Sunday, September 25, 2011

Burning Man 2011

Burning Man thoughts:

The overarching impression is how inadequate any attempt to describe Burning Man is.  To try to explain what it's all about, why it's so awesome, why it's not so bad, why people go, why I want to go again; I know that I will fall far short of adequately conveying even a small part of this to anyone who hasn't been.  But, in the same spirit that took me to Burning Man despite my apprehension, here goes.

Radical self reliance, radical self expression.
Off the charts creativity (some of it at amazing expense).
Cooler than I could ever have imagined, no where near as hard as I feared.
"Welcome home."
Gift economy.
Sunrise first day.
Feeling of participation due to French Maid Brigade parade.
Great weather: cool down, low wind but nice breezes, no rain.
Sand is way worse than dust.
Nighttime was like an anarchic Disney Parade of Lights (or a Parade of Lights on acid).
Wonderful lack of body consciousness.
Nudity inescapable (not really a problem).
Drug use not in your face.
Dubstep inescapable (boo).
Ear plugs an absolute necessity if you want to sleep.
Spray-on sunscreen rocks!
Plush fabric makes the dust more tolerable.
In terms of getting away from it all, like a shorter Grand trip where you don't have to know how to row.
At BM, you don't pick your experiences, your experiences pick you (ie, cede control).
I've never before willingly hugged so many strangers and near strangers.
Celebratory atmosphere at the Man burn.
Reverential atmosphere at the Temple burn.
Surprisingly emotional exodus.

During the weeks of preparation, a Burning Man veteran told me, "Don't be surprised if you hate it at first."  Thankfully, this was not my experience, perhaps because I was warned, perhaps because I purposefully went in with an open mind and a willing spirit.  Burning Man was so much cooler than I ever could have imagined and so much less difficult than I feared. Now, I will grant you that I was very lucky as a first-timer. The weather was the best that it's been in years; no day long dust storms, low wind but nice breezes, no rain (which turns the dust into mud), wonderfully cool at night.  Due to a wet spring, the playa surface was ideal, hard and smooth.  Due to my travel companions, I was invited to camp with an established theme camp so was able to rely on a group of highly experienced Burners to ease my entry.  Since I arrived late and left late, I avoided the 4, 5, 6+ hour long waits to enter and exit. In addition, my camp was set up when I got there so I was spared a lot of initial uncertainty and anxiety.

For the most part, at least among the people I saw and the places I went, there was an amazing lack of censure.  It is an exercise in self selection.  You're not going to go to Burning Man if you're not willing to be tolerant and because most everyone has arrived with this philosophy, there's an ease to the playa. There's also a communal aspect, people looking out for one another.  I stopped on the playa due to a problem with my bike and immediately, a roving bike mechanic materialized at my side.

The carcass wash.  What, you're wondering, is a carcass wash?  I've decided that the carcass wash was my favorite aspect of Burning Man, due in part to the fact that it was something specific to the French Maid Brigade camp and its neighborhood, our little awesome ritual.  One of the Maids brought a pressure washer.  When he felt the urge or received a request, he would fire it up and yells of "Carcass Wash!" would spread from our camp.  People would then materialize in the street in front of our camp in various states of undress to be treated to a shockingly cold and fantastically refreshing carcass wash, a fine spray of a shower as we all hopped and danced around.

Burning Man is 24 hours a day. The playa never sleeps. However, I got a reasonable amount of sleep, as a conscious choice to not try to cram everything in and because of ear plugs. The dubstep, an annoying thumping electronic music, was round the clock noise which would have made sleep elusive without ear plugs.

The dust was remarkably tolerable.  Granted, as I've already stated, we didn't have any real dust events.  But, as opposed to the grittiness of sand, the dust was much finer, a lot like talcum powder.  Given the choice between dust and sand, I choose dust.

A benefit of Burning Man for me was being forced to disconnect from my electronic connection to the outside world.  I've had a few vacations where I've had that experience, RAGBRAI, my Grand Canyon river trips.  At Burning Man , I had to unplug but I didn't have to ride my bike 60 miles a day or know how to row a raft.

Tickets go on sale January 18, 2012.

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