Behold the Renaissance Cleavage Faire!
"Reach down, cup thyself firmly," instructs the clerk to his customer, a blond woman in her early 20s. "Lift upwards and to your chin!"
She bashfully complies, turning to face away from the crowd that has gathered in a knot on the forest path.
"I'd just buy it and leave," says a girl emphatically. "I wouldn't stay here!"
Clerks appear on either side of their patron, and address their audience with exaggerated flourish.
"When she came to us," they bellow, "she had the chest of a 12-year-old boy!"
They spin around their newest bodice purchaser to face the mob, her smallish bosom suddenly more pronounced.
"Three cheers for the cleavage!" announce the fitters.
"Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!" replies the crowd.
The Renaissance Pleasure Faire may be summed up in the above scenario: a combination of historical re-creation, shameless commerce, and trembling Caucasian lust. Each weekend through Oct. 1, one may receive a lesson in European hagiography, or even purchase an irritating pink feather-on-a-stick wiggled in your face by a pimpled Robin Hood. But the overwhelming reason why thousands battle the traffic to Marin, and have for the past 29 years?
They come for the cleavage.
Oh, you can watch the jousting or sit through commedia dell'arte dick and fart jokes, but the biological attraction of milk glands haunts Faire-goers all day long, a torrent of tits hammering away like a tsunami pounding the coast of Japan. The dainty, the hopeful, the bombastic, the defiant, the sunburned, the weathered, the nibbled-upon -- every type is presented, all the way up to a bosom shelf so structurally sound you could park a Pontiac on it. And once a woman has laced up her medieval Wonderbra and achieved cleavagus maximus, it's time to decorate. Flowers, tattoos, and pendants are popular, as are vulgar foodstuffs such as cucumbers, carrots, and summer squash.
"A bodice is a torture device to make men drool over women," smirks one of the bodice-fitters. "One hundred percent natural."
But why? Why spend money on bodices, custom-fit leather boots, and layers of coats and capes, and tromp around a bunch of old-growth oak trees in the hot sun, acting like Trekkers with codpieces?
"You can become a character, and say things you would not usually say," says Shawna, 28, an English/theater arts major with green eyes and a mane of orange. "My husband would never follow me to a Faire because he knows how I am. It's a very lusty period. It's a time where people are abundant."
Physical abundance in particular reigns at the Faire. Just as in the actual Renaissance, ruddy jowls, drooping bellies, and ham-hock limbs are the norm for both sexes.
"I'm a student at UC Berkeley," continues Shawna. "You can join the Young Armenians Club, you can join the Young Spanish Businessmen's Club, but to have a Young White Persons Club is not acceptable. It's politically incorrect to be white. And goddamn it, here it is!" Her voice rises in volume. "I can be whatever it is that I am! I can come here, I can eat a turkey leg, and sing folk songs, and say, 'Goddammit, I'm white, get off my fucking back!' "
Shawna then gulps from an animal horn and begins making out with a nearby stranger.
The Faire was begun by Phyllis Patterson in 1966, and although she sold it years ago to the Renaissance Entertainment Corp. -- which runs faires in Southern California and Bristol, Wis. -- Patterson's Living History Center is still instrumental in producing the event and organizing talent.
And there's apparently no shortage of people willing to suspend reality in exchange for food and free parking. Dungeons & Dragons aficionados, goths, punks, bike messengers, lawyers, investment bankers, Silicon Valley nerds are all prepared to sacrifice their weekends and play dress-up.
"Three and seventy-five, good sir," says a beer vendor.
"Mmm, good morsel, eh?" says one guy as he feeds his dog.
A shoe vendor explains that his $145 curly toed puntada shoes are made "in the Beach of Huntington."
A young girl chases after me, shouting, "Sir? Sir?" Wondering if I may have dropped my wallet or something, I stop. The teen-ager points to my motorcycle helmet, eyes ablaze with theatrical glee:
"Sir, that's the biggest soup bowl I've ever seen."
(If actors have any problems grasping the Basic Faire Accent -- or BFA -- one performer admits they are instructed to "just go watch a pirate movie, and act like the peasants.")
As the doors close at 6 and people filter out to the parking lot, the merchants chat about the day's sales. How many pink feathers-on-a-stick they sold, for instance. At the secluded actors campground, however, costumes are shed and accents are dropped for the upcoming reverie. With 1,200 costumed performers, and at least that many bodiced breasts, it will be a long night. Stories of trysts are infamous among Faire veterans.
As one performer explains it, the Faire "provides lessons on how not to be faithful."