Day 19, Part 2: Flailed

As soon as we stepped off the tram it became obvious that to hold a chivalry festival at the Getty was to stage an energetic clash of aesthetic styles, in which Renaissance-fair exuberance rioted against the tasteful modernist backdrop. Up the stairs to the right of the arrival plaza a small area had been set up for the master blacksmith to demonstrate his metal-working skills. The blacksmith’s name was Tony Swatton, and he cut an imposing Hulk-Hogan/Conan the Barbarian figure. He stood behind a work-bench at which he was shaping a piece of metal. As he worked he described the tools and techniques he was using. A number of children gathered around the work-bench to get a closer look. Everyone else sat on folding chairs arranged in rows facing the work-bench. As Tony worked he also talked about how he got into smithing (he started making knives after meeting, as a teenager, a bladesmith who had worked on the Conan the Barbarian movie) and his best known work (the hook from the movie Hook). He also fielded questions from the audience while hammering away at the metal and keeping an eye on the kids.

I was struck by his unflappable quality.

“Here,” he said, showing the curved, flattened piece of metal he had been hammering to one of the kids.

“What’s it for?” asked the kid, unimpressed.

“What’s it for? It’s to show you how I make stuff out of metal. That’s what it’s for,” Tony replied.

A middle-aged woman raised her hand and asked him what had been the most challenging piece to make. He clearly regarded this as a ridiculous question. “The challenge is not inherent to the piece. The challenge is that the person hiring me doesn’t usually give me enough time.” He paused and glanced up from his metal work. “I can make anything I want given enough lead time.”

The duck-rabbit thought to itself: “This man has absolutely no self-doubt. I would like some of that. Is it possible that all I need is a bandana, a leather kilt, and 100 extra pounds in muscle?”

The woman interrupted, frustrated, “I don’t mean challenging in terms of your schedule, I mean artistically challenging.”

Tony paused again, and grabbed a young tyke who was kneeling down to look in a box that was under the work bench.

“No. You don’t touch those. They are razor sharp.” He paused. “That’s why they are in a box with the lid shut,” he observed, matter-of-factly.

He didn’t sound angry, but he didn’t sound like he was fucking around either. There was an audible gasp from the assembled parents at the words “razor sharp.”

He turned back to the woman. “Again, the challenge to me is not inherent to the piece. It’s just work for pay. I don’t design the stuff.”

He noticed a little girl playing with a metal scallop-shell.

“That’s a prototype for a bra I’m making for Lady Gaga,” Tony explained, nonchalantly.

By this time the flopsy-duckits had wandered off and were trying on helmets and gloves made by Tony that were on display at a nearby table. The elder flopsy-duckit grudgingly conceded that this chivalry festival malarkey was not a total bust.

We continued on our way, wandering through the museum’s entrance hall and out into the courtyard. In a roped-off area kids were being trained in various medieval and Renaissance martial arts.

At a long set of tables on the side were helmets, armor, and weapons for spectators to try on and examine.

“Look! A flail!” I pointed out to the elder flopsy-duckit, who has his own flail at home, which he constructed of cardboard, duct tape, and a whiffle ball.

The elder flopsy-duckit started earnestly quizzing the man sitting behind the table. If you hit someone on the head with this particular flail, would they just get a concussion or would you crack their skull open? Same with the ribs; would they be cracked or merely bruised? It was hard to say who was more excited: the elder flopsy-duckit, or the man behind the table, who launched into a detailed disquisition upon the level of injuries one might expect to sustain depending upon whether one was wearing armor, and, if so, what type.

At the other end of the set of tables, the younger flopsy-duckit tried on a chainmail head covering. It was a nice contrast to the pink chiffon butterfly wings. Very Faerie Queene.

A presentation on armory through the ages commenced. I assumed that it would be boring, but it was totally awesome. The first speaker looked like Mary Beard dressed up as the White Knight from Through the Looking-Glass.[1] She talked about the kind of armor worn by both men and women knights in the early medieval period. In the course of her presentation, she mentioned that medieval women frequently had to hold the fort[2] and do the bookkeeping while the menfolk were off fighting. She told us about the Order of the Hatchet, the Catalonian order of Knighthood bestowed upon the women of a town who defended the city while their crusading husbands were off attacking other places.

I wanted to shout Hurrah for Feminism in the name of Marfisa (Tesoro Claire, campionessa di Ariosto![3]) and Britomart (my gal Liz! Remember your cheeky gold chain-mail-ish top that you wore when we saw the James Taylor Quartet?[4]) and Mary Beard, because this part of the presentation was not a special little segment on women, this was the main thing. And the elder-flopsy duckit was not going, yeah, yeah, yeah, when do we hear about the proper knights. No, he was utterly rapt, his face glowing with happiness. “I’m in heaven!” he exclaimed.

Later that evening, and the next day, the flopsy-duckits did battle, the elder armored with a new spear and an axe freshly constructed from cardboard, wood, and duct-tape, the younger’s butterfly wings discarded in favor of plastic armor. This morning she decided to wear a different knight outfit, inherited from the elder F-D. This version is made of a glittering silver fabric, in imitation of chainmail. She examined the “chainmail” head covering, which is essentially a snood. “This kind of looks like underwear,” she observed, holding it up. The duck-rabbit inspected the hooded garment.

“Yeah, it does, kind of. But this is meant to go on your head.”

“But it could be underwear,” she insists.

Like mother, like daughter.


[1] However, I’m guilty of a historical anachronism here, as she was wearing mail, whereas the White Knight is almost always represented in plate armor.

[2] She may have said, to my disappointment, “hold down the fort.” For an explanation of why the phrase is “hold the fort” and not “hold down the fort,” see this at 2 minutes and 6 seconds in.

[3] I don’t speak Italian. I just used Google translate to figure out how to say this. I realize that there is therefore a distinct possibility that instead of praising my darling Claire as the champion of Ariosto I may have inadvertently described her as Ariosto’s most treasured mushroom.

[4] I’ve inserted this link for the benefit of my American friends who may mistakenly imagine that the James Taylor Quartet is related to the American singer James Taylor. It is not.


Leave a Reply