Kage Baker‘s favorite activity at Dickens Fair was probably people-watching. Especially, she liked watching our singular special effect on the patrons – the magical glow that makes the customers believe in the enormous, complicated, Extreme Christmas card that is Dickens Fair.
At Dickens Fair, it is also especially rewarding activity. It’s uplifting. Heart-warming. Watching people’s faces as they listen, rapt, to Charles Dickens reading aloud from his own A Christmas Carol re-lights the fire in my tired heart – especially when I look around the Parlour and see the actors present equally enthralled. Even when they have heard our dear Mr. Dickens perform it daily for (in some cases) 16 years or more years, they enter completely into the magic of the scenes he paints.
Watching people round the lace-covered table in my Parlour, under the warm glow of the chandelier, eating Digestive biscuits and Turkish Delight as they listen – oh, that is magic! Watching their faces light up as Mr. Dickens – as Bob Cratchitt – warms his hands at the flickering flame of a single candle; hearing the appreciative gasps and giggles as Mr. Dickens brings all the beloved characters to life – these are some of the best moments of my personal Christmas season. Perhaps best of all is when one of the Ghosts drifts through: Christmas Present shedding palpable warmth from his glittering torch, or Christmas Yet To Come floating facelessly by with a hooded bow to his creator as he passes. The actors all totally fail to notice these spectral visitants, of course, leaving the customers to grin and gape at the magic only they can apparently see ….
And yes, it always works. The delighted audience is totally willing to believe that we, the inhabitants of this fairy-tale London, cannot see the Spirits that drift among us. Maybe they’re only wiling to play along, but I know that some of them are genuinely touched by it all. I’ve seen the complete belief in the eyes of children when a faerie cavorts down the street; I’ve heard grown women assuring one another that, YES, that Ghost of Jacob Marley was really scary!
This Saturday, as I walked close by the entrance to our London – by the bedizened arch where the Fezziwig’s Dance Party whirls and waltzes all day long – I heard two entering customers talking to one another as they wandered in. “OH, look!” said one to the other happily, “it’s even more detailed and prettier than last year!”
Magic, Dear Readers. The magic we make, and share, and that then comes back to us performers as we soldier on through our frantic, festive days. Kage lived for those moments at Dickens, cherished them with hand-rubbing glee when they occurred.
This was the second of our performance weekends, the post-Thanksgiving 3-day extravaganza. Of course, once inside our walls, it is perpetually 6 PM on Christmas Eve in London – never mind the rain or wind or blazing sun outside in San Francisco, we ARE London! And it’s worth every minute of the lengthy drive I make from Los Angeles to get here; every other minute of the hour and a half drive in at O’Dark in the morning to get there in time to get my corsets, hoops and boots on. Not to mention the hapless passengers I wake up at ungodly hours to drive in with me. They are valiant heroes, Neassa and Michael. But the magic carries us all forward.
Alas, I was betrayed by my damned aging legs: after 2 of our 3 days, I had to return home on Sunday. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as Michael and I encountered all sorts of weirdness and trouble and delays on I-5.
Good magic: my stalwart nephew is now a driver – after a lifetime career as luggage traveling to and from Fairs – and now competently drives for most of the journey while I put my legs up.
Weird magic: we came up behind a car that apparently had a man-sized pink rabbit in a black suit lashed to its rear bumper. After making sure we both saw it, we fell to wondering why someone had 1) killed Harvey; and 2) been callous enough to take his carcass home. When we came up alongside the vehicle, the figure had mysteriously transformed into a bunch of lumpy bags under a black tarp, with one pink bag with long floppy handles exposed at the end … but I swear, we saw a 6-foot rabbit at first!
Bad magic: hideous accidents. Why do holiday weekends have to be marked with such horrible events? The traffic on the I-5 began to get lumpy around Buttonwillow. By the time we reached the Grapevine, it was averaging about 1 mile an hour. There were a few smaller accidents here and there, but the main event seemed to involve a truck towing a huge 5th wheel trailer that had gone airborne from the South side to the North side of the road … traffic was choked down from 4 lanes on each side to 1, and by the time we crawled by, the cars were backed up down to the bottom of the Grapevine in both directions.
We passed with prayers and gratitude. It was snow we were worried about; what we got were the flames of flares, the hot metal stink of over-heated steel. I’d resumed the wheel for that portion of the drive, and very glad of it I was, too.
But we made it home! Safe home from the glittering, spinning, roaring magic of Dickens to the safe, Thanksgiving leftovers of home. That is one of the best magic tricks there is: to journey into the heart of a dream, and still come back to the warmth of home at the end.
You have to leave home, Dear Readers, to meet magic. And you have to come back to appreciate it.