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It has come to our notice here at the Attack Laurel Academy that the SCA Knowne Worlde Handebooke (Free E With Every Purchase!) is updating its bad olde self, and the editors are soliciting articles for the newe editione.

This seems a perfect time to address the sticky issue of Persona Stories. While the personae of all our Attack Laurel alumni (deceased) and faculty (badly maimed, but still more dangerous than a pit viper in cargo pants) are varied and exciting, encompassing all four corners of our inexplicably round world, and rife with pirates, gypsies, courtesans and vampire ninja Cossacks*, in reality, most people in the ridiculously generous period the SCA covers would live lives of quiet, boring desperation. Throughout this article, we will be quoting the life stories of actual real people of the period, that we totally made up so as to prove our point.

For instance, women often seem to be entranced by the idea of their persona travelling the world, meeting important people, and marrying them, by way of capture/kidnapping, or being sold into slave caravans.

"I was born in Scotland, on the coast, where I grew up in a small village until I was captured by pirates, and killed." - Flora McUnfortunate

"I became a courtesan in Venice at age 13, and died, insane and disfigured by syphillis sores at 27." - Isabella d'Contagioso

"I was captured by a slaver caravan and taken to the Middle East, where I was sold to a harem. I was strangled on my third night." - Espania Clueless

Men, it must be admitted, are not much better when it comes to making up romantic life stories that involve marginalized cultures which were widely reviled in the Middle Ages, even though they are fashionably exotic today. Many is the SCA member who has concoted elaborate reasons to tie together their penchant for wearing colourful scarves and their interest in obscure German militaria, mostly as an excuse to pick up girls.

"I was part of a gypsy clan who tried to join a Landskenecht regiment at 14. They laughed at me and then killed me." - Roberto the Gutted

"My parents left me with the Jesuits when I was a baby, because they couldn't afford to keep me. I lived my life in a monastery, and never left." - Antonio Dullest

"I had my hands cut off for stealing, and lived the rest of my short life as a beggar on the streets of Milan." - Enrique the Stubby

In truth, even when people stick to one country for their persona, they cling to the idea that they, unlike 99% of their countrymen, were cosmopolitan, had money, travelled a lot, and could read in several languages.

"I spent my entire life in one village, and died without ever going more than one mile from my home." - Robert the Homebody

"I was a subsistence farmer who barely had enough money to feed my family and cow." - Robert the Cowherd

"You had a cow?! My family starved, and I died with them in the great famine of 15-something." - Robert the Skeletal

"Moo" - Robert the Cow

This kind of thing applies to all countries, with only slight variations in clothing and language - most people lived lives of the most unimaginable toil and futility. Not to mention all the different names the Heralds insist on - no-one cared if they had the same name as someone else; it's not like any of them travelled further than the next village. But do SCA people care? Nooooooo. Everyone's gotta be special. Sheesh.

"Je etais un Fermier de subsistance; je suis morte." - Robert le Berger

"Vous aviez des aliments? J'étais juste mort." - Robert le Morte

"Meugler" - Robert le Vache**

And even if you actually agree with the idea that everyone in the SCA is nobility (despite the protests of a small but vocal minority who claim that "peasants is where it's at", but refuse to allow the "nobility" to engage in the very period practice of spitting on them every chance they get), there's still a huge discrepancy between the tales of persona that most of these special snowflakes come up with and the lives of most of the minor nobility in the SCA period.

"I was a Baron, until the neighbouring Baron took all my lands and killed me." - Robert the Landless

"I was his wife; I'm now another Baron's wife.  It's not like I really had any choice in the matter." - Suzette the Kidnapped

"I lived a life of total obscurity on my lands until I went to the Crusades; after that, I spent the rest of my life in prison, because no-one was willing to ransom me." - Robert the Bored and Itchy

"You got ransomed?  I just died on the battlefield.  See that rotting head over there?  That's me." - Robert the Slain

"At least you got to grow up - I got sent on the Children's Crusade when I was five years old."  - Robert the Young

"Did you make it to Jerusalem?"

"No - we made it as far as Italy, and we were captured by pirates and killed."


But - let's say everyone in the SCA is high nobility - we're all Kings and Queens, and life is a glittering whirl of court activities and debauchery.  Since you're all intermarrying, you're all insane.  And that Hapsburg lip looks really nice on you.  I swear.

