Ruth is working on an article on the Fort de Chartres and the historical reenactors who liven such places with a touch of authentic history, so we headed off to the fort on Saturday to catch the Winter Rendezvous.
We arrived in the early afternoon. The low winter sun was shining through thin cloud giving the whole scene a slightly diffuse light that charmingly illuminated the many canvas tents and their occupants.
All the open green spaces around the fort were so decorated. There was no encampment within the walls of the fort itself.
We walked around looking at displays of animal pelts, ironwork, muskets and arrows, woolen clothing, candles and folk art work, most often laid out on rugs in front of the tents.I was surprised at the relatively low number of visitors to the site. Certainly at any one time there seemed to be more reenactors than ordinary members of the public. Some tents were obviously of a more commercial intent than others, but even there the customers were more likely to be fellow reenactors.
I began to realise that this was much more of a self-contained operation that it might seem on the surface, one where the public was tolerated but not really loved. Participants were polite and willing to talk with Ruth about their vocation, but all along I sensed they were waiting for the time when the visitors went away and they could be themselves alone.
I could understand this. The draw to create and maintain a way of life far removed from the speed and bustle of modern living seems perfectly reasonable. It's not the way I would do it, but that's just me.
So I wasn't really sure whether the slightly glum impression I got of the event was due to resistance to visitors, knowledge that this was a less than perfect escape from the harder realities of 21st century living, or just sleepiness from a night on a cool and damp floodplain. Maybe it was a mix of all three – and more. Regardless, judging by a number of "Don't Tread On Me" flags flying next to tents, I did get a sense of a certain defiance. It spoiled the congenial mood somewhat, suggesting a belligerent individualism that is at odds with the pioneer spirit that married self-sufficiency with a cooperative outlook that was utterly necessary to survive in a less pampered world.
In this way, the Rendezvous struck me as absolutely stuck in 2011 despite all the trappings otherwise. To think otherwise is wishful, even though the fantasy has appeal. I did find myself admiring the efforts made by the participants. Maybe those are enough to overcome the type of doubt that I feel – I hope so for I lot of work goes into it.
At the very least, it gave me a lot of photogenic subject matter and a fine day out. One thing I missed though. Horses and other animals. That would have made it – the lines of parked trucks, campers and vans at the perimeter of the encampment were just not right. But, again, this is 2011. No getting around it.More pictures here.