Our day started off brisk and clear, with blue skies and sinuous veils of thin mist. I discovered that temperatures in the high forties to low fifties are perfect for my Victorian costume, which seemed appropriate for the Dickens Fair. As it turned out, my costume, while it fit in, is a little later in the period.
Gangsta Bloomers and Safety Pins
Apparently I have lost a little weight, or some inches, since I had the costume made. The skirt was loose. The bloomers were very loose, drifting down over my hips, with the crotch halfway to my knees. Gangsta bloomers are not Victorian, but with the help of the safety pin (invented in 1849, the Victorian era, according to invent.org), the problem was solved. I also left behind the high-button black boots that were painful, for a newer pair of brown equestrian boots with low heels, which meant walking all day was not a form of torture.
Home of Bovine Royalty
Lillian navigated, I drove and we got to the Cow Palace about 10:30. I always think of the Dickens Fair as being in San Francisco, but it is right over the border in Daly City. Because of SF’s strange jurisdictional configuration (the City and County of San Francisco) when you leave the city limits, you also leave the county limits. We crossed over into Daly City, San Mateo County and made in immediate right turn into the Palace’s parking lot.
When I was little, I thought the Cow Palace would be a palace. Well, it isn’t, exactly. If I had to say what it looked like, I’d say a four-story Quonset hut.
The Fair was in the Exhibition Halls behind the Palace itself. We walked down this ramp, for a very long time. At the entrance, lads dressed in period attire used infra-red wands to swipe our tickets, then stamped the inside of our wrists. In we went, into Victorian London in December.
“Happy Christmas,” everyone said. At 10:30 the place was not crowded, and the majority of people were in costume (many of them were part of the fair). I had a chat with Marley’s Ghost. He was a dour chap. Maybe all those chains were wearing him down. We stood for a few minutes on the Grand Concourse and took in the view.
The City of London
The rooms are laid out like city streets, with large paintings against various walls to create a sense of distance and place. The Grand Concourse was richly decorated. Each large room had at least one stage area and there were musical shows, comedy, theatrics and magic. Not unlike most festivals, I know, but this one gets points for creating the best sense of place. One room had Can-Can Sal’s, a notorious bar and can-can joint; convincingly sinful, while the Victoria and Albert Musical Hall had individual chairs and seemed quite respectable in comparison.
Booths and Kiosks
Booths lined the walls of each room and they are designed to look like buildings. The Fair goes on for five weekends and I’m guessing the production rents the space for the entire month and a half. The illusion of an actual city is well maintained. In the middle area, people have kiosks or carts. Here are some kiosks:
Confounding Confections makes organic hard candies. I came across them first at the Healdsburg Water Carnival. I was smitten by their clever and literary names for their candies. They had a lovely kiosk, as did Fellowship Foundry, who sold pewter jewelry and figures, including a lovely (and expensive) dragon goblet. In a different part of town we found kiosks selling stained glass, blown glass ornaments, baskets and candy.
Some of the booths had crafters who gave demonstrations of their crafts, like this chandler’s booth. Another booth sold pottery and had a wheel set up alongside, but we didn’t make it back in order to see their demonstration.
Bad Side of Town
We ended up on the docks (the horror!) This area was dimly lit, and the storefront booths looked shabby and sinister. Outside of two gaming halls, cheery hucksters called us to try our luck. One end of the quayside held a large seascape in greens and blues, and there was a small maritime exhibit there. Here, also, is where The Prince Consort and Queen Victoria stopped to hear a choir sing carols.
Beyond the quay, we stopped by a “gymnasium” to watch a fencing lesson, and caught the Dunbridge Shakespeare Education Society (the greatest Shakespeare troupe in all of… Dunbridge) perform the works of the Bard. More to come. Just like the works of Charles Dickens, this story will be continued.