Burning Man 2015. Part 2 – One Day in the Black Rock City

Today we are going for a casual stroll through the city of burners.

Every burner experiences and lives a week in the Black Rock City differently. Moreover, he or she experiences this week differently every other time they come to Burning Man. On our first visit to Burning Man in 2009 we were more like stunned tourists than the full-fledged participants. In 2010’s Burn we almost entirely submerged and integrated with the idea, atmosphere and people. As for this year, we knew from the very beginning, that we are going as observers, or even explorers, if you may, and that Burning Man 2015 was to become a part of our Tour US rather than its own event.

This is precisely why I would go to bed early, so that I could wake up the next morning well rested and ready to be inspired; to soak in what I see and hear and be able to at least somehow digest and process it as best as I could. I reserved my strength and didn’t wonder around the city in the heat of the day so that I would be able to work-photograph with enjoyment in the evening. This is why I also barely drank any alcohol, didn’t smoke or take any substances, which enhance the experience of course, but this was all something I had gone through in the past. This time, however, I wanted to observe this incomparable to anything else event clear-headed, as well as prudent and rational. Then, I wanted to ponder on it extensively and only then write about it.

But I wasn’t able to think for too long. There is a saying in Russian that sound something like this: the spoon is most valued when it’s lunchtime. The readers-viewers want to see and read about this occurrence right now and not a few months later. So, most of what I will write is not fully processed in my mind yet and what I should write will probably be missed. Well, that’s just how it’s going to be.

Today we will go for a jaunt around the city and we will look at its everyday life and out of the spotlight happenings. This is something that the popular photographers don’t photograph and the journalists don’t write about being mostly focused on the amazing artwork and fancy costumes. But it’s what I always look for in our expedition across the country and what, in my perspective, is the foundation of life, wherever it may be, even in the dusty desert of Nevada.

1. It is morning. The majority of people are asleep after their booming night. Our neighbor set up a table with a gentlemen’s collection of first aid: a few cans of Red Bull, Orange juice, a cooler full of ice, two 1.5 liter bottles of vodka, and a bottle of hand sanitizer. The people with a hangover returning somewhere from the city center thankfully stop at the pit-stop and with shaky hands fulfill their needs. Burning Man in all its pure form.

2. Yesterday, someone did not find neither the strength nor desire to return in their designated spot. Where the sleep hit them, that is where they fell. Most importantly is to fall asleep facing the east so as to bask in the warmth of the first morning rays of sun since the temperature at night falls to 5 degrees celsius or even lower.

3. There are also those who courageously got up in the morning to continue exploring. Only to come to a realization, somewhere far away from the city in the depth of the playa, “f^*k this,” lay down and fall asleep.

4. Runners. There are plenty of these as well. Sport is above all, strength, agility, beauty! Make three circles around the city. In Seattle or in Honolulu, these kinds of people inspire a certain admiration mixed with a mild sense of envy. They adorn the city and unwillingly call into a world of pleasantly stretched muscles and deep breathing. Here, in the background of a crippled, covered in rags half asleep crowd that danced till the morning, being all warmed up, sporty and alert is sort of offending.

5. Of course I am over-exaggerating. Many people get up early in the morning.

6. The 70 thousand person city looks empty in the morning.

7. What do you know about comfort? In this ginormous tent, someone has dumped a load of huge teddy bears, blankets and pillows. Amongst all this a few people sleeping. How many would you guess?

8. A girl enters the tent and with a very soft voice starts waking up the slumbering folks. In response to her voice, from the plush depths begin to crawl out sleepy heads in count of about 25, maybe more. It is not simple to get out of the teddy bear’s warm and soft embraces.

9. During this time in Central Camp, coffee fanatics line up for their, what can seem to be an innocent, drug without which it is impossible to start the day. Coffee is one of the two items you can actually buy here with money.

10. Not far from Central Camp, someone has organized a walk-up kitchen where they are serving pancakes…and pizza. Nothing wrong with that.

11. If you have imagined that that’s how true burners wake up: under a building in the dust of the playa, in plush sleeping bags or in a line to get coffee and pizza, then you are mistaken. True burners do not wake up at all in the morning because they do not go to bed in the first place. At least not in the evening. I took this photo at 10:30am, but could have taken it two or three hours earlier and the crowd would have been even more concentrated. And, you will also be mistaken if you thought that these people have come to get a rejuvenating sip of coffee.

