May 8th, 2011


Too Much Steam, Not Enough Punk

I'm currently in Boston with Alexa for the annual OPERA America Conference--or as I call it, OperaCon. Boston is one of my favorite cities, so I'm happy to be here with time to spare while she works the conference. I spent Thursday and Friday helping stuff packets and folders for the attendees, but now the conference is in full swing and I need to find other things to do while we're here.

To that end, I got together with mssrcrankypants yesterday and checked out the Steampunk Festival in nearby Waltham, MA. I didn't know what to expect going in. I know steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction, but it also seems to be more of an aesthetic, a fashion and lifestyle choice, and one I don't fully understand. Also, I always found the name misleading. Steam is certainly apropos, as it's all supposed to be from the Victorian era, but punk? Just how punk are monocles, goggles, and coach hats? By contrast, both cyberpunk and splatterpunk had a blue collar, punk sensibility to them that earned the name. Steampunk strikes me as much more...of the gentry.

Anyway, the festival was actually great fun. People went all out with their costumes, which makes me wish I'd taken a camera along. There were the usual zeppelin pilot outfits, of course, and lots of mutton chops, many of them real, but there was also a surprising amount of Renn Faire crossover, with people dressing as fairies or wearing elf ears. One of my favorites was a fellow in coattails and top hat with a tentacle beard. Privately, I call him Steamthulhu. There was some really lovely jewelry on sale at the festival as well, much of which, of course, included clockwork cogs and other machinery in the design. I bought Alexa a copper octopus bracelet, which I hope to take a photo of on her wrist soon.

But it wasn't all pretend, there were actual inventors on hand too, which was a nice touch. One had created a giant, hand-cranked, one-man band machine that was quite impressive. Others brought their own versions of steam-powered perpetual motion engines. It made me long for the day when ours was more than a service-industry society, when we actually were a manufacturing nation, full of big dreams and optimism about what might roll out of the factories tomorrow.

The only drawback to the festival? So many of the attendees insisted on speaking in faux British accents. One added insult to injury by speaking only in British-accented rhyme. Really, people? Really?

Still, though, it was fun and pretty impressive. While I don't feel the need to join them in dressing as a half-Borg velocipede-riding aristocrat, I definitely have a newfound respect for how much time and effort goes into steampunk culture.

Like Something Out Of "Sex and the City"

This evening I went to a cocktail reception in the great hall of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, surrounded by centuries-old paintings and Egyptian statuary. It was gorgeous! Also, there was an open bar and people singing opera. I felt like such high society!