Not once we asked ourselves: where else would it be possible to organize Burning Man, where it would just as interesting, but not as extremely dry, hot and windy? On a long and wide Hawaiian beach Waimanalo by the edge of the blue ocean? Or somewhere in the mountains of the Olympic National Park in Washington around the dark limpid lake? Or, maybe, the ideal place would be the most beautiful California Redwood Forest with its moss-grown gigantic sequoias and foaming rivers? Maybe.
But you see, all those picturesque, magnificent places lose to Nevada desert in one major point: there is no dust.
At first sight, this, an absolutely unnecessary substance that complicates the life of every burner, is actually the most important part of the festival, at the same time being its entourage, tone, background and sometimes even the base. All aforementioned places without dust would look too festive, art installations – too decorationally-theatrical, and people’s costumes – unnaturally stylish, like in those cheap movies about knights. The playa dust, lightly strewn in an even layer on all and everything, softens the color contrast, makes new clothing look seasoned and even old, emphasizes a total isolation from the civilization and helps participants submerge into the fantastic, wild, post-apocalyptic atmosphere.
2. Without the dust it would be boring. But there is one nuance: we like it when everything is covered with the layer of dust, but we don’t really like the process of getting there.
3. Noteworthy is the fact that the main part of the dust we create ourselves by trampling-driving on the playa. Playa is the bottom of the old dried-up lake, which in the most part is firm and dense, and only in spots it is friable. By tearing the friable parts, we turn them into inexhaustible sources of the smallest flour-like dust, which then floats in the air for quite some time. The question is how long and in what direction the wind will move this dust around.
4. If the city streets and the entrance road, where the dust layer is especially thick, are regularly sprinkled down (a short-term solution, actually), whereas the dusty mines in the “residential” areas, the airport runway and the center city playa grow by day.
5. And in the lightest breeze these mines hang in midair as a grey veil. It’s good, if the wind will blow for a couple of hours and then cease, as it happens every day later in the afternoon. But if the visibility falls to the level where you can’t see the Temple, or even the Man from the Esplanade, then our situation is bad.
Things were in a bad way with us also because we left Friday to be our “day of photographing all and sundry”. Usually by Friday everything is built and completed, those who had to arrive have arrived and we already explored around and determined where we should go with our cameras and were we shouldn’t. Friday is the apogee of the festival. It’s the day when a photographer needs to fly around the city from dawn till dusk to find good shots. With this in mind, we specifically went to bed early on Thursday, so that we could work all day Friday in full measure.
7. Next day it was windy starting in the morning.
8. Sure, we could shoot some photos even in such dense dust, risking to let inside, even into a specially dust-resistant lens, the alien biological ancient particles.
9. The world has changed. Familiar reference points are lost, the wind mixed the surrounding sounds into one heap, and now we can’t depend on them as well. In places there is so much dust that it’s best to stop and wait for it to clear up, otherwise you would be risking to collide with other cyclists or, worse, a mutant.
10. Understanding that wind is not planning to calm down today, sadly we are heading home. The dust density in the air is so high you can easily look at the sun. Feels like it’s around 7pm, in reality, it’s 3pm.
11. What are we left to do in such weather conditions? Most people while away the time in their mobil homes, yurts and marquees. Those, who have no shelter, besides touristy tents, go to Central Camp or to their neighbors. Some continue to look for adventures on a playa. Our gang is at home: girls are hanging out inside the dust-proof yurt, boys, like true-burners – inside the dusty canopy, with hookah, cigars and tequila.
13. Our neighbor, a frenchman, walked by with a helplessly squinting from dust kiddo. Contrary to Burning Man spirit, for a short moment a sheer heart’s impulse arose to punch the neighbor in the goggles.
13. An hour went by. The wind eventually got to a “First degree tornado” level. We are breathing solely through wet bandanas. Things like napkins, paper cups, plastic bags and other light trash started to fly by along with the dust. Near by something crashed and started rolling away. The overhang on our neighbor’s mobile home started to fall apart at the seams. The flapping flags at the camp 11:11 are making the loudest noises (every day at 11:11 o’clock the inhabitants of this camp shout and whistle loudly, and so we help them along). It’s time to put away the chairs and camp beds, stack away empty buckets and bring our bicycles into horizontal position. What’s worse it that the wind changed direction and is now blowing directly into the entrance of our canopy, which makes the back and side walls work agains us, bellying out like parachutes. We are strengthening the windward wall with extra ropes and tightening sagged ropes on leeward side.
The sun hints on its presence occasionally barely showing through the grey cloud. In these moments you can see that the dust cloud is only about sixty feet high and above it – clear blue sky. I decided to go for a stroll on playa. I go down the street to the right with the backwind so strong that I don’t even have to treadle. On the playa wind blows even stronger. Visibility distance – plus one more length of the bike, only because there is nothing your eyes grab on to. All around you is the grayish-yellow fog without the beginning or end. Riding downwind I reached the trash fence. Indeed, there is five times more trash that there was before. By the fence stands the same, as me, idiot/in-the-dust-adventure seeker. If it wouldn’t be for the fence, it would really easy to get lost and ride in the wrong direction: there are no reference points and the wind constantly changes its direction from west to south.