"I am King of all Roumania, and I bathe in the blood of my enemies every Thursday.  Birds fly over trees and cake." - Robert the Utterly, Utterly Mad

As much as it pains most people to admit, lives back then were as boring and humdrum as our lives now, only with poorer hygeine, bad breath, and no Wikipedia.  So, if you need to inject some interest into your persona story to make up for the fact that your real life story sends people to sleep faster than Diazepam, go ahead, we can't stop you.

But we're going to laugh.


*The Author must admit that her first persona story involved Scotland, pirates, Russian merchant travellers, and a short stint in Italy as a Courtesan.  She has since grown the fuck up.

**Translation courtesy of PROMPT online.
Edit:  I am being remiss; Bob came up with some of the "real-life persona" responses.


Apr. 22nd, 2009 01:08 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately, the culture of the Romany is not a good fit with the majority culture of Europe (technically, they're supposed to make a living by begging, but it gets... adapted).

Keep in mind that not every thief is Rom, though - a number of thieves play at "gypsy" to cover their activities. But I do understand where you're coming from - in Italy, they'll make announcements on the Metro that "Gypsies have boarded the train, please watch your valuables". I hate the stereotypes, though.
Apr. 22nd, 2009 01:13 pm (UTC)
Yeah. They'd mob the train stations and you'd have to pass through them to get to the trains, and God help you if you didn't hold on to the gold in your teeth along with your wallet.

I'm also well aware that my experiences with them (including having everything not nailed down around the outside of our house stolen three times when the "caravans" were in town) give me a very warped view of Rom. Usually I keep my mouth shut.
Apr. 22nd, 2009 02:30 pm (UTC)
Oh, and I had to beat a man off of my husband in the Rome Metro with my purse cause I thought that fondling his back pocket was a bad thing. He looked at me with the utmost hate. (and I think he understands cursing in English)

I don't care what you call them...the dark, poor people who live on others like parasites are to be avoided.
Apr. 24th, 2009 06:15 pm (UTC)
Back in high school on my first trip to Italy, we were in Santa Croce in Florence when the tour guide told us, "Ladies, please watch your purses, a group of gypsy women have entered the church." I already had my bag in the approved NYC holding method (strap across the body, zipper side in) and my travelers' checks and passports were in a flat pocket under my clothes, so I wasn't worried. But I did move away if any of the ladies came near me. Very casually, and it became apparent to them that I was on to them.

Not so my ignorant tour mates. One girl had her purse snatched by a woman carrying a toddler. You never saw someone run so fast, even unburdened. She had to stay behind the group when we moved on to Rome and go to the American Embassy to get new papers. Luckily, her mom was on the trip as a chaperone and could stay with her.

Now, I am wondering if there was a crackdown on gypsies the last time I was in Rome; I barely saw any. One tried repeatedly to sell me a rose near the Spanish steps, I repeatedly said, loudly, "Non voglio le fiore!" He kept pestering. Finally, my husband fixed him with his best "I'm gunning for crazy" stare and said, softly, "She said she doesn't want it." Did I mention that my husband is tall, has long dark hair and a beard, and looks like he could be Arab or a thousand related ethnicities? Lo zingaro andava, rapidamente.

I did not notice any gypsies in Sicily. This is understandable. The mafia wouldn't stand for it, and they are freakin' everywhere. Whenever a local asked me where my family was from, my answer of, "Mia nonna era di Corleone" (My grandmother was from Corleone) got me some minor flinches, serious nods, and absolutely stellar service for my family in Giardini Naxos.
Apr. 22nd, 2009 01:57 pm (UTC)
MMmm, you haven't lived till you've seen anti-Rom racism in Europe. My sister-in-law adopted two boys from Romania. They're half-brothers, and the younger one part Rom (and looks it). Ergo, both were given up for adoption. She has skin-peeling stories about the trip to go get them.

At one point, they had to have a 'physical' by the orphanage doctor before she took them. He got out the one tongue depressor he had, kept in a jar between exams, and went to use it on one of the boys. Jen grabbed it from him and snapped it in half. My brother-in-law is of the opinion that that incident alone cost him another $10,000 in bribes to get the boys out f the country.

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