Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

August 30, 2005 Burning Man: Camps, Cars, and Creations.

Burning Man is loosely organized into theme camps. With 35,000 people there, people find they need a smaller community to call their home, people who share their interests or their sense of fun. So the theme camps evolved. Any group of people

with even a quasi-legitimate purpose who are willing to do a little paper work in advance can create a theme camp, and they’ll be assigned a spot on the playa where they can all stay together. My camp, VW Bus Camp, was pretty skimpy as camps go. We didn’t really have much of a purpose, we just wanted to hang out with other folks in VWs. There were actually buses and vanagons all over the playa, most of whom didn’t camp with us. I was glad to be there, though, even though we didn’t do a lot together. It gave me a place to go when I got there, and people to spend time with if I wanted to.

Other camps, though, were more distinctive. There were several that fixed bicycles, nice folks with tools and spare parts and oil to lubricate chains coated with playa dust. I stopped at a camp called the tropical rain forest, where hoses sprayed a fine mist of cool water on anyone who cared to stop for a visit. There were innumerable clubby-disco-esque party camps where music

blared and lights flashed at night and people danced wildly inside and out. At a camp near us a long wire was slung from the top of a platform down to a support some 100 meters away. A line of people waited to climb the tower, grab a t-bar, and swing down the wire to the far end where they dropped off onto a pile of mattresses. When it was my turn I was afraid I’d somehow slip off the t-bar before I got to the end, but of course I didn’t. Camps offered classes and instruction; in yoga, fire dancing, meditation, sexuality of any kind you can imagine, drumming, environmental concerns. They gave out coffee, drinks, or showers. There was an anonymous camp, where all manner of 12-step programs could hold meetings; a Barbie death camp filled with thousands of nude Barbie dolls; a gambling camp; a body art camp; a camp putting out a daily newspaper; a camp that washed your hair; a temp agency promoting volunteerism on the playa; a

post office camp that delivered messages within BRC – not to be confused with the US post office that actually took letters with stamps and sent them to other parts of the country cancelled with a Black Rock City stamp.

The camps were listed in the materials handed out at registration, and most of them, frankly, made little sense to me. For example:

AstroPups Psychedelicatessen
Welcome to the AstroPups Psychedelicatessen! For the 5th year in a row, the AstroPups bring you the hottest Pups on the playa! With special events all week long, you'll have plenty of opportunities for all of your Puppy Dreams to be caught and analyzed. Step into our Doctor's office and explore your inner Puppy with the help of trained professionals, who have spent years studying the Psyche of the Dog Mind.

Asylum Village
Asylum Village is an interactive playground for the mind that also serves to house wayward New Yorkers and their friends who have wandered out to the desert. Insanity is encouraged, straight jackets optional.

Automatic Subconscious
carefully peel back the surface of your mind
expose and explore your subconscious [or explore ours instead ]
exploration facilitated by: performance [aerial and otherwise], public space, stilter (and stilt-free) bars, elevation, sculpture, untrained professionals...

Camp Narcissism
It's all about ME: Camp Narcissism is a place where participants come face to face with themselves in our wall of mirrors and our roaming mirrored bus, and are encouraged to see themselves for the beautiful, creative souls they truly are. We invite all to stop by to fall in love with themselves, and to take that love from the unconscious to the conscious part of their psyche.

Deep Heaven: Heart of the Psyche
Deep Heaven invites BRC citizens to *Go Deep* 24/7 and visit our oasis for the open heart, where we explore intimacy, movement and improv playshops, blessing rituals, fortune

telling, burner-button making, art activities, and play. Just look for our rotating heart mirror and "You Are Here", our Conscious, Subconscious and Unconscious backdrops for photography.

Damn Fucking Texans Texas Embassy
The Damn Fucking Texans return to BRC in 05 to continue our tradition of Texas hospitality, generosity, and interactivity with our fellow citizens. DFT will open an official Texas Embassy to further relations with the world’s Freak Central and bring accents, tastes, and other memories of home to Texas expatriates and visitors alike. The Texas Embassy will be headquartered in the Lone Star Bar, and all expat, present, honorary, visiting, and future Texans are asked to come trace your personal path from Texas to BRC.

