Opening Day at Dickens

Kage Baker loved the process of building a Faire. It was magic – slow magic, considered on its own, but when you realized we were building entire villages and microcosms of London, well … it went up fast. Not Brigadoon fast, but very nearly.

Kage was fascinated by the process whereby we transformed empty warehouses or acres of wood and meadow into communities. Watching the wooden skeletons go up, wobble and steady themselves (usually. There were some grotesque industrial accidents, like the time a booth blew into the lake.) and then accrue their muscles of rope and cord, and finally their gloriously painted and decorated skins – that thrilled her. She’d walk around watching the progress, enchanted to see old friends take shape before her eyes, or new ones pop up complete, like mushrooms.

The final result, alive and peopled and roaring with life on Opening Day, is always a physical thrill. It’s like the slow ascent to the top of a roller coaster. You push and strain and groan, then pause just long enough on the crest to draw breath  – and then you plummet over the side, and the ride is on!

The weeks of a Fair are a ride with the Wild Hunt.

I’ve found yet another way to enjoy that Opening Day rush, though. Don’t show up until Opening Day. Then, when you walk into the suddenly arisen and living set, you’re totally gobsmacked by the glory. The total experience is waiting to fall on your head like a bucket over the door, and what you’re drenched in is pure magic.

I didn’t intend to actually get to Dickens Fair last Friday. I drove my careful way up I-5, through wind warnings and weird sights and a total fog-out on the downward North side of the Grapevine – man, that’s entertaining! – and so into the tangle of roads just East of San Francisco. These roads are always mutating, and I think they actually move around deep in the night when no one is there but their Cal Trans keepers – guys in orange hats out there with giant hooked staffs, like worm-riders on Arrakis, guiding the wriggling roads into new configurations.

However they manage it, I missed a turn somewhere around where the 80 and the 580 do one of their several pas de deux. I was tryng to get to Martinez – I ended up on my way to San Jose. I am literally quite lost without Kage … By the time I found a road going approximately Bay-ward again, I was on the 101: so I just stayed there until I saw something I recognized. That was the Cow Palace.  I took it as an omen and stopped to visit Dickens a day early.

There are not enough words to describe the beauty and wonder of walking into Dickens Fair cold. I entered from backstage – itself a demented faerieland of half-costumed actors  and weird props – straight into the street in front of the Victoria and Albert Theatre. There were … thousands of people: thugs and dandies and respectable gentlemen with tall hats and frock coats and heroic whiskers; cheerful tarts and Professional Beauties glittering with jewels, and matrons of every class in bonnets like an explosion of birds. And surrounding them, the stone holding that glittering line of ore, all the crowd and crush of the customers, wandering around in a happy daze, glassy-eyed and open-mouthed. Holly and ivy and glass ornaments and lights everywhere. I was between the Telegraph Booth, whence youths on skates went whizzing forth, shouting for their recipients, and the Pie Booth  – which is certainly what Heaven smells like. I could smell as well chocolate, roasted nuts, fresh scones, beer, perfume, incense, wet stone, straw, mud, the ghosts of cattle … LONDON, alive alive oh at 5PM on  good old Christmas Eve, forever and ever!

I just stood there, in my tee shirt and jeans, grinning like a fool as the gorgeous crowd swirled around me. My heart was shouting Glory! and Happy Christmas! and – louder even than the brass band playing down the lane at Fezziwig’s – Home, Home Home!

And I swear I caught a glimpse of a black skirt and red braid swishing round the corner of the Green Man, as I fought my way through the currents of the enormous crowd. I lost her there, somewhere under our green archway, when all my dear ladies and gentlemen realized I was there – like a Christmas Ghost myself – and rushed to welcome me in. But looking around at the beautiful Parlour, I could see we were all still living in the part of Kage’s mind she left to us.

I sat down with a good pint in my hand, and listened to Brass Farthing sing Steven Foster like baritone angels, abjuring Hard Time to Come Again No more … Home, indeed.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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14 Responses to Opening Day at Dickens

  1. Neassa says:

    Almost in tears, and it usually takes music to do that to me. Beautiful.


  2. Actually in tears, here. And just as sure that you saw her.
    What joy.



  3. Kate says:

    Don’t cry, folks! If she’s haunting Dickens, that would be great.


  4. Tom says:

    I put nothing past her, even if she don’t get ’round much, anymore. Determined sort, Kage.


  5. Kate says:

    Well, something keeps nagging at me to write. Probably it’s Kage, poking me ectoplasmically.


  6. Neassa says:

    Not unhappy tears! I love the thought of her still sitting in the corner of the Parlour. I just wish she whispered a little louder when she commented on passing absurdities.


  7. Emma says:

    Gosh, I miss that magic! I’m definitely determined to return one day no matter what it takes to get there. There’s just something about it that leaves me spellbound.


  8. Kate says:

    Emma, love, you are always welcome. But we need to get you a gorgeous dress made; a lady’s dress, now. Send me measurements!


  9. Neassa says:

    Oh, Emma, we’d love to have you in the Parlour again! We have to make this happen.


  10. Emma says:

    Thank you! (: Hopefully by this time in a year or two I’ll be able to get there by my own power, at the very least for a visit!


  11. Emma says:

    I should be getting my license by around my 17th birthday in May (:


  12. lja says:

    Dickens Faire – nothing like it, and you capture some of the magic. Thanks.


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