Thursday, September 17, 2015

Burning Man 2015

Lots of photos HERE so feel free to browse them.

Sherry and I went to Burning Man this year in “Black Rock City”, Nevada and this is our fractured tale.

First, we were completely taken aback at the scale of this event, and it took us a few days just to pull our jaws off of the desert floor. Holmes Run Acres, including the park and the pool, is about 130 acres. The entire Burning Man site is 3500 Acres, and the semi-circular camping and living area alone is over 1000 acres. So, take 7.5 HRA neighborhoods, join them together into one unit, and fill it with tents, RV’s and all manner of theme camps, music and art, and you will have the Burning Man living area. Next, fill it with loud 24/7 sound systems, people in crazy clothing (or no clothing at all) riding around on things that resemble bikes, then sprinkle it with completely inappropriate and heavily armed BLM storm troopers and K9 units. Maybe that will begin to form a mental image.

Second, we were clearly mentally unprepared for the physical environment. The event takes place on an old lake bed where all of the water is evaporated and what is left behind is an incredibly alkaline salt flat where nothing grows. If you pour vinegar on it, the lake bed fizzes like baking soda in vinegar. The lake bed is mostly hard-packed, but randomly covered in dust dunes that move with the wind. When we say dust, this is the kind of super dry and powdery dust that poofs around your shoes as you walk. Imagine walking through a 1” deep layer of baby powder and you will get the idea. Now, start the wind blowing so that this powdery dust causes a white-out and invades your tent, your shoes, your underwear, your nose, your sleeping bag and your, … well … you get the idea. Remember also that it is really, really alkaline so it causes mild chemical burns and irritation and corrodes anything that you have brought. The wind blew hard all afternoon for our first full day, and it blew most of the next day, too. Now, try sleeping in a tent filled with dust and the “Midnight Poutine” camp next door blasting techno music all night and the sun that turns your tent into a greenhouse by 7:30 am.  It all overwhelmed our senses for the first day or two (or three). Fortunately, we were there during a cooling trend and the daytime highs were in the 80’s instead of the usual high 90’s so we weren’t also assaulted by withering heat.

So, what were the good parts? The most astonishing outdoor art that we have ever seen (not to beat a dead horse, but the distance from our tent to many of these art installations was the same as from HRA to the Target at Mosaic), the sheer spectacle of the whole thing, the best people-watching on the entire planet (Paris, Rome and LA are now relegated to the Little League), not having to know where your wallet is for an entire week, no advertisements or corporate branding of any kind, sitting at night watching huge structures burn dramatically to the ground, wandering around the “deep playa” at night and finding random art and a movie theater and an isolated bicycle-drawn bar, the completely over-the-top art cars that roamed free on the plains, the knowledge that you can do or wear almost anything at all without judgement, and just standing in the middle of the desert trying to take it all in. Where else in the world can you be completely naked, waiting outside in line for a sauna, and not be a sideshow or something worth attention?

We travel a lot, and in most of the places we have been, you can look around and think to yourself “I could be almost anywhere right now”. Many places have a certain sameness to them. One extreme exception is Jerusalem. When you see Coptic, Franciscan, Hassidic, and Muslim, all in full regalia, walking in narrow and crowded passageways, you realize that there is nowhere else in the world that you could possibly be. Burning Man has the the same nowhere-but-here feeling. Standing in the playa late at night, with music and lights and craziness all around, there is nowhere else that you could possibly be other than in Black Rock City in early September. There is truly nothing like this anywhere on earth. It did remind me in a way of New Orleans because you can go to New Orleans to get passed out drunk on Bourbon Street and earn beads in the time honored way, or you can go to New Orleans to experience the music, food and deep cultural roots. Lots of people at Burning Man, especially the “Sparkle Ponies” were there to just party party party. However, there is a much deeper cultural side to Burning Man based on the “10 Principles of Burning Man” and this culture lies just under the sparkling surface of the event.

If we go back to Burning Man in the future, it will be as part of a camp. Most people at Burning Man are associated in some way with a camp like the DC “Home Rule” camp. Camps are social groups that apply to the Burning Man organization and request a camp space and also describe what the camp will bring to the Burning Man experience. Camps bring music, bars, skate parks, towers, midnight poutine, saunas, sex dungeons, art installations, bike repair tents, you name it. Based on the camp’s contributions and reputation and general awesomeness, they are assigned a camp location and size and a number of guaranteed tickets. Camps generally provide a lot of the basic infrastructure for the camp members like large shade structures, shared kitchens, showers, couches and hang-out areas, shipping containers, and so on. Life in a camp seems a lot more pleasant than life in a tent.

On our way home, the further we got from Burning Man, the more we would find people staring at us. No shower for a week, covered in dust from head to toe, my dyed-bright-yellow beard and Sherry’s pink poodle jacket - we kind of stood out at BWI. It took us about two days to clean everything, including ourselves, and to unpack and re-group. A week later, I think that we are both still trying to process the experience.

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