|Burning Man 2015
||[Sep. 20th, 2015|02:17 pm]
Burning Man! After eight years away, I returned.
Of course everyone says "Oh, Burning Man, you missed it, you should have gone ten years ago, it's no good any more." But I did go (nearly) ten years ago, and people said exactly the same thing then.
Lots of people asked, "What differences do you notice?" My gut response was "Burning Man feels hella mainstream now." But if Burning Man feels hella mainstream, was it Burning Man that changed, or me? A little from column A, a little from column B.
Objectively, the event itself seems pretty much the same. There are many possible Burning Man experiences, and this time I camped with different people and I'm older now and I drove my own vehicle and I didn't have Early Arrival. But it is pretty mainstream and maybe that's for the best - radical inclusion and all that.
The most visible change since 2007 is probably the invention of the Hexayurt. And Dance Dance Immolation - a happening in which Dance Dance Revolution players are blasted with flamethrowers - is gone. I saw a banner or bumper sticker or something that said: "Keep Burning Man potentially fatal."
I remember last time, after the work of setting up camp was finished, feeling kind of lonely, biking around the Playa on my own. Almost immediately this time, I remembered that feeling. I found myself thinking, "Maybe Burning Man is not for me," and "Perhaps my assumptions about Burning Man are incorrect." How is it possible to be lonely at Burning Man? Isn't this event composed almost entirely of My Kind of People (probable false assumption).
Too many conversation started (and ended with) "Is this your first burn?" and "Where are you from?", the Playa equivalent of the collegiate "What's your major?" Burning Man resolution: start conversations with meaningful-but-not-pretentious questions. One great moment started when I asked a campmate a very basic question about music theory, which turned out to be her passion.
Vignette. Talking about the "Default World" is, in general, a faux pas, but not everyone has gotten the message. I was in a group of four, randomly assembled, doubtlessly united by a question of "Is this your first burn." Moving on, one of the four asked, "Where do you work?" (!) Eventually the person to whom the question was addressed answered, "I work at Google." Then the second person, "I ... also work at Google." And then I had to confess: "I also work at Google." Maybe this is why we don't talk about those things.
I visited the airport, too. As a pilot, the airport interests me. It actually has an FAA identifier 88NV. The Black Rock City Airport is a nexus of privilege within a festival of over-privilege, a place with touch of sleaziness and smarm. There were indeed charter-flight-after-charter-flight arriving from Los Angeles and San Francisco, extra-privileged festivalgoers arriving clean and getting on Segways or being delivered by the dedicated angler-fish themed vehicle to their turnkey hotel/camp. There were scantily clad girls exchanging sex appeal for airplane rides. But there was also a beautiful Finnish-Swedish/Guatamalan-Austrian newlywed couple in their finery on their "honey-day." I had brought my radio and was listening to the radio chatter. I answered questions about aviation. This pleased me.
I went to an event titled "Chris Hadfield Moustache Appreciation", described as: "Canadian astronaut superstar Chris Hadfield is beloved by his nation and revered by moustache-growers. Come and admire him up close and personal." Disappointingly, it turns out that Chris Hadfield was not, in fact, actually present to be admired up close and personal. The camp did, however, have a pretty cool geodesic dome full of hammocks and netting and pillows, on which I installed myself for a micronap. A girl appeared, and announced, "May I join you?" There was some low-level snuggling before we went our separate ways, both pining for Chris Hadfield.
There were very many bars - it felt like every other camp operated a bar. I wasn't too interested in drinking at a bar and talking about my nth burn and where I was from. I prefer the motif I remember from 2007, which was much more along the lines of burn barrels and campfires and camaraderie around the fire, more cowboy than citydweller. But, again, I don't know whether the event itself has changed or only my experience in it.
My previous time at Burning Man, I had Early Arrival, meaning we had special tickets allowing us to arrive a few days early, since we were building a big camp near the Esplanade. I loved watching the city come to life, working every day those first few days. For one thing, working gives a sense of purpose. Then, I remember Sunday night, when the event opened for general admission. I was on a flying saucer art car, zipping along the Playa, exploring the City that had been built over the preceding days. We encountered a girl who had just gotten in, and she was almost overcome with emotion, finally back in her element. It was my first glimpse of Burning Man as a religion and a moment that's stuck with me. This time I didn't really see anything to remind of of the old Burning Man religion (the one in which Black Rock City is your Home), and I was kind of sad for that.
But some of the Principles hold true. There was no MOOP - no free-flying trash - no litter. For an event with 70,000 people - this is inspiring.
The best thing this time was my camp. I camped with a group called Gamelan X, an "Oakland based Gamelan band" inspired by the Balinese variety of that Indonesian style of percussion. Black Rock City is big, and you will probably spend much of your time with your campmates, and you will become closer for it.
The best thing was on Wednesday - there was a procession from a camp called TaiWanderlust that actually came from Taiwan, with ornate and beautiful costumes - nautilus helmets and huge feathers ten feet tall - along with Gamelan X, to the Mazu temple. Finally something that wasn't Electronic Dance Music. A moment to get lost in. We reached the Mazu temple and the leader of the Taiwanese group said some words in a language I didn't understand and then climbed onto the roof of the temple and blew huge clouds of fire. This is on the Playa of the Black Rock Desert where there are, in general, no living things other than us interlopers. But then an EAGLE - or, at least, some kind of raptor - swooped down from the heavens, alighted at the temple roof, then disappeared again in the same manner as he had arrived. The sighting of the eagle hit us profoundly - everyone has their Spiritual Experience and this was mine.
The best thing until Wednesday was the 12-hour shower. On Monday, my first afternoon at the event, Keenan came striding back into camp, pushing his bicycle, looking very clean and refreshed and - buck naked. "At 5:30 and H. The 12-hour shower!" And, indeed, it turned out that this camp had imported 900 gallons of water and built an outdoor shower platform, operating all day every day. It was glorious. But then it turns out that the invention of the Hexayurt has led to the invention of the playa sauna - our camp luxuriated in the Hexayurt steam room at a Camp Contact. I have never been so clean at Black Rock City. This was also glorious.
I had forgotten the full-fledged spectacle of the night of the burn. Afterwards my friend and I packed up the van and began the long trek home, 24 hours en route, camping out at my uncle's house on the CA/NV border on the way. Will I go again next year? Maybe, I think so, I plan to buy a ticket. The question is always the opportunity cost, and maybe I should finally hitchhike the Icelandic ring road? But Burning Man is a city of possibility, and the feeling that that's still a deeper experience to eek out of it draws me back.