14. I came back the long way along the fence line. I walked, because riding the bike even on the lowest gear was impossible. The body is cold, the ears are overwhelmed with the noise of howling wind, the glasses instantly get covered in dust and fog up, dust is in the eyes, in the nose and on the teeth, despite all protection. The time goes by slowly, sometimes it seems that I’m going in the wrong direction. Suddenly, the sounds from the club reached me through the grey cloud, then the club itself appeared. There is no people, but the music is playing at full capacity. My turn. I came home with the strong feeling that I was out for about three hours. In reality it was about twenty minutes.
15. The wind settled down late at night. And on Saturday morning we found out that the Man was already fenced in preparation for burning. Damn!
16. The cops dispersed around the potentially dangerous object; taking pictures. Someone complains that they had to come here so early. And we are sad that a whole day of shooting is missed.
17. In the evening the city gathers in the center. Mutants show off their evening attire.
18. Usually mutants ride on the playa in random directions, but today they all gathered in a neat circle around the Man.
Here, for the first time, we personally faced the expression “Burning Man is not the same anymore”.
The mutant-yacht, the company of the first-class dandies and dolls (like they were specially casted for these roles). A private DJ, music and all. Two bouncers are hanging out by the stairs, exactly like in any typical city club. Orange t-shirts, black trousers, indifferent faces. Don’t look like burners at all. We approach and politely ask if we could climb the mutant to get a couple of shots from above. One of them nods “the captain is over there, ask him”.
“The Captan” is talking to someone near by, while being told that someone over here wanted something. He continues the conversation, like he hasn’t noticed us. We wait for a minute and look with pity at this “coolness” show. Then Alla interrupts the “captan”, “Excuse me, would it be alright for us to come on board and take some photos from the top? It seems you have the highest construction here”. While he is thinking what’s this in front of him, the other bouncer interferes, twirling something gleamy in his hand: “What can you leave as a deposit? Up there are people just like you, these are their phones, if they don’t come back down – it’s their problem”. We can see they are not joking.
Suddenly the “captan” focuses on Alla’s face: all right, I’ll take you upstairs myself. You don’t say, you’ll “take” us there! Via a stepladder out of twelve rungs on a jade-mutant on Burning Man playa he, so be it, will take us up himself. Feeling like
shit VIP we board the “yacht”. There, with serious “we are elite” faces, hang out the select burners. We hastily take a couple of the silly shots and even more hastily disembark, where we are greeted like their own (cause, you know, the captan-took-us-up-himself) by those same bouncers, who are now smiling and even trying to make a conversation.
19. Getting out of there, fast.
20. As it turned out it wasn’t so simple to shoot anything decent from a rocking on the waves of dance yacht.
21. While waiting for the Burn the crowd was entertained with fire show by torch jugglers.
22. The mutants-clubs got into one heap and every one of them is trying to out-thrash the neighbor. The roar level is insane.
23. The fire ball shooters have their own showdown.
24. It’s crazy how much propane converts into heat in each torch on free-running.
25. And if they blaze off… Even from this distance we can feel powerful heat, and near the car it feels crazy hot.
Meanwhile, the fireworks start, but they get pretty boring pretty quickly. It’s surprising that humanity has yet to figure out a simple secret of interesting salutes: all you need is to begin from a very light, feeble shot and make each following shot more powerful. And in the end give out a triple portion – the show will be short and rich.
26. But no, even at Burning Man it was necessary to “prolong the pleasure” to the point that when explosion blazed, I, for a while, have been going through my camera settings and experimenting with the exposure, without paying much attention to what’s been going on around (probably, that’s why I missed the explosion itself), and the crowd impatiently chanted “Burn, motherf@!$er!”
27. And then the Man flared up. At first bright and spectacular. Then simply bright. Then it just burned. Then everyone waited when it would fall so that they could scream at the top of their voice, but Man stood strong.
28. The cables weakened, the firebrands started falling, the Man even swayed under the crowd’s groan. But continued to stand. After a while people began to leave. The flame was losing its fierce. The Man frankly scoffed at the public. I warmed up and was about to take a nap.
And then Man fell. Awkwardly and weary, nearly saying something like “Screw you all…” The crowd squealed and ran towards the fire, to warm up and dance.
29. A burned-down Man draws no less attention than the standing one. From early morning burners gather around the remains of the symbol (some never left) and keep taking from it whatever possible.
30. Despite the fact that there is not much too look at, there is always something to do. For example, some are making pancakes on the coals.
31. Some need a more substantial breakfast: bacon, fried eggs, toast.
32. True burners don’t niggle and act according to the generous burning nature: at night they put out a complete roast set and worked many hours, feeding a bunch of people with roasted pig and lamb. Attaboys!
33. The crown rummages about among the coals in search of souvenirs. It’s a tradition.
34. Pretty much anything that withstood the fire can be a souvenir: melted-off glass pieces, metal bits, wires. Later on these can be made into neat souvenirs that are highly valued among burners.
35. This fire will burn here for a very long time: during the day people who are leaving burn here the unnecessary construction materials and in the evening artists bring here their wooded art pieces and solemnly commit them to flames.
36. And to this particular crowd the warm remains of the Men are the most pleasant.