Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Best Party on the Planet...

...If there's an afterlife, let it be like Burning Man.

Every August the cracked, dusty skin of the Black Rock Desert in Nevada becomes home to an amazing expression of human exuberance, creativity and good will.

There, stretched between the mountains, the appropriately named Playa hosts what must be the greatest show on Earth, as 40,000 'Burners' leave behind the pre-created identities of consumer culture and paint a kaleidoscopic week-long artistic happening that wows everyone who attends.

American's may be fond of superlatives but where Burning Man is concerned they are more than justified. I've had an absolutely AWESOME week and the scrappy shards below cannot begin to convey the mosaic they're taken from.

In fact I seriously considered a one-line blog entry: 'Burning Man. You have GOT to go.'

Into the wilderness

Getting to Burning Man takes commitment and planning. Situated in the middle of a high elevation desert, miles from the nearest habitation, it is a harsh environment - people need to look after each other. The only things for sale on site are coffee and ice! Everything else you need must be brought with you - or 'gifted' from another 'Burner', as those attending are known - including a minimum 1.5 gallons of water per person per day.

I was with Camp Starstruck in the Alternative Energy Zone. Organised by Jon and Amanda, they worked logistical wizardry in hiring a van, buying and planning camp meals, and preparing the essential shade structure that would provide our social space.

We had driven through the night, excitement building as we joined the narrowing funnel of Burners, until we reached the desert and a string of red tail lights stretching out into the darkness. As the sun rose we made the final approach along a strip lined with quotes on politics and the American Dream (this year's theme), and at the gate myself and Tim, both of us first-timers, were greeted with a hug, a 'Welcome home' and invited to ring the bell. We had arrived.

Black Rock City

BRC appears and disappears every year, barely leaving a mark: a central tenet of Burning Man being 'Leave No Trace'. (This is a principle taken very seriously and all MOOP - Matter Out Of Place - must be pounced on and removed).

The camp forms a partial circle, over 10,000 feet in diameter, with the towering Man at the center, faced by the open section with looks out on the expanding desert plain beyond, with its Temple and various scattered art
stretching out to 'The End'.

Streets radiate from the man according to times on a clock face, from 2 o'clock through to 10 o'clock, bisecting concentric rings starting from the inner Esplanade where many of the bars and venues are, and out past alphabetically ordered streets: Allante, Beneville, Corvair, etc. Our camp's address that I'd so carefully noted finally made sense: 6.30 and Dart.

Into this orderly outline, that would satisfy the most ardent Modernist city planner, bloomed a romantic, chaotic, anarchic explosion of life.


The people make Burning Man. What is astounding is that everything you see is the result of some person or groups self-expression. No logos allowed (only Budget Rental' and 'U-Haul' were occasionally on display, but often in subverted form).

'Art Cars' roam the playa and adapted 'Art Bikes' - each one choosing fun over function. From the cartoon like...
... to the surreal:

The delightful wit kept a smile glued to my face. Some favorites were the 'Hug Deli' (I chose the 'Slow, Awkward Hug' out of intrigue. Yes it was)....

...and the BRC Police, on the prowl to enforce good humour:

The exuberance came through in the 'What, Where, When' book of listings for BRC events, classes, happenings etc, some of which included:
'Black Rock Gang Watergun Shootout'; 'Pimp My Bike'; 'Adopt a Trained Sock Monkey'; 'Start Your Own Cult'; 'Laughter Yoga'; 'Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony'; 'BRC Annual Kite Fly'; 'Utah Bob Has a Rash'; 'Lockpicking 101'; 'Rub Sid's Feet'; 'Socially Appropriate Burp Day'; 'Snowball Fight'; 'Couples Smooching Workshop'; 'Global Dream Crystal Grid Activation'; 'How to Start a Housing Co-op'; 'Orange Peel Sculpture Workshop'; 'Erotic Rope Bondage 101'; 'Tent Folding Clinic'; 'Nuclear Reactor and Fusion Workshop'.
Some typical entries:
Monday-Sunday, 11.00am - 12.00pm
Abuse by Andrew
Camping with a moron? Tired of your significant other? Know someone you can't stand? Bring them for a little abuse by Andrew!

Thursday, 6:00pm - 7:00pm
Gondwanaland Bike Race
Millions of years ago, a noble union blessed this planet: The supercontinent Gondwanaland. Today we race in opposition to tectonic drift.
Wednesday, 8:00pm - 9:00pm
Cancer Walk to the Temple
Join burner cancer survivors & loved ones to walk to the temple and joyfully SHOUT out being alive! Meet at the temple (12) side of the Man.
Looking through the guide on the first day I felt overwhelmed by the options. But I quickly learned that every day at Burning Man is best experienced like a road trip. You set off and just see where you end up. Every Burner's day will be different, every one full of its own wonders. Like coming upon a slip'n'slide:

Night time on the Playa

At night Black Rock City really comes alive. Like some giant anthropic coral reef, the Playa is a sea of neon shapes, spectacular fire shows and incredible Art Cars swirling past you.

The clubs are unreal and it's easy to feel you've landed in The Matrix...

The meaning of Burning Man

I asked people I met what word they'd choose to sum up Burning Man:
"Freedom. There are just two rules: don't be violent; and pick up your crap."

"Life. Being alive. Feeling alive" Alabaster

"Community. And communication. Sharing and opening up. Seeing people as unique, aside from all the boxes we put each other in, aside from the commercial" Scott

"Awakening. My first Burning Man was last year and I found something profound. People are so welcoming and I didn't feel judged by anybody. Release is the one word to describe this temple [see video below]. Everybody has something they want to release." Ramsey, pictured below with his girlfriend Krista

For me, my favourite poem fitted perfectly with the spirit of Burning Man. Not only does Omar Khayyam's 'Rhubaiyat' passionately preach 'carpe diem' and loving life while it lasts, but written in 12th Century Persia, it's desert imagery came alive on the Playa:
Ah, make the most of what we may yet spend,
Before we too into the Dust descent;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust, to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and - sans End!
I gifted verses to people, scrawled on post-it notes, handed out from my briefcase or bowler hat.

My best day

Dust-storm's swept the Playa...

And from the Temple humankind
seemed glorious and fragile...

With face mask and goggles sealed,
I wandered further into the whiteout,

finding a huge teepee of many-nations...

There we mixed new cocktails
and donned prom dresses,
their price tags
still attached...

Adopted by some crazy Californian's,
I joined them in their Cherry Pie

as we set off in the blizzard,
a meter or less, navigating by
occasional glimpses of the sun...

Finding our way back to the Esplanade
we took shelter in the Moonshine Bar,
and I ordered a drink for myself
and my bowling ball Louise
(the most unusual piece of MOOP yet)

Thank you Burning Man, thank you Burners... God Bless America!


  1. Beautiful! I totally failed to go into that much detail on my blog, all I managed was Burning man... Amazing and indescribable.

    And this time around, I failed to even write a blog entry, preferring instead to let my memories whirl free and defy the capture of prose.

    Megs xx


Leave a comment. Makes me happy.