So after all the months, and then all the weeks, and then the days of prep and planning and building and worrying and leave-taking, guess what? Burning Man snuck up on us and blasted right out of the gate.
Just like that, the doors opened and thousands and thousands of people poured through, some more slowly than others, and swelled the population of the city to holy crap 55,000 by midday on Tuesday. So it’s pretty clear that this won’t be a year like last year, when the population declined for the first time.
We find it next to impossible to even pretend to have a handle on what is happening at Burning Man. We only touch one part of the elephant; your results may vary.
All we know is that people couldn’t wait to get here this year, that tickets seemed in demand right up until the the time of the opening, and the our little bubble of a world has been colored a rusty shade of red from the wildfires that rage nearby. Sunrises and sunsets are orange and red, and at night the moon looks like it is in eclipse, because it is so perfectly orange.
Is the city having growing pains? Hard to know. How big is too big? Also hard to know. We do know that most likely there will be more burners in Black Rock Desert this year than ever before; we also know that there are more people who consider themselves Burners who have never been to the Nevada desert, but they feel part of whatever this is because of the associations they have made on the Regional level.
“There is a Burning Man movement,” Larry Harvey his own self said this morning, “but we didn’t generate it. … We don’t provide the content, just the theme. … And we know that this community is allergic to pronouncements.”
True, true and true.
The Burning Man ethos strikes us as the same as a successful startup – first create something cool. Worry about everything else later. And it seems to us that the Burning Man organization has been doing that since the beginning, out there on Baker Beach.
No one is getting rich on Burning Man (although it’s quite easy to be materially poorer because of it). There is no commercial enterprise here, which is not to say that there is no money involved. “Of course you need money to do something on this scale,” Harvey has said. “We don’t deny that.”
And there is no denying that commerce has been brought to Reno and to Nevada as a whole and to San Francisco and even to the nascent Regional cities in places like South Africa and New Zealand and Spain.
But “We’re not creating franchises,” Harvey said. “What we said twenty years ago is still true; get a little help from your friends.”
And we’ll use that bit of philosophical musing as a jumping off point for our completely stream of consciousness description of just a small slice of the experiences here. But we did in fact get a little help from our friends, and we gave it, too.
Yes Burning Man requires you to be radically self reliant. And yet the successful Burn is a communal effort. We’ll let you sort out the philosophical contradictions there; we’ll only describe a little bit of what’s happened so far.
– The Man base got finished. To our eyes, it is the most ambitious and aesthetically pleasing base that has ever been attempted or accomplished here. The level of complexity and overall impact is unrivaled. Simple as that. The proportion of the Man in relation to the base is perfect. Simple as that. And it took an all-hands-on-deck effort to get ‘er done, and that’s what happened.
– The Temple got finished and opened with a grand ceremony with much pomp and circumstance. Dr. Deb led the procession, and Syn and Lightning and Gregg seemed to have anticipated every thoughtful touch. There are layers upon layers of contributors and collaborators, and the result is a cut desert diamond in the far reaches of the city.
– The unofficial theme of Burning Man appears to be chapels and triangles. There are more of both than ever before, and we have no idea why. The Photo Chapel, the Church Trap and the First Church of the Jerk are all beautiful and sometimes ironic presences. And the big triangles begin of course with the Temple, and extend to the Russians’ installation, and even to the big dance clubs. Triangles everywhere.
– The Coyote, built by Bryan Tedrick, right there on the promenade to the Man, seemingly appeared overnight. One hour there was nothing, the next it was completely assembled and hugely gleaming in the sun. There were stories that it had nipped a particularly appropriate VIP, but we’ll have to confirm and expand on that later.
– The friends and family night at the Death Guild’s “Thunderdome” took place Tuesday night, and happily there were no reports of injuries. The opening moments were full of goth-y, Mad Max-ian glory, with singing by the wonderful Marissa XXXXX, exhortations by Makeout Queen, and the crowd chanting of “Two men enter, one man leaves.” It might sound barbaric and blood-lust-y until you realize that the Thurnderdome is offered as an alternative to more serious forms of settling grievances. Got a beef? Get in the ring. Don’t organize your statehood, don’t elevate to massive scale; keep it individual, and get it resolved. To the extent that fighting can resolve grievances, here is the place. It’s not boxing; there are no knockouts. But there are winners and losers, and despite all the chants, both combatants walk out of the dome.
– There have also been emergency visits to the Ramparts medical facilities; weddings both wild and reverent; personal Poufers and chats around the fire; unexpected cotton candy treats; fine whisky, and horrid swill; coffee in the morning; yoga in the afternoon; an ultramarathon (four laps around the entire perimeter of the site, 36 miles); body painting and contact dancing in the Center Cafe; much less public nudity than previous years; art cars with sound systems loud enough for stadiums without a hint of distortion at high volumes, outside your camp at midnight.
The cone of electronic silence has descended on most quarters, as wifi clouds and cell services have become overwhelmed; PortaPotties, many, many PortaPotties; swag and badges and buttons and stickers; laughing and crying, not much dust, moderately warm days and beautifully still nights.
Dance breaks by the Cafe crew; cheesecake from the Commissary crew, smelly bad kale from the campmate crew; Christmas lights, blinkie lights and dark tards run over in the night (who then get up to angrily confront the people who couldn’t see them in the darkness, even though the tards carried no light).
Whore baths, showers and HandiWipes; cocktail hours at all hours; musical extravaganzas and aerial acts; incessant radios and moody silences; exhaustion and exhilaration, jubilation and reflection, and empty water bottles. Strep throat, abscessed teeth and bruised ribs; hand massages and music therapy.
Beautiful outfits, beautiful bodies, beautiful smiles; estrangement, confusion and despair.
Perfectly chilled, cored and peeled apples; old friends, new friends, and people who will never be either; trash at the trash fence (the purpose of the fence, after all, is to keep things in, not keep people out); killer epic omigod False Prophet DJs, French Quarter parties that end too soon; “walkabouts” in the night when sleep isn’t calling loudly enough.
Sorted trash, pee bottles and crash couches; Octodrones (or whatever they’re called) buzzing the inside of the Temple; a few more tears, and lots more laughs, and plans to get together at o’dark thirty; flat tires and pumped-up boobs; disoriented people who make absolutely no sense; and profundity from unexpected places; conversations you were somehow meant to have.
In short, the usual.