We had our first day out on the playa, the dry lakebed that is the site of Burning Man. I realize I haven’t fully explained exactly what Burning Man is, which may be because I’ve largely felt inadequate to the task. Painting a picture in words of this otherwordly place seems daunting mostly because metaphors seem entirely insufficient. But I’ll give it a go.
The idea behind the festival is to bring thousands of people together to create a temporary city where the normal conventions of civilization don’t apply. There is no advertising or money and, other than ice and coffee — the bare essentials for some, I suppose — nothing is for sale. Participants are expected to provide for their own needs and to share with others.
And to an astonishing degree, that is just what happens. Most "burners" set up themed camps where they freely dispense everything from advice, to massages, to alcohol and other treats. There are camps that offer workshops in various healing modalities, set up massive open air dance parties in the desert, or offer quieter places to relax and be contemplative.
The city itself is designed as a semi-circle with the open side facing the wide open playa that seems to go on forever. In the expanse are amazing art installations that aren’t described on the map they give you upon arrival, so there’s a sense of serendipity at play as you explore the area and stumble upon unexpected surprises. One installation we particularly liked was an enormous Rubix cube, 15 feet long on each side that was lit up at night and which three people could try to solve simultaneously using electronic controls. The only problem is each user can only see two faces of the cube at one time.
The main mode of transport is the bicycle, but many burners build amazing art cars that are mind blowing in their creativity and painstaking detail. But mostly there’s an air of incredible freedom and creativity which, as has been described elsewhere so I needn’t repeat it here, often manifests itself in sex, nudity and drug use.
But that’s hardly the totality of Burning Man, and as several people mentioned to me, if that’s the focus — and, to be honest, it’s hard not to be when your senses are routinely assaulted by naked men and women wearing nothing but sun hats and Camelbaks — you miss the real power of the place.
One thing we never expected to encounter in a place that is seemingly designed for maximum hedonistic indulgence was a Jewish mother dispensing advice and guilt. But that’s exactly what Lisa Schroeder of Portland, Oregon decided was her contribution to life in Black Rock City. Check out the video below.
(Disclaimer: I’ll probably need to say this a few times, but the photos and video from BRC often have cursing and glancing images of nudity. It wasn’t my objective to titillate, but when there’s so much of it around, some of it creeps in. So viewer discretion is advised.)