Wednesday I began to make an effort to cover
a lot of ground, for the first time taking my cameras with me.
I prefer to show the fully developed city in my images rather
than try to document the building process as I had in my earliest
years. There were some large wonderful art projects scattered
in the far emptiness. The swiftly maturing Tent City spread out
from the center and became quite crowed at its inner streets.
As before, towers and massive tents stood over domes and fluttering
banners. Here and there larger 'attractions' were situated on
the inner 'Esplanade' street. Some of these were massive tent
structures marvelous to behold. On the far northeastern end of
the giant 'C' defining the boundaries of the Tent City giant palm
trees were erected at one major camp, called 'Lush' , becoming
a major landmark of the city. Not far from 'Lush' was 'Coneville',
featuring many florescent orange hazard cones attached together
in a variety of ways to form giant plastic toy like shapes.
For an hour or two I walked along the entire
Esplanade and saw things too numerous to mention in detail. Although
the major concentration of attractions were placed on the inner
Esplanade, further out from the central region many camps of all
sizes were built as artistic statements and decorated with themes
generally based on the 'Vault Of Heaven' theme. It has long since
become impossible for one person to see everything, as in life
all you can do is aim yourself somewhere and appreciate things
along the way.
As before, the majority of camping accommodations seemed to be cars and tents, with moderately large tents, white RVs, and occasional buses and domes forming the bulk of the larger structures. The use of evaporation ponds continued to be noticeable, an easy thing to set up with some good plastic sheeting and pieces of lumber. There was a marked absence of one brand of rental trucks due to the banning of their use at Burning Man after too many were returned filthy and defaced. I only saw three such trucks at the event.
Once in awhile someone would offer food to passers by, in general something to be treated cautiously since one never knows everything about such Playa offerings. I assumed it to be highly unlikely someone standing in a same well traveled path for some time would be dosing people with spiked food, so once I accepted a slice of what was said to be an organically grown peach from a man who enthusiastically described how it was grown and it tasted great on that warm dry day. I later accepted a swig of whiskey from a bottle someone I passed offered me. On both occasions I asked if it was 'just' that food or drink hoping they would tell the truth. I decided to take such a chance twice, but in all good conscience I would have to advise caution in accepting food and drink from strangers there, especially if you are female. Stories have accumulated over recent years of malicious dosing incidents targeting young women.
Wednesday saw a steady escalation of the gusty conditions experienced earlier. Wide stretches of the Playa were buffeted by winds which energetically lifted dust at speeds above about 30 miles (48 km) per hour. This occurred in widely scattered locations which again by chance largely spared my neighborhood. By now I needed to wash my hair, prompted more by my itching scalp than my long hair feeling like bundles of exposed wire. A pair of basins of water were maintained in a small third tent, one basin assigned to 'dirty' water for initial cleaning pots and utensils and one with 'clean' water for final rinsing and washing hands and such. The 'clean' water was usually freshly poured from an ice chest each day so it was very cold. I washed my scalp and long hair while bent down like I was starting to stand on my head, chilling my brain and turning the water from clear to tan. A bar of 'camp shampoo' was used with excellent results. Shortly afterward I tightly wrapped my Bedouin style head cover tightly around my towl dried hair to keep it clean.
Immediately the winds picked up again and this time dense dust clouds swept through our camp. One moment of leaving my car door open spoiled days of care to keep the interior clean as dust poured into the car even as I rushed to close its door.
I set out to explore again, determined to cover as much ground as possible on foot. The Tent City surrounded me like a vast ornately decorated garden springing out of the Playa. As sunset neared great curtains of dust were swept from the distant flatness and formed clouds in their own right which caught the light of the last golden sunlight.
As the walls of dust moved on the last crimson glow from the distant hidden Sun painted the undersides of the western clouds. Bicycles and mutant vehicles moved along in the wide gray emptiness being alternately covered and revealed by low walls of dust.
By nightfall the winds subsided and people
filled the streets, whose gaily colored lights marked the distant
horizon. This scintillating 'night blooming city' roared its heartbeats
into the night in a thunderous reberverating 'chug chug' as if
from some steam driven Victorian era industrial machinery. For
some reason relatively narrow variations of contemporary dance
club music seem to consistently be the most loudly heard at Burning
Man, so the primary audio experience is a background of several
sources of such music. The misconception that Burning Man is a
big 'Rave' is perhaps contributed to by this fact. Here and there
local musical expressions of great variety were heard out there,
bravely persevering in the surrounding din for the benefit of
nearby appreciative audiences.
