Friday, February 22, 2013

Burning Man Stories: Babarist Babylon Part I


Babarist Babylon was the first theme camp I helped build.  My second year, we wanted to contribute something, however humble.  One of our party members from the previous year, Derrin, while drunk in a bar, came up with the idea of worshipping Babar, the cartoon elephant from the series of childrens' books.  This must have been a hilarious idea while three sheets to the wind.  But in the sober light of day, it became the theme around which we rallied our efforts.  I admit to being reluctant in accepting our new theme.  It was just so random, and we could have chosen anything at all.  However, our main driver for our party, Damon latched onto the idea and was soon planning to buy matching dashikis with elephant patterns.

Babarist House of Worship
The main structure of the camp was to be the large central dome which served as the Babarist Temple.  My father, Gerald had discovered the ideal connector for building a simple dome: Star Plates.  These are metal plates with grooves and holes perfectly placed to accept the 2X4's and carriage bolts to hold the dome together.  Originally intended as chicken coops, the structure is incredibly strong, able to stand up to strong playa winds.  We made it as large as the hardware would allow, which gave us a nice living room-sized interior, on which we lay down a tarp and rugs.  Damon had picked up some used furniture which made the dome "home": a few couches, a recliner, two commodes, and a floor lamp.  We fouled up the generator for the lights by filling it with oil twice, but a flashlight shining on a disco ball spinning on the ceiling gave provided some light.

The cover for the dome was a big project which I spearheaded.  The theme being "Psyche" that year, we decided to make the dome look like a brain.  I volunteered to design the brain pattern, which I drew in pencil on large canvas drop cloths.  Then I created stencils of my trademark rune patterns, which Damon and I placed over the pencil lines and spray-painted black.  This took many coats of paint, as the drop cloths just soaked it up.  The final effect, after the tarps were wrapped around and stapled to the wood of the dome, was an abstract geometrical representation of a brain-type thing, but this was an achievement for us.  Sadly, the pattern ended up being visible only from the inside, because we draped a drab green parachute over the whole thing, but the coolness of the additional shade layer made it worth it.  I dubbed it the Brain Dome.
Babarist's Brain Dome interior panorama.  Babarists from left to right: Damon (R8), Derrin, Jon

Derrin was the priest or rabbi of our Babarist temple and held two services and a holiday or two.  During the services, he would read from any of the dozen or so Babar books which were on hand.  It became clear quickly why this particular childrens' book series was chosen: the parallels were hard to miss.  Babar is an elephant that becomes a king, and lives in Africa.  The desert environment of Africa is similar to the playa: water trucks spray the dry desert roads to keep down the dust, and an illustration depicts the young characters chasing the truck to cool off.  One book begins with the old king getting sick from eating a bad mushroom; the lesson from this was: know your source! 

Thursday evening, we held a cocktail party in the evening, just as it was getting dark, to assemble our party for the long night of reveling.  This was the "Babar-Mitzvah."  It was so successful, that the second year, we had a second one on Tuesday, which was "Babarmas."  I believe the drink being dispensed was dubbed "Jungle Juice." 
Visitors loved our theme and our commitment to it.  I was surprised it took so little, that something so random and off-the-wall would end up charming people into staying for hours, becoming friends and visiting regularly.  Many burners were fooled by Derrin's dead-pan delivery into believing that Babarism was an actual religion with a following outside of Burning Man.  Derrin went so far as to post a Wikipedia entry about Babarism.

In 2006 we brought our theme camp back with some improvements, which I will elaborate on, in a future post.

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