A World Beyond Imagination
Think of your wildest, sexiest, craziest, happiest dream. Go back to being a child, playing “make believe” games with your friends where you can be who you want to be, doing whatever you want to do. Now imagine you have 60,000 friends, and they all want to play too.
That is the best attempt I can make at describing Burning Man. And it’s not even close to enough. I could tell you it’s an arts festival where a city is built in the Black Rock desert. I could tell you it leaves no trace afterwards, and that within that city there is no commerce, no money, no corporations. Whilst that is all true, it simply does not even start to describe this incredible event.
The picture of Black Rock City above and all others in this post are from online sources, I think if you click on them it will take you to their original URL.
I unfortunately did not take any pictures of my time in Black Rock City. I came across an online album from someone who did. His name is Nick Bilton. I didn’t meet him on the playa, but his pictures capture Burning Man very well, and so I send you to go see themÂ here.
I’ve thought a lot about how I could write about my experiences for you, and I am still unsure how to present them. So I think I will just tell you five short stories. I could not do justice to the whole week. Too much happened, and it would fill a novel.
#1 Cinderella Moment
There were two nights I stayed up until sunrise, on the second one I got married (more on that later), the first was spent with my new friend Vanny. We left our camp with Phil and a group of friends, but somehow minutes later they had disappeared. We tried to find them, but in a land with no cell phones it was impossible. (Burning Man showed me how reliant I have become on being able to call someone when I am running late or can’t find them – it was very character building to be somewhere where if you were late or didn’t show up, there was no way to sugar the pill.)
We found ourselves on the open playa surrounded by fantastic art installations, each one lit up more beautifully than the next. We decided to explore as many as possible. We came across a tree, which you could climb inside and up onto a platform, where we found a fuzzy bear massaging a furry cat. They invited us to join their massage train, strangers who instantly became friends.
Another special experience we stumbled across was a hug deli, complete with a menu of different hug styles you could order. I went for the “warm and fuzzy”, but Vanny decided to order off menu. I won’t repeat here the exact order, but it involved burlesque and being hugged up against a wall. The eyes of the guy manning the deli lit up when she made her order, and he took great delight in fulfilling it with vigour. Vanny was so impressed with it that she made me have one too. Wow – it was quite the hug, that’s for sure!
We walked from art installation to art installation, enjoying the magical surprises each had in store for us. Eventually, hours later in the middle of the playa, we found a selection of domes, somewhat reminiscent of mosques. We chose one to go into and sat beside a man smoking a pipe. It took a few minutes, but slowly we realised that we knew these people… They were all from our camp! One of many serendipitous moments at the burn. We parted ways with our campmates when many of them went back to camp. For us our night of adventure was not yet over. We slowly made our way in the direction of the temple. The city is laid out in the shape of a clock, and the temple is at 12 o’clock. The temple is a very special place, where people go to meditate, and leave messages about things that have touched them – deaths, hopes and dreams, forgiveness, anger… It is all bared on the walls of the temple. I found the air to be laced with emotion, and could not bring myself to read the messages. We were there just before sunrise, and we watched the sun appear whilst listening to a band play gentle music in the dust. Once the sun was up I suddenly felt very, very tired. We started the long walk home, but it seemed as we walked the city just got further and further away. To our left there was an art car that looked like a white pumpkin. We approached them man leaning against it and asked if he would take us home. He very kindly agreed, although it turned out it was not a pumpkin at all. In the end we were whisked home in the plush confines of a giant eyeball on a spoon.
The ability to play make-believe like we all did when we were children is rekindled at Burning Man. One of my favourite fun experiences was becoming a bunny and joining the Billion Bunny March Against Humanity.
Joining the bunny march was something I decided I wanted to do, and ended up going on my own. Although nothing you do at burning man is on your own, because there are always loads of new friends with you as soon as you get there. I stood in line to get my bunny make up done and take the bunny pledge, and ended up doing the make-up for a transvestite called Christina and also for Dani, who I didn’t realise at the time, was a member of the Dusty Noodles. (See story #4.)
Once my bunny transformation was complete I went into the bar and sat beside a guy wearing a white paper boiler suit. Practicing my new aim to ask people leading questions about themselves, I learnt that Jase is one of the only people who live in Salt Lake City who isn’t a mormon, and that he is a bicycle mechanic for a charity. We became good friends and marched together in protest against humanity. I also ran into my friend Kelly and some of her camp mates (the Dusty Noodles).
We marched and bunny hopped our way to the man, and felt a bit of an anti-climax. Was that it? There had to be something more. Our childish imaginations desperately wanted some new twist to keep the fun going. And then it happened. The carrots arrived!
About 50 people dressed as carrots, carrying placards, chanted “Friends not Food” over and over, protesting the bunnies! Kelly and I decided to go down amongst them and find the nicest ones to bite. ha ha ha ha
Just as we grew tired of chasing carrots, animal control arrived! These red jump-suited enforcers arrived in their spaceship shaped art car and started capturing rabbits. Kelly and I made sure to be caught, and we were inoculated with vodka from a syringe, and tagged.