12. These people are partying and the sound is so loud that after 15 minutes of my stomach vibrating, I began to feel slightly nauseated. This club is situated on a what is known as the “musical territory” of the city where one can party and dance 24 hours a day. This is precisely what happens here and to some it is not their 20th or even 34th hour of dancing. Young, foolish, strong… it has no side effects on them.

13. Where else will they be able to let loose like this? Where they don’t think about going to school or work, where there are so many of them, where the sound is one of the best with one of the best DJs. And the DJs here are almost all, with only a few exceptions, world class. For them, the phrase, ‘I played at Burning Man,’ is equivalent to, ‘I filmed with Tarantino.’ So, everything is logical and explainable: once a year you can party hard especially since not everyone lives in big cities where there are decent night clubs. But here there are plenty and they are free. Dance ’till you drop.

14. It is morning in our camp. Today is Tutu Tuesday. Everyone regardless of age or sex is dressed in a ballerina’s tutu… or something like that.

15. Not far from our camp there is a sunblock station situated conveniently right on the way to Central camp. This is their contribution. They are there to lather the passersby from the intense sun rays. Why would you not stop in and get a rubdown?

16. We make our way into the center of the city where life is bustling: noise, dust, traffic.

17. Our first stop is at the Man. We will take photos later, Friday. By that time everyone will be there, everything will be built, people will feel more comfortable and won’t be as shy of the camera and we will know what is what and where. So we think.

18. Here you can get advice. How good of advice we have not checked. By the way, on Esplanade (the main street located on the center circle), there was another place that gave advice but very bad ones. For instance, you ask them what to do with life and they answer: you should just pour all your water out. At this point you sort of feel obligated to do it: you knew, that you’ll be given a bad advice, now you better follow it.

19. The Central Camp is the main focus of cultural life in the city.

20. As I have mentioned before, the playa is fairly cool at night. A freezing bum can warm up next to these kind of fire pits.

21. Inside, the camp has its own atmosphere. There are constantly some sort of concerts and entertainment of sorts, poetry reading, lectures, and singing with the accompaniment of a guitar. You can spend all day just lounging amongst comfortable sofas and go nowhere.

22. Someone massages the feet for anyone who wishes to receive it. Whatever way you can serve someone is one of the main principles of a burner.

23. Someone is enjoying a band made out of old door stoppers.

24. Someone is reading a book. In the morning, there aren’t very many people and one can almost find solitude.

25. Someone is helping the little ones build a barricade from decorative pillows and throws.

26. The atmosphere is all about comfort. We owe no one anything and no one pressures you into anything. You may just lay on the floor and hum your favorite song, you may dance, you may wear a costume of a hippo, you may undress and walk around naked. Perhaps you like to play the piano? Sit and play then.

27. Perhaps you have always dreamed of flaunting in a pilot’s uniform but it so happened that you are a truck driver or a director of a company. At Burning Man, you can temporarily become a pilot, or at least look like one.

28. Perhaps you would like a Thai massage? You can get a massage and afterwards lay down and meditate.

29. Perhaps you enjoy ecstatic dance? Come in and join.

As long as you don’t cause an obvious discomfort to others, you can do whatever you wish or whatever you always wanted to do but never had a chance.

This time I clearly understood what the meaning of the phrase “welcome home” really means. Why home? What kind of resemblance does this place have with my home? It is at home that I am comfortable. It is at home that I take off my parade clothing and put on my wide, worn out but yet comfortable and soft sweat pants and a tee shirt. At home one can throw their feet up on the couch, sing with all their might, walk around with uncombed hair, talk to themselves out loud and not worry about making a mistake while playing the Ukulele. Home is where you become what you are inside. And when are comfortable at 100%.

This is precisely what happens to you when you are in Black Rock City. Observing others you begin to understand that the spectacle of the “general public” is over and you can just relax becoming who you really are without trying to please the people around or blend in with their rules. Not expecting any reaction from others regarding your behavior; this is what comfort means. You can do whatever your soul desires.

