Taking cues from medieval life
By CANDACE RONDEAUX, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- Some good citizens of the Sunshine State may be shocked to learn that in early November, they will not only have a newly elected governor but a new king.
What's more, Florida's new sovereign will be neither a corporate lawyer nor a presidential scion, but a 32-year-old plumber from Tampa named Ric Feyes.
When Feyes, also known as Crown Prince Yoan Moon Yang, takes his scepter and crown on Nov. 9, he will become Florida's 36th king. Feyes' future reign may come as news to some. But his humble background is no surprise to the roughly 1,800 medieval history buffs who make up the Florida chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism. About 600 people in the Tampa Bay area participate in the group, with two of the largest chapters, or "shires," in St. Petersburg and Tampa.
From tailoring elaborate gowns to weekly swordplay sessions, society members devote off hours to re-creating life as it was lived in Western Europe between 500 and 1650 A.D. Members sometimes spend months researching the history of costumes and weapons before making them. Materials for props and costumes run from homemade daggers made by beginners using scrap wood to high-end velvet brocade for gowns.
"We have an amazing array of craftsmen who can make almost anything," said Carl Riddlemoser, who calls himself the Baron of Wyvernwoode. In the mundane world, Riddlemoser is a project manager at an environmental consulting firm, but as baron he helps run the affairs of the Tampa group Feyes participates in.
A thriving nonprofit organization, the SCA's focus on historical research, handcrafted medieval garb and mock battles give a whole new meaning to the term "weekend warriors." The group began on the West Coast in 1966, after a small cadre of science fiction and fantasy fans threw a costume party in Berkeley, Calif. Since then, more than 24,000 people from Arkansas to Australia have signed up to live in the past.
Roughly 1,000 people are expected to attend Feyes' coronation at a Boy Scout campground in Citrus County. Being king for a couple of hundred days and putting Tampa Bay on the kingdom map is not the only good part of SCA membership for Feyes. His wife Marie, or Eorann Maguire, gets to be queen. And the people of Florida (the state is known to this group as the Kingdom of Trimaris) are not just his subjects. They're friends too.
"For me it's about the people," Feyes said. "I get to beat them up and drink their beer."
Daryle Pompeo, who goes by the name Ser Severin Visconti, has battled with Feyes. Pompeo, a 35-year-old Tampa stock trader by day, regularly dons a 75-pound suit of 15th century Italian armor that he bought secondhand from another friend for about $700. He said the chance to duke it out with a sword was part of the initial attraction.
"I'm 100 percent Italian, and we get a little feisty, so it's a good way for me to let off steam," he said.
Pompeo said his 14 years in the SCA have kept him in touch with his youthful ambitions. A former French teacher, he is translating a 1920 French text about the life of Joan of Arc for another enthusiast in California.
Pompeo's wife Lisa's appetite for the medieval is just as voracious. Mounds of rich scarlet upholstery swatches litter the tops of two old Singer sewing machines in her "Room of Doom," where she fashions dozens of Italian Renaissance gowns. The tiny, spare room in their modest, white ranch house is stacked floor to ceiling with colorful bolts of cloth.
Sweeping her hand through a row of elaborate wide-bodiced gowns in the closet, Lisa Pompeo has no difficulty listing the benefits of membership.
"It has taught me how to sew, it taught me how to embroider," she said, "There's just so much to do in the medieval world."
One recent weekend, there were two SCA festivals -- one in Clearwater and one in Tallahassee -- expected to draw hundreds. For many members, the weekend gatherings provide a much-needed break from modern life.
Michael Harvey of Fort Lauderdale, an artistic and technical director for a print company, is part of the group that sponsored the Clearwater event. He said many who attend seek relief from the insistent ringing of cell phones and the general buzz of modernity.
"I spend most of my time in front of a computer screen, so it's nice to have a weekend where I never go near one," Harvey said.
Eschewing the commercialism of traveling Renaissance fairs, SCA members say their passion for life in the Middle Ages bears little resemblance to the carnival kitsch of giant turkey legs and overpriced, plastic beer steins. Society-approved garb and gear are a must at weekend events.
Those rules have spawned a sprawling Internet mail order business, in which custom-made chain mail suits and handcrafted, heavy 15th century combat swords can be bought for upwards of $500. But members say high-end prices shouldn't discourage people interested in joining. New members and curiosity seekers who want to attend society events can usually borrow SCA-approved wear from local members. The group's main focus is to link like-minded folks into educating themselves about the medieval era.
"The people are so great," said Lisa Pompeo. "There's something about the joy of making. I mean, all of us are creative junkies."
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