This is just one of many such experiences I had on the playa – but one of my favourites because the only thing limiting us was our imaginations, I was so happy the whole time, and something new and exciting kept happening.
WhenÂ you go to Burning Man, you can either camp on your own, or join a theme camp. Phil and I joined the Yummy RUMInations camp, the same camp he had been a part of the previous year. Each camp has something they give to the playa, our camp had the Yum Cart. We invited passing people to ask for a flavour, and we, as master tastologists, would build them that flavour. People asked me for flavours such as “my soul” and “the second date”. Â We had about 200 little pots of tastes in the cart, which we used to build the flavour, adding a healthy dose of the power of suggestion to each one as well.
There were more than 50 people at the camp, and I admit that I found the number of people overwhelming. It is a shame that I didn’t connect with many of the Yummies at all. There were probably only five or so who I spoke to in any depth, and the only night I headed out on the playa with some of them we lost them almost immediately. There was so much love in that camp, even just being on the periphery was a joy.
On the last day when everyone was packing everything up, and I was feeling so sad that the magical experience was over, Phil and I made grilled cheese sandwiches for as many people as possible. The special ingredient was love (and garlic powder) and Â it was a great way for us to show the camp that we cared.
#4 Dusty Noodles
My true home on the playa was at a different camp altogether. From the moment I arrived at Burning Man it was my friend Kelly and her camp, the Dusty Noodles, who adopted me. It was at their camp that I drank my first cocktail, had my first meal (of many amazing meals) and met the people who I know I will remain friends with forever more.
Whilst I had been to their camp several times, and had been on a couple adventures with some of their members, it was Thursday night when I was truly adopted. They had invited me for dinner, and after dinner we made giant jelly fish out of clear plastic umbrellas with glowsticks zip tied into them. They looked amazing in the night sky and when we arrived at the pier I am sure we made a surreal sight. The pier was my favourite art installation, a life sized long wooden pier with a half sunken ship at the end of it. The attention to detail was astonishing, and truly special.
Beside the ship there was an art car playing funky disco tunes. We jellies danced around the art car, and started a huge dance party. When the art car decided to move, we got on and kept the party going. We ended up at the huge dance clubs at the end of the city, where we left the art car and started clubbing. I have rarely felt so in tune with and a part of a group of people as I did with theseÂ wondrousÂ beings. It started raining (a rarity in the desert) and we were the best prepared, with our collection of umbrellas that we could all huddle together under. The magical moments kept happening, as we came across another group of jelly fish, who we instantly started dancing with!
I am so thankful to Kelly for introducing me to my new friends, friends who made my first burn exceed all expectations. And I am grateful to you Dusty Noodle Glitter Wolves for being the definition of love and awesome. I love you guys!
#5 Falling in Love
I fell in love with so many people at Burning Man, it was impossible not to, however there was one person who transformed my Burning Man experience from just being fun, to being magical.
All experiences on the playa are charged with a special awesomeness. From someone giving you a rootbeer float with real ice cream on a melting hot day, to becoming best friends with someone who moments before was a complete stranger, the vibe that permeates everything is one that makes you truly believe that nothing is impossible, or even a bad idea.
I met Tom (one of the Dusty Noodles) on Thursday night, and he and I started an adventure together that lasted until I left him with tears in my eyes the day we all left the playa. Until I met him I was floating around untethered, he showed me that there was more than I had already discovered, and held my hand while he guided me through it all.
It started with a ladder that was randomly sitting by the side of the street, Tom raced me to the top, and in so doing started a whirlwind adventure that included watching the moon disappear behind the mountains (a moment that was so special it sent shivers down my spine) and exploring art – wind chimes made of plastic bottles that howled withÂ eerie abandon, laying on our backs watching the mesmerising colours of Â a ring of lights and finding art cars and traffic cones to take us special places. We shared a love of walking, because you could experience so much more when you weren’t flying by on a bicycle. We spent an evening watching the most surreal marching bands and one morning, after watching theÂ sunrise, we got Â married in the middle of the street. A guy who was passing by officiated, and we exchanged glowstick rings as we promised to love each other “until we were no longer together”. Another example of childlike make-believe that was perfectly in place at the time.
I feel so lucky to have met someone to share the magic with who seemed to be so completely in the same mindspace as I was. Â When he suggested we go over there, it was exactly what I wanted to do, when I wanted to stop and explore something further, so did he. He was the perfect playa companion.
Burning Man for me was a place to always answer “YES” to any question or suggestion, a place that took me on a rollercoaster of emotions that ranged from complete happiness, which filled every inch of my being to bursting point, to fighting extreme sadness that it was all over, that everything was burnt and being taken down, and everyone was leaving. Â It is a city of love, of friendship, of beauty, of the awesome and fantastic, and a place where anything is possible.
I can not wait to go again, and until then I will keep it all in my heart and visit in my dreams.