Friday, September 7, 2012

The Burn Pt. 1

Today is a day of gratitude. Trying to explain the last two weeks has been really overwhelming, but the task has alerted me to something: that I know this feeling well. I know the feeling of wanting to communicate a place, a community, an experience so badly, and that's not a cause for anxiety. I simply know that I struck gold again. Since my college graduation, I've gone from New Orleans to Palestine to Burning Man, and to accumulate three places, communities, experiences that you can carry around so an enormous gift. I actually considered working the Burning man symbol into my fleur-de-lis key tattoo: the fleur-de-lis for New Orleans, the key for Palestine, and the shaft of the key as a )'( man.

Damn, I was finicky about the design as it was :P

This much is true, that I'm grateful for Burning Man, and I think it'll be an important part of my life in a way I can't see yet. When a place only exists for one week out of the year, it's hard to predict. Like a less intense version of an Olympian training four years for one 9.86 second race. Fortunately, the bigger BM gets, the more it exists in the "default world." That terminology sounds kind of douch-ey, huh? I guess what I'm trying to say is, over time Burning Man is becoming more default and default is becoming more Burning Man. The trick it to keep the intensity, and momentum, and love, and everything people go to Black Rock City to find. That I have a role to play in that future is also overwhelming....and exciting.

So here goes. An attempt to explain. My next entry will be a transcription of my physical 6-day journal, which is a funny, pathetic, bizarre, pee-in-your-pants kind of read.


"I'm not a virgin anymore!!"

That's what a first-timer yells as they bang a stick against a bell at the entrance to Black Rock City.

There is a ritual, and it goes something like this: your veteran car-mates make a point to yell "virgin burner!" at the volunteer greeters at the gate, effectively blowing your cover and setting the ritual in motion. You are then pulled out of the car, given lots of hugs and "welcome home"s. Then you get down and dirty. Literally, you make dust angels on the ground. Then the banging of the bell, and the self-outing, and you're released from greeter custody and set free to roam the Playa uninhibited for the next week (or 11 days, in my case). If you're smart, you tuck your car keys, phone, and money in a secure place because chances are, you won't be bothering with them for a while.

We got to BRC two days before the gates officially opened, to help our camp set up. The city was about 15% populated with theme camp-devotees. For the next two days the city grew horizontally and vertically as crews worked around the clock to set up geodesic domes, shade structures, hexayurts, giant art installations, lounges, kitchens, stages, arenas that would hold thousands of ravers, and the 2012 temple that would burn the day after the man. There weren't a lot of individual tents at this point. Those folks would start arriving on Sunday at 6pm.

For one week out of the year, Black Rock City is the 4th largest city in Nevada. The citizens of BRC hail from Reno, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, New Orleans, Boston, London, Oslo....I tried to imagine what Burning Man felt like to a non-American...."yeah, there's this cool thing that happens in the desert in Nevada...and I spent thousands of dollars to get here and set up a theme camp!" I learned about some of the festivals in Europe, and the feeling I got was that they still don't hold a candle.

That was Eurotache camp, formally Euro-Trash. It was run by Condor and Ingi, who live in Oslo, and it's a red-curtained bar and lounge where people can roll the dice to perform European rites of passage like Beer Clogging and the Martache (marmite mustache). I got my early admission pass through Condor, in exchange for some set-up labor. We had the structure assembled and decorated in three days. On the second day I asked Ingi if she'd ever heard of a show called Twin  Peaks. She smiled and said, "well yeah, the Black Lodge is the inspiration for the curtains." I was ecstatic, and suddenly aware that I had no cell service or social media within reach to tell my brother and the world that I had found kindred spirits. Condor came in and added that he had always wanted to get the black and white zig-zag carpet, and a white Greek statue, and once they met a very tall guy who could've been The Giant. Sadly, he declined.

Pink Heart was the camp where I officially camped. Stephanie and Teo had been with them for a few years, and I liked the idea of being part of a large, legitimate camp. Maybe in the future I could hack the solo camping, but I didn't know a thing thus far! I hadn't even googled Burning Man, or watched any videos except for the three Steph and Teo showed me (posted in the last entry). I almost wanted to plug my ears and sing "la la la laaa" because I wanted to be STUNNED.

Funny thing is, I could have done my homework and then some, and still wouldn't have come close to understanding what it's like to walk down the Playa on the first night after gates open.

Let me take a whack at it.

You're standing in a desert. You're wearing a dress and fishnets and boots, covered by a dense knee-length fur coat. You are seriously ensconced in fur and feeling great about it, because the air is cold, and there's a light breeze. You are slightly jangly with a string of purple heart lights around your neck, and a purple Glow-B clipped on your head, like a little strand of lit-up hair extension. You glance at it every once and a while because it's pretty. You don't want to be a "dark-wad," because dark-wads might get hit by bikes or cars. Everyone around you has a colorful glow-in-the-dark thingy on their head, or their neck, or their hands, or ankles, or belts, and these thousands of little tromping lights seem to take on a life of their own, until you connect them with a shape, or a face, or a laugh. As you start to walk, you feel the cold air start to seep in through your coat, but the walking keeps you warm.There are thirty different songs within earshot, mostly electronica, coming from sound camp stages, theme camp speakers, and art cars that are roaming past you shaped like pirahnas, cats, submarines, pirate ships, coat hangers, flower pots, and 2-story victorian houses. You start to understand Lewis Carrol. It makes you want to jump up and down, and run, and hug people, because they have the same looks of amazement on their faces. You can run and jump onto any art car, and some of them double as bars and clubs, with seventy people dancing on the top deck. Maybe for now you're content to just wander. When you get to the center of the Playa it hits you. You're in the middle of the circle. In almost a mile diameter around you is Black Rock City. Every theme camp, sound stage, art car, bike and person is lit up and multi-colored and MOVING.

This is the thing you that makes your eyes go wide and say "holy shit." Wherein the veterans go, "right???"

And this is where I throw in the towel. Following are some pictures I borrowed from friends or Google images, and the next entry is a transcription/photos of my journal and a list of things that gave me goosebumps.

This year's man.

A Smartphone map of all the camps (red) and art installations (blue)

It was like 10 Fourth of July finales back to back.


Death. Star. Art. Car.

yeah that happened.

Parachuters were comin down every day!

Was this 2012? Didn't see the car with the slide...

Shipwreck coming out of the Playa, with a pier stretching out

This looks like Burn night, it felt like the Wonderful World of Oz...

The Houston Core group, doing some night construction on their piece, ReinCOWnation.

Rhino car!

Submarine car!
The temple lit up at night. Absoutely incredible.

Messages and objects that people leave to burn with the temple.

One of my favorite installations. You can climb up the sides and hang out on cushions up top.

An aerial view of Black Rock City

This would fondly be known as a "tripper trap." The colors changes and moved around. I called it the DONUT!!!

An art car with a 2-story Victorian-style house on top