30.

I know some people who would be against the concept of being able to do whatever you please. What if your soul wants to do evil? What if it wants to lie, steal, rape? Is that allowed too?

The paradox is in the fact that when a regular person is informed that there is a place where they can do whatever they want, they automatically assume that that place will turn into an apocalypse by nightfall because people will first get drunk and high and then chew each other’s throats out. But in practice, it is elucidated that when given this freedom, we become kinder, more responsive, patient and attentive to one another more often than not. The nature of people is egocentric of course, but when they are not poked by a stick constantly, “do good, do good” (which in return they automatically protest, “who are you to give me orders”), they inevitably and unexpectedly to themselves know that in reality they do want to do good, that it feels good to, and it feels twice as good when you don’t expect anything in return.

Burning Man is a place to try all of this and much more. Most importantly it is to be yourself and not shy away from doing good to others. After a bit of practice, both of these aspects come with ease, like riding a bicycle as a kid. It is only in the first moments that it seems un-natural and even scary.

31.

32. During the first few days, we wouldn’t go anywhere after 12:00pm. It’s too hot. That is the best time to overeat some watermelon, carefully and on all fours so as to not tear your abs, make your way to your cot and take a nap for a few hours. In the background, passed the bicycle, you can see Vlad’s air conditioner as the bucket with holes in it where the water evaporates from as it takes out the heat from the yurt.

33. Alla is our early bird so she is entitled to a siesta by law.

34. On the first day we try to stick together but it is evident very quickly that in order to experience true satisfaction in Black Rock City, it is best to go by yourself wherever your eyes find something intriguing. No books with itineraries or schedules and planned events can take the place of free-flying. If you see something interesting, just go there. If you want to stick around longer in spot, you have the freedom to do that as well or you may just peddle as long as you have the strength and energy. Spontaneity is our everything.

35. My dream is to bring something like this with me one day.

36. A faithful and dedicated burner. Some people have been coming here every year for the past 15 or 20 years. For them, this event is a large, important part of their lives where they invest a serious amount of time, finances, and even their own skin.

37. Close to evening time, we continue to ride along the streets of the city.

38. The programmers form Silicone Valley designed a Russian sauna. You are able to assume that they are Russian by the hastily made stand.

39. The principal of its construction is simple: the rocks heat up outside by a soldering lamp and then are filled into a basin through a special door. The nerds say that the temperature is not as high as they would like it to be but this disadvantage is compensated by the high level of humidity. In any way, the line to the sauna is fairly stable and consistent and the aroma is like in a real one: the smell of birch twigs, wet wood and something else pleasant and warm.

40. In the meantime, there is a procession happening to the beat of the drum through the playa.

41. Who they are and who they are carrying is unclear. The impression is a bit eerie. More than once I have observed something similar in Seattle and Honolulu but they are not considered to be very serious by the public. Here on the other hand, perhaps it is because of the desert and the dust or the spiritual atmosphere that allows this sort of a thing, it gives you the chills no doubt.

42. Especially these men with nets and strange sticks on their heads.

43. The ‘attacking group’ chooses a victim, begins to yell beforehand and with distorted faces starts charging towards it. I saw how two women, unprepared to such a turn in events, began running away from the attackers 🙂

44. On the other hand, how else would you react when you see that a few people are giving you an evil eye and poking their fingers and swords at you and then, getting into attacking pose, yelling and swinging their weapons, begin running straight towards you? Run for your dear life, of course. The idea is to get into the part and forget that this is a game. The impressions are unusual.

45. Nearby, someone is making a wave by the use of a tarp. We even surfed on our bikes.

46. Across the road a relay race was in full swing.

47. These dudes are eating a watermelon and offering it to anyone who wishes a piece right off the blade. And so on. No matter where you go, there is always something happening and you can easily become a participant.

48. What is at the very far point of the city? This is what. Here is where the city ends and the wild playa begins. We cannot go there.

49. A cop passes by at a very high speed making his way around the city leaving a tail of dust behind.

50. The dust slowly and without loosing form makes its way towards the city. The sun is setting and it begins to get chilly. It is time to go home and put on a few layers of clothing, warm up with some whiskey and return to the city again but this time for the night time adventures.

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