|Home Sweet Home|
As soon as the sun hit a corner of my tent, I was up and out, too hot to stay buried in my sleeping bag. Black Rock city in the daylight looks very different, more like an upscale refugee camp than a metropolis. Thousands of tents and RV's line wide dirt boulevards which break the city into blocks as large as the ones in downtown San Francisco. The porto-potties were a short walk from our camp, and I was happy to discover they were clean. Bacteria can't survive in the alkali desert, so the potties didn't reek.
I downed a quick breakfast and a cup of tea, then my dad and I rode our bikes to Center Camp, the only place in Black Rock city to get an espresso, and where I was meeting my best friend, Gitta. She'd arrived with her husband and little girl two days earlier and we'd arranged to meet for coffee at 10:30 on Thursday. I'm glad we planned ahead, because it is almost impossible to find people at Burning Man. I had a list of people to visit and their relative addresses (4:30 and Cairo, 5:30 and Frankfurt, The DPW Ghetto), and was desperately trying to find my friend Barbara, who I was originally going to Burning Man with. No luck. You tend to find people by planning ahead, or through happy coincidences. You'll be out for a stroll in the evening and run into the person you wanted to see drinking a beer in a pub-camp you just happened to step into.
Gitta and her husband and little girl gave my dad and I a tour in their car of some of the artwork out on the playa. The weather was incredible, warm but not too hot, with a light breeze, not enough to kick up the dust, and a sky more blue saturated than I've ever seen before. We played in the shade of some giant balloons where a man was giving people rides by putting them in harnesses attached to the balloons. I wanted to go for a ride, but the line was long and Gitta's daughter was tired (she's two). The number of children out there surprised me. I had no idea it was family friendly, but there's a large "Kid's Camp" and lots of kids activities, plus the city planners keep the more freaky, sexually explicit camps far away from the children. My friend's daughter loves Burning Man, especially exploring all the art.
When it was nap time, my dad and I joined two of our camp-mates for a bicycle ride across the playa to see The Man. Six stories tall, made of wood, metal and neon, the Man is the heart of Burning Man. You can see him from anywhere in the city, standing watch over the playa, until he is sacraficed on Saturday night. Then we went to The Temple, a huge, 4000 square foot, 50 feet tall structure made of interlacing wooden planks. The walls are covered with mementos and messages to people who have died, or to lost loves, lost dreams, goals, hopes, obsessions, and desires... anything people want to let go of when the Temple is burned on Sunday. My father brought ashes of a dear friend who had died last year, and I brought a piece of paper which I'd written, "Must control, and anticipate, everything, all the time, and never stop," around the word "Fear." I shoved the paper between two planks of wood in a protected alcove, and beside it placed something another friend had asked me to leave for her. We're both hoping to let go of these obsessions and fears, and maybe knowing their burned to ash along with a thousand other griefs will help. Later, I rode to the intersection where Gitta's camp was, but never found her actual camp. Instead I went back to my camp to rest for when the sun went down.
Wearing red velvet pants, a red shirt and a cap with glow-in-the-dark fairies, I went to find the Boonville Cabaret with my dad. This is my family, my father's best friends, and some of the people I grew up with. As we walked, one of those happy coincidences occured when Gitta and her husband and daughter parked their car just as I was walking by. The Boonville Cabaret was having a show, an open mic with story tellers and musicians. My dad wanted me to sing a song and Gitta urged me to, but my typical stage fright kept me silent. Even out there, where outrageous is the norm and even people who can't sing think they should, I was too shy to sing a song I've been practicing for several weeks in my kitchen. Instead, I jumped on stage and shouted "I'm a virgin!" Everyone cheered. Then I told the story of breaking down on my way to Burning Man, which was more embarrassing than singing. This stage-fright of mine is a real social crippler.
At last, the show ended and we loaded up in the Boonie's art car, a large, open air cargo bus decorated like a gypsy wagon. I rode in the very back on the window ledge where I could see the most. The sun had gone down and once again the city was transformed into a thriving, shining, colorful city of DIY dreams.
DIY? Yes... and no. There is a lot of money poured into some of the "camps." But just because they have money (one dance club cost a million bucks), does it mean they aren't DIY. Groups of people get together, pool their resources and talent, and create fabulous "gifts" to the community: interactive art, dance clubs with video screens and laser lights, entertainment like circus performances, fire dancers, and live bands, and traveling food stands giving away quesadillas at midnight and pancakes at dawn. And all for free. No money changes hands out there (except for coffee and ice). Everything is a gift, and you only reciprocate if you're able.
We drove to the opposite end of the city to a club called Skinny Kitty, so named for it's display of mummified cats (real?). There we danced under a half dome of canvas and watched the silk performers twirl and twist above our heads. Then we loaded back up and headed out onto the playa where an impromptu art car party had begun underneath the 30 ft. tall dancing woman. I walked through the sea of dancing bodies and swirling lights, the music of 10 different art cars competing for my attention, and stood beneath the woman, watching as the lights under her steel mesh skin changed color and moved. Her entire frame balanced on one toe, and despite her great mass, she appeared weightless. Then I turned to look across the playa toward the city, which was a long ring of lights, as if we were on the sea and the city was the harbor. I started to dance and the stars over head seemed to join me.
My father joined me. Grinning, he said, "You're eyes are shining. I love watching you take this all in."
I laughed. "It's pretty amazing."
Then I danced with my dad to the beat of the music from our gypsy art car.