You go figure.

The cars are another Burning Man feature. Driving on the playa is not allowed, because it breaks the crackly ground into fine dust that billows and swirls in the slightest breeze. But the art cars – or mutant vehicles, as they are officially termed - are another matter. Some were relatively simple; a wildly painted VW bug, an old bus covered with skulls and figurines an all matter of graffiti. But others were elaborate creations, some of which returned every year to cruise slowly around the playa. One of my favorites was a kind of chariot, “pulled” by an elegantly sculpted metal horse. Many were double-decker structures that had started their lives as school buses or pickup trucks, now converted into two-story moving bars with speakers blaring music and people lounging on couches or perched on bar stools. There was a lizard-like car with a long tail and round eyes bobbing at the end of tentacles.

To drive at night, cars had to be fully lit so no one could miss their approach. And indeed, after dark they were glorious visions of neon and glow lights and fire. The silvery curves of an Airstream trailer were nicely outlined in red neon that looked like a cartoon drawing. A car heavily laden with illuminated grapes cast an aura of a bacchanalian orgy. One “car” had been fully converted to a wooden sailing ship, its mast strung with lights towering above the desert and a gangplank allowing people to enter the party inside and on the decks. Trucks plied the desert shooting bursts of flame from gas-powered jets, sudden flares of light illuminating the people passing by.

From a mile away in the deep playa, I watched the night scene and listened to distant music from all ends of the city. It felt like sitting on the beach at Sandy Hook in New Jersey, peering through my binoculars at the lights of Coney Island twenty miles away across the waters of Raritan Bay and the Outer Harbor. But this was a dozen amusement parks at once, throughout Black Rock City, across the whole horizon from 2:00 to 10:00. It was stunning, sitting in the calm and quiet of the warm night, watching the frenzied activity and color and movement humming and buzzing a mile away.

Then there’s the sculpture. Burning Man is, after all, an arts festival, so there has to be some art. Scattered across the playa were all kinds of constructions and creations, some baffling, some entrancing, a few quite beautiful, and many of

them burning. A wonderful wheel the size of a small ferris wheel rolled across the desert, propelled by the bicycling action of three people slung in seats within it. Near where I came across the wheel in motion, a narrrow hundred-foot ladder rose straight from the ground, and people took turns to climb to the top. No one fell, no one backed down in fear of the height. I didn’t try it. A glittering, flittering construction flashed silver lights in the sun from far across the desert. When I approached to see what it could be, I found a frame set with hundreds of clear plastic bottles partly coated in silver, spinning in the wind (with a little help from hundreds of pairs of magnets set with opposite polarity) and catching the sunlight. In my opinion the best sculpture, unquestionably, was a mammoth metal representation of a woman and a boy walking away from the Man-who-would-be-burned towards the desert. Many of the sculptures were clever and entrancing, but to me only this one was the work of a serious artist. It was welded together of scrap steel, on such a large scale that the woman’s bicycle-chain hair looked delicate, even ethereal. It was laden with symbolism, enhanced by flames that flowed from the woman’s hand to the boy’s, but that was unnecessary; it was magnificent just as it was.

Mary, from Bus Camp, had created an art project out in the deep playa. A group of us joined forces to help her set it up, and it turned out to be delightful. An old park bench, the seat painted dark green with patterns of ferns, the supports of elaborate wrought iron, sat under a kind of non-umbrella; the old frame of a big sun umbrella laced with macrame, delicate wind chimes, and crystal prisms. It didn’t cast much shade, but the prisms sparkled in the sun and the chimes gave it a magical aura. I found it one night in the darkness, and dropped my bike on the ground to enjoy its peaceful sound, the music of the chimes contrasting with the blaring music from the club camps within the city. It was my favorite spot to watch from in the dark, but often couples would find that peaceful bench and I didn’t want to disturb them, so I would just ride past.

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