A Pirate’s Life ...




While “partying with the best of ‘em” at this year’s Best of NH bash, I helped organize the treasure hunt; the New Hampshire Magazine booth was bedecked in skeletons, gold doubloons and a shipwreck; and eye-patched, parrot-shouldered stilt walkers waved swords about and said “Yaarrr!” at every opportunity. In fact, Captain Morgan, best known for his spiced rum, in full regalia at the event, seemed less like an oddity and more like some kind of impresario. I was speaking with John Herman, who heads up the improv comedy group “Stranger Than Fiction,” and he said, “What’s the deal with pirates this year?’ I explained that we wanted to have some fun with our fifth anniversary of the event (see page 26) and the Ultimate N.H. Gift Baskets were such great prizes that a treasure hunt seemed appropriate. Treasure hunt = pirates. A theme is born. “Not just here,” said Herman. “It seems like pirates are everywhere.” Turns out his troupe is staging a pirate-oriented tale called “The Age of Discovery” at the Players’ Ring in Portsmouth from August 18 to 20. The summer release of the new “Pirates of the Caribbean” film certainly adds to the effect, but doesn’t seem like it can account for all the phenomena. Maybe we should blame it on comic author Dave Barry, who somehow got the ball rolling for “Talk Like a Pirate Day” (each Sept. 19) in 2002 (actually invented by a couple of guys with too much time on their hands seven years earlier: www.talklikeapirate.com). Ultimately, we couldn’t come up with a good answer so I said, “Must be some kind of lawless spirit of the age.” Since then I’ve had more time to think of it. My daughter, Eleanor, caught the piracy bug some years ago and has created several pirate personas, complete with costumes and back stories, and has written elaborate tales of their exploits. Her current incarnation is “Sweet Molly Maroon,” a pirate queen with a kind heart and a compulsive need to collect large gem stones. From talks with her, I’ve gathered that piracy isn’t so much about lawlessness as about freedom. Many of the original pirates viewed themselves more as entrepreneurs than as criminals. Violence and ruthlessness were endemic to the 16th and 17th centuries, and the privateers and buccaneers just preferred working for themselves, rather than for the big conglomerate pirate organizations such as Great Britain, France or Spain. Of course, history is kind to colorful scoundrels. From Jesse James to Pretty Boy Floyd, we seek the best in the baddest. Maybe our civilized world has grown so tame that, like Robin Hood, we have to rob our excitement from the riches of the past and give to the adventure-starved poor of today. Regardless of the answer, there’s one thing that John Herman, my daughter and I agree on. New Hampshire is the only state in the Union with a motto that would look good hoisted alongside the Jolly Roger. Yaarr!
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