to Brian as we drove to the faire, and to his credit was more than receptive, he was enthusiastic. We both agree that new and novel experiences are, by their nature, good things. They have, if you will, intrinsic positive value, such that even if it's not enjoyable it was still an experience.
After Edmond, with the help of a wallmap, gave us the basic tour of the country, he introduced us to Beke who told more of the stories. He explained that Cameroon has been the object of many countries but subject of none; during the age of colonialism virtually the entirety of imperialist Europe tramped through Cameroon in their exploration of Africa.
Beke explained the colorful costumes as well, telling us that tribal affiliation is demonstrated in the traditional garb which varies in style, color, cut, and fabric from tribe to tribe. Tribal garb is worn for formal occasions to the utter exclusion of the European tradition of business suits. Instead of drab black and greys, formal events in Cameroon are a riot of color as invitees show their tribal diversity as well as their national unity. Cameroon has, depending on how you count, nearly 300 different tribes, each with their own traditional costume and language. I reminded Beke of the joke cracked by an exasperated Charles de Gaulle who once lamented "How can you run a country that has 300 kinds of cheese?" Surprisingly, Cameroonian politics take the enormous diversity of tribal and village connections in stride. Apparently there are so many different villages that citizens simply can't be strict partisan for their hometown candidate because then no one would get elected. The end result is that the best man truly does get the job and that leaders don't have the option of merely aiming to please one powerful party. Jean-Paul, the son of a Cameroonian "chef" or king, confirmed this, briefly explaining that western two, three, or even six party politics never sat well with the free-for-all public participation of traditional tribal government.
The yellow soup is essentially a ninja curry. Delightfully tasty, overall, but not to be trifled with. When you first taste it it seems creamy and almost sweet, if somewhat bland. Then you swallow and it seizes your throat in a flaming deathgrip of eyewatering spiciness. (For best results, have cold Guiness standing by.) The chunks are large, succulent mushrooms and tripe.
We left late in the evening with our ears ringing and our heads spinning, both utterly delighted with our good fortune. We've already promised to bring the beer if Edmond wants to cook sometime, and I rode home thinking that RamblingRovers isn't just the rallying cry of a single trip but a whole state of mind, and one that I'm *more* than happy to maintain.
[Edit: Both Patrick and I had so much fun with the flickr site over the summer that we've continued using it as a clearinghouse for pictures from our adventures even after we diverged. Check out Patrick's Tucson, AZ collection on the RamblingRovers flickr site, or go straight to his magnificent sunset in the high desert photos taken right in his backyard.]