Kage Baker really loved the Great Dickens Christmas Fair. It was, she said, the Fair of her dotage – indoors, tidy, civilized. Chairs! Hot food! Flush toilets! Nearly everyone had manners (and, truth to tell, even Bill Sykes will give one a surly nod if one has beer and sandwiches waiting for him on break …)
The Green Man, our mad lovely Inn in the woods of Renaissance Faires, became a cozy Parlour in Dickens Fair London; though the sign still states it was founded during the reign of Elizabeth 1st, Live Forever Noble Queen! It started out in Kage’s head, of course – half the settings of my life began somewhere in her head – and has gradually come into focus over the last 10 years. It’s desperately respectable. It’s incredibly cozy. It is rich with doilies, hand-coloured prints (we made ’em ourselves), hilariously atrocious knick knacks, Turkish carpets, lace curtains, upholstered furinture designed to accommodate skirts 3 feet wide. There are palm trees in pots at the front door, and hat stands so full of top hats they look like mushroom trees.
We have painted walls, wallpaper, crown molding; holly and tinsel and swags of flags; two goose-feather Christmas trees; a fire place. This place is Extreme Christmas – it’s always 5 PM on Christmas Eve, a Victorian fantasy come to life.
My Parlour maids and “daughters” move through this holiday card like a flock of swans, serene and smiling, bearing plates of food and steaming teapots. My barmen are, very possibly, the jolliest and most sinister barmen in London, and will happily serve ale or fleece victims at cards simultaneously – while filling teapots with hot water and keeping the local kiddies full up on lemonade.
We hand out candy canes and feed the helpless – technically, we only provide lunch for ourselves, but every member of my staff has some other feckless actor they bring home for tea every day. We’re not a food booth or a restaurant – we’re a stage – but our settings are so splendid-looking we spend all day apologizing to customers that no, we are not taking reservations for the next seating – that turkey is not only real, it’s ours – and there are lovely meat pies two doors down …
If you come to visit Dickens as a customer – and I do hope you do! – you may come sit in the Parlour of Kage Baker’s mind regardless of who you are. Bring a pint and a pie. Mr. Charles Dickens himself reads there 4 times a day, and there are usually sweeties on the table for his audience (that would be you).
Tomorrow we start The Build. Early Saturday morning we shall assemble in the icy confines of the Cow Palace in San Francisco – smelling authentically of cattle, and hence 19th Century London -and confront a stack of wooden panels 6 feet high, 8 feet wide and 8 feet long. We will pry them apart (they’ve been in storage for a year) and start putting up the walls of the Parlour. It will initially resemble a hunter green cracker box. We will go off once or twice to trade mis-assigned walls panels with Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe and the Three Cripples Ale House. We will find one doorway in Mr. Fezziwig’s Warehouse, and one of our signboards in a head-high crate of tinsel garlands.
No one knows how this happens; it’s a miracle. I suspect portions of the stage leaked through Kage’s minds into and out of other dimensions; how it will happen this year, I do not yet have an inkling. But it will. That Parlour shining in her mind will rise and stand as surely as if she were directing it from her wheel chair – as she did last year. We’ll all see her there while we build.
It’ll be good to live in her mind again.
Off to London!