Collegium Caidis: A Most Triumphant Day

Events in the Society for Creative Anachronism tend to fall into two categories. Camping events are where everybody sets up tents, dresses in medieval clothing, and tries to live medievally to varying degrees: authenticity mavens who love getting as close as possible to the medieval ways of doing everything, those who spend ten, twenty, thirty, or more years just showing up and chatting with friends without any real inner need to do more than the bare minimum, folks who fall somewhere in between (either because their ambitions are neither extreme, or because their ambitions are high but their budgets or time or experience aren’t there yet), and the very new folks who haven’t yet figured out how they want to play our game. The great thing about this is that by and large, everyone is equally happy with the arrangement, and most people enjoy the fact that they fall exactly where they are on the spectrum and that other people fall elsewhere on the spectrum. There’s always someone out there that does more than you do, and there’s always someone out there who does less than you do, and they’re all equally valued ways of approaching our hobby. Most of the time, camping events focus primarily on the combat arts, though there might be a few merchants selling their wares, and potentially a couple of classes.

The other common type of event is a day-only event. People show up in their medieval clothing, with maybe a chair and a picnic basket, at most having a shade-tent for their group of people to sit under but not provide any real weather-proofing or privacy. The majority of these events focus on combat as well, though there are often other things that take place. For instance, Arts & Archery is one of a few event that has most of the action on the archery range, but there are also tables where people can bring their A&S (that’s Arts and Sciences) projects to display, and if people like what they see, they’ll leave a small token of appreciation to the artist — a pewter coin made to look like a medieval coin, a few beads on a string, a little lump of handmade soap, a naalbinding needle. Just anything that’s small, not all that costly, but just enough to say “I liked that cool thing you made.” Whoever has the most tokens by their display at the end of the day usually wins some sort of prize, like a ceramic cup or an embroidered drink cover or a scabbard for an eating knife. And there’s usually a group of people off to the side doing some sort of hand-work that’s easily portable, in the shade, while someone else they know is off engaging in the main activity of the event: the combat.

So, to sum up: Camping events and day-events are both mostly about combat. Archery, fencing, heavy weapons (padded wooden swords), thrown weapons, siege engines. If you’re not interest in combat and you aren’t the consort of a fighter (the person they salute just before every bout), it can be hard to find something to do.

But some events are different. Collegium Caidis is one of those. At Collegium, there are combat arts (and studies thereon, and the making of weapons and armor), but the majority of the activities are squarely centered on the A&S (that’s Arts and Sciences). Classes can be about anything. Any art, science, craft, skill, or knowledge that existed in the Middle Ages, or any knowledge about the Middle Ages that someone wants to share. If someone wants to teach a class, they can submit the class proposal and usually it’ll be accepted; it’s rare for them to run out of classrooms and time slots before running out of class proposals. If you want to take a class, you just show up. Usually there are class limits based on how much the teachers have in the way of supplies, but the Collegium reimburses them for supplies.

There’ve been classes on how to pattern a pair of shoes, how to take a shoe pattern and make it into an actual shoe; brewing (non-alcoholic) drinks, and this year, an alcoholic one; blackwork embroidery; dyeing; spinning on a drop spindle; calligraphy, painting, illuminating (gold leafing); bardic arts; field heraldry (like Chaucer in “A Knight’s Tale”), book heraldry (documenting the use of given names, bynames, and various types of heraldic arms), and court heraldry (making announcements and giving awards in the Voice of the sitting royalty and nobility); arrow fletching, bow making; leather working; pewtering; intaglio carving. Anything someone is able to teach and someone wants to learn. Basically what I’m saying is this event is my jam. Learning for the joy of learning, rather than because someone in authority over you is going to test you to see if you’ll give them the answers they like, is the best kind of learning. It’s play, not work. And it’s the entire point of Collegium.

