Friday, May 10, 2013

Burning Man Stories: The Belgian Waffle or "Uchronia" 2006

This was my third year, and the event was still fresh for me.  Having an expanding theme camp meant a lot of time in camp building and setting up, and I didn't really get out to the open playa for a few days.  At night, over the skyline of camps on our street a brightly colored light shone up from some distant point on the playa.  It looked to be from a very wide light source, and pulsated and changed colors.  A campmate came back saying it was a huge structure located way out past the temple, which was surprising: it was extremely bright for being that far away.

Soon after, I found myself walking across the playa in the daytime.  In that spot on the horizon, there was indeed what looked like an incredibly massive amorphous structure.  Getting closer to it, it started to take on the shape of a polar bear walking on all fours, colored similar to the playa, a beige-tan.  It just kept getting bigger and bigger as I approached, until it seemed to loom like a 7-story building, and I could then discern the lattice-work of its walls.  It was made entirely of identical 20-foot long 2X3's that were interlaced in cross-hatching networks forming a lattice work that curved like an organic shape, forming a large shaded cave-like interior and three wide open entrances.  The wind could blow right through the structure, as the surface was not solid.  I later learned that the construction team had started with three reclaimed telephone poles mounted vertically in the ground, and then nailed plank after plank in place to form the sweeping lattice.

It was just stupendous.  Inside, it gave the feeling of a cathedral of sorts, with the high soaring ceiling and vast floorspace.  No furniture or other features decorated this room: the focus seemed to be only on the beauty of the structure itself, except I did notice a small platform tucked into the latticework at the level of a stage, or DJ booth.  It was shady, from the several layers of latticed wood beams overhead, and there was some shielding from the wind, but the dust, when it picked up blew right in with no impediment. 

As spectacular as it had been during the day, it shone brilliantly at night.  The sides of the structure were lit up with colored floodlights, which explained the bright spot on the horizon.  Walking out to it at night with members of my camp, the music was a distant thump at first, but booming techno when we arrived, only to find the place packed wall-to wall with exuberant dancing people.  There was hardly room to maneuver in there and the scene was a bit too much for some.  This was a perfect slice of rave culture: dancing in a giant wooden latticework in the middle of the high desert at night, with a thousand or so other fabulously-garbed people.  Other nights they played other types of music, including Latin.  It was definitely a big highlight of that year.

When I'd first seen it, I had started calling it the Polar Bear, and some others adopted that name for it too.  The name for it that really seemed to stick was "the Belgian Waffle," and everyone called it that, since the team that built it was from Belgium, and the latticework resembled a waffle.  The actual name for it was "Uchronia: Message out of the Future." 

In later years, other teams have adopted this technique of building a structure from a composite of small beams.

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