I moved on into the cold night in a wide loop then headed back to the City to the 9:o'clock street, and saw there a collection of blinking Law Enforcement vehicles. Apparently as I gathered from people nearby some intoxicated person was being loud and belligerent and may have produced a knife. I saw him being 'hog-tied' onto a stretcher and quite immobile. A circle of BRC Rangers on bicycles surrounded the incident and kept a watch on people nearby, occasionally speaking into radios.
The winds steadily died away into a chilly stillness while myriad drum beats thundered across the Playa all night. I slept well with the help of earplugs and the distance of my neighborhood from the noisy Esplanade and the 'horns' of the large 'C' shaped city where the giant music installations were allowed to try and out shout each other.
Thursday is the day to try to see as much as
possible, the day one can assume most of the work is complete
and before any sense creeps in of the walls of time closing in
on you. This was the beginning of the maturity of the event this
year, with many people on foot and on bikes on the streets circulating
through the fully developed infinitude of places to marvel at,
to walk through, and to stop and talk, drink and dance. The playa
surface was less hospitable to bicycles than the streets so one
was relatively alone when going out into the Playa except for
others on foot. The massive Tent City wrapped itself around most
of the horizon, its many growing towers and banners arrayed like
a canopy of trees over multitudes of domes like varied mushrooms
growing from a forest floor.
Among the most widely visible pieces this year was the huge construction of bundled air bags called 'Jedu Beta' created by Saul Melman of Brooklyn. It was a series of wooden framework tunnels through which a crouching individual could pass through wall like piles of large trash bag like balloons into an inner courtyard. People would curl up and sleep in the relatively cool crannies between some of the 'pods'.
Near 'Jedu Beta' a pair of large inflated shapes
caught the eye. This was 'Starmageddon', made by Pete 'Stars'
Hamilton and Luke 'Monster' Egan. A 15 foot tall spiky starlike
form hugged the ground while nearby a gaily colored trio of spiked
bulbs on stalks swayed gently in the breeze. They looked like
microscopic life vastly magnified and glowed brilliantly with
the sunlight glowing through two layers of vividly colored hot
air balloon fabric.
The largest single art project this year was
the 'Temple Of Stars', by David Best of previous acclaim This
was visible in the distance as a tall conical spire with a wide
base, but work was still continuing well into mid week so I waited
to walk the considerable distance until I could see it complete.
Widely placed on the Playa were many CDs with frayed nylon rope
tassels, fastened to the ground with long spikes and apparently
forming a large pattern on the playa. They looked like litter
until you tried to pick them up. One deliberate bit of playful
'litter art' I came upon was an obviously toy large plastic hypodermic
syringe partially filled with a bright red liquid.
I visited 'Center Camp' rarely this year, but it was the same magnificent tent complex of previous years. A center courtyard open to the sky was surrounded by the ring of flags forming a major unchanging landmark on the Playa in recent years. Within this round 'atrium' people often danced, drummed and juggled, with many people sitting down at the edge. Outside this center area entire wide sections of the interior were devoted to donated couches and easy chairs clearly living out their last usable days. Enormous carpets covered the ground in many overlapping layers, bringing to mind some kind of Arabian Nights derived hallucination. Many people dazed by the elements and their indulgences would gather there, as well as probably some who had nowhere else to sleep.
There were stages along the outer portions facing inwards where people performed spoken or musical offerings. Walking by a stage I noticed a painting hanging beyond it of a voluptuous woman representing Eve temptfully handing the viewer an apple. This could be said to be an expression of a 'backlash to the repressive aspects of Christianity' which continues to be a noticeable sub-theme of Burning Man, among others. On one side of the 'Center Camp' interior were lines of people waiting to buy coffee and other drinks. Here and in the neighboring facility where ice was sold were the only places money could officially buy anything in Black Rock City. There is some controversy among older Burners about the advisability of providing too many amenities for an event which promotes self sufficiency, but I honestly can say I didn't mind a bit, especially when beer kept cold by purchased ice fizzed down my grateful throat.
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