Collegium is a two-day event, but because the first day is a Saturday, I can’t go. No matter — there’s all day Sunday to enjoy. This year my beloved spouse was on a plane bound for Paris on the Sunday, so I went by myself. It was, as Bill and Ted would say, a most triumphant day, even without Hakim. Hawke Quinn taught a class on the first steps to learning hardanger embroidery. I’ll admit to some serious frustration that lasted a good ten minutes as I tried to take an entirely new-to-me technique and learn it backward from all the instruction — this is just life as a left-hander — but eventually I did get it, and I’m pleased with the results. I think it’s something I will be trying on an actual thing soon. Maybe a handkerchief to start with, but after that, who knows?

After that I took two classes from Dame Richenda on goldwork embroidery. By the end of those two classes I’d learned the very basics of about half a dozen techniques, and though I’m obviously a baby beginner and not very good at any of them, I can see that practice will make me good at some of them, and some of the others I might be good at. (And one, I will never be good at, because I just utterly hate that one. It’s pretty and shiny, but it’s just not for me.) Two of the ones that I think I’ll get good at are going to be of use to me in the Trevelyon Cap class for which I’ve registered, which begins later this week. I’m really glad I got the chance to get some in-person instruction in couched goldwork before that class begins, because it’s not a beginner class like the one today, and I expect instruction will be minimal.

Between the two goldwork classes there was a break for lunch. Friday I had made the dough and filling for some hand pies, and Saturday night I put them together and cooked them to take with me. The fillings were creamed cauliflower, green chickpeas, shredded carrots, chopped cashews, and spices (salt, cracked black and red peppercorns, dried dill, baharat, mahlab, berbere, sumac, cumin, coriander, fresh turmeric). For the pie dough I mixed 1 part white bread flour to 3 parts ivory whole grain flour, plus the water and salt; and after I’d raised the sides (using no mold of any kind, just the medieval way), I brushed the top with an egg wash and sprinkled with some more dill. They were freaking delicious, even if I do say it myself. Each of the ingredients including all the different spices in the berbere and baharat is documentable to use in pre-17th century Europe, as are all the other ingredients in the filling (except cashews, which are native to Brazil; only a few people in Europe would have had any experience with them during the SCA’s period of study, which ends with the death of Elizabeth I of England in 1603). However, the flours I used were modern varieties of wheat. Also, I can’t honestly say that I know the proportions of these spices that would’ve tasted good to a medieval person. I do feel, though, that if I handed one of my pies to any medieval person — especially one who lived around northern Africa or southern Europe — they would feel that it looked and tasted like something that fit in with their idea of what food was. I’m not at the stage at which I feel the need to document every dish of mine as having been made exactly or near-exactly in the way that it would’ve been done by someone living 500+ years ago. I’m fine, at the moment, with the idea that a medieval person would take a look and a bite and not have a feeling that it was weird or exotic. I think my food would feel fairly familiar to them, and that’s good enough for me right now.

While I sat there at the picnic table under the tree, enjoying my pie, I had the pleasure of some lovely company. I wish I’d gotten all of their names, but I do know some of them — Su, Illuminada, Fatima, Emmeline, Soraya, Eliada (not sure on the spelling of this one, but she’s Soraya’s daughter; and I can’t remember Soraya’s SCA name, so I’m using her ‘mundane’ name instead, and I hope she forgives me!), and there was a brief cameo by His Highness the Prince of Caid. Fatima was turning her hand-dyed, hand-spun merino wool into lucet cord, and she showed Emmeline how to do it as well. Soraya let me know about another event, which I thought was a camping event, but it’s not, and I might be able to make it there one day.

After the last class, I headed over to the scriptorium with Aliskye and Richenda to help them tidy up. Valeria and Astrid were there, which was nice because I hadn’t seen either of them in quite a while, and Thomas was working on yet another masterpiece (he pretty much is made of unicorn sneezes and pixie dust, because he just never turns out anything that isn’t amazing), and a new scribe called Jose, and and and and.

All in all, a very satisfying day. If Hakim had been there, it would have been perfect. Already I’ve got the can’t-hardly-waits for next year.

Current mood: Owain Phyfe’s “A Health to the Company.”