Sunday, October 5, 2014

Burning Man 2014: Thursday Trek: Center Camp, Man, Temple

And now, more of my BM 2014 experience.

The Man

I was hosting events in my theme camp all week, but I had intentionally left my Thursday free to roam, explore, and generally be open to whatever.

The road to the Man

I had planned to take a trek out to the Man and the Temple, both of which I consider essential to my Burning Man experience.

Temple of Grace

On the way, I'd planned a bit of street theatre, carrying one of my painted palm frond masks in front of my face and playing a little solo on drum and pipe as I walked along.  I had lashed an aluminum oatmeal can to a cloth sash using leather cordage.  Slinging the sash over my shoulder put the can at about waist height so I could beat on it with my length of PVC pipe which someone had turned into a rudimentary flute.  I had acquired this at a Cubensis show, from a man selling homemade instruments like this pipe, which I gave him five bucks for.  Over the years that I'd had it, I'd learned to get some noise out of it, though my skill was adequate only for rhythms, not melodies.  Despite the six finger-holes, I could only get a decent sound if I left them all open, or covered only one.  Otherwise, the restricted air flow made the sound too soft to hear.

Dancing with my latest shaman mask at a full moon drum circle in Laguna Beach

So I geared up, donning a pair of over-the-shoulder satchels to carry my drinking water and essential items like goggles and dust mask.  A wet cloth draped my shoulders to cool me off and a wet bandana or two under my straw hat kept my head cool and shaded.  A pair of sunglasses over my prescription glasses, and then my strap-on drum, and pipe in one hand, and my shaman mask in the  other, since it has no strap to keep it on my head.  And I was ready to go.

Gorgeous sunset sky over the Souk shade structures

Incidentally, I had eaten a single psilocybe cubensis mushroom to tinge my day's experience with a hint of the otherworldly.  It was not enough to really send me on a trip, but just kind of shifted the whole experience a bit towards the strange.

A smattering of people checking out the Souk

So I began my performance, beating out creative rhythms as I walked, and holding my mask in front of me as my "persona" (the latin word for mask, meaning "for sound," referring to the mouth hole which was originally designed as a cone to amplify the sound of the actor's voice). As I got tired of drumming, I would play a rhythm on the pipe, with my two notes.  My mask is mostly there for show, I don't use it to hide my face, per se.  Mostly people seeing me do this as I walk along take it in stride; this is Burning Man, and it takes a lot more than that to catch most burners' attention.  What attention I might have drawn came mostly from what looked like new burners, in touristy-looking cargo pants and large unwieldly cameras. As I passed camps and artcars that were booming their own music, I would match their rhythms and try to contribute to the overall noise.

That sky...!  Just awesome!

My first stop was the Center Camp.  I wanted some coffee, and even though it was easy to obtain at various points around the city without standing in line or paying a fee, there is something I like about the ritual of standing in line for coffee at the Center Camp.  There is a veritable horde of people buying coffee and other drinks during most of the day, and they express a wide variety of styles.  It is fun just watching people and taking in the spectacle, the pageantry.  In the center, acrobats and dancers stretch, practice and perform.  At certain times, there are aerial performances.  Around the circle, people practice a myriad of healing arts, such as tea ceremonies, sharing herbs, massage, reiki, etc.

I was pleased to see that the coffee line had been streamlined, so that there was one fast-moving line for people who only wanted quickly-dispensed drinks such as drip coffee, lemonade, iced tea, etc.  The other lines were for the more time-consuming drinks with fancy names in Italian.  So the people who wanted quick drinks could get through quick, and those who were willing to wait longer for theirs would wait longer.

As I walked out of Center Camp, and around Rod's Road, the circular road that surrounds Center Camp with highly-interactive theme camps, I heard and saw the Burning Band approaching.  This is a perennial favorite act on the playa and at decoms.  A functional and quite professional marching band, playing standards.  About 25 people marching with their drums, horns, flutes, and whatnot.  Of course, I immediately matched their rhythm and fell into step with them as they passed me.  They were all, every last man and woman of them, wearing little black dresses or some variation thereof.  This was, I'd heard an annual tradition for the Burning Band on Thursday at Burning Man.  I was in my shaman robe, or repurposed dress-thing, with ornate black trim.  So, though it didn't quite mesh with the day's uniform, it was still like a dress and had some black on it.  I marched with them for a good ways, and had a blast, loudly singing the standards which they always play: Anchors Aweigh, Happy Days Are Here Again, and Yes We Have No Bananas, are the ones I remember.

The Man, Souk entrance archway

After awhile, I saw it was getting late in the afternoon, and I still had several places I wanted to visit out on the playa.  While I was happy enough to simply roll with whatever the experience brought to me, I did have the goal in mind, of seeing those important sights.  So I began the walk out to the Man.

Simply... huge.

The Man was huge this year, some 150 feet tall.  Usually, it is about a third that tall, and stands on a base structure which can be as tall or taller as the Man itself.  This time there was no base, with the Man's legs rising up right from the ground. It was truly impressive.  They had to create a whole new configuration for the structure based on the larger size.  The limbs had to be much thicker, and they made what looked like a habitable structure in the chest.  The Man structure was not climbable this year, as it is some years.

Side View

This year, the base of the man was surrounded by the "Souk", which was supposed to emulate a mediterranean bazaar of antiquity.  It was a noble effort, but fell a bit short logistically, in my humble opinion.  I confess that I myself made little to no contribution to the Souk experience, despite my earlier enthusiasm and offers to draw caricatures there, as well as offer healing, counseling, listening, hugs, and laughter yoga. The idea for the Souk was that the Regional Networks, groups of burners from around the world who organize events and community around the Burning Man brand, would each host a small part of the large shade structures provided by the Burning Man organization around the man.  They would provide a "taste" of all the regions who sponsored a Souk space.


What I saw when I got there was more like bits of several theme camps, all thrown together, and a lot of it deserted.  Some had interesting art to look at or interactive features, and there were some exchanges happening in some of the booths, but this hardly compared to the original vision, of sort of a crowded bazaar with barkers touting all the best goods and services.

Art at the Souk
Library at the Souk

I had also expected the central public areas of each Souk shade structure to be a bit more comfortably appointed.  There were basically tarps for floors, and I wasn't seeing the luxury or comfort of, say, carpeting, couches, pillows, hammocks, or any seating of bedding at all.  This was supposed to be a refuge for the weary desert traveller, but it provided little refuge beyond shade.  I thought they would have emulated some of the more comfort-intensive theme camps like Pink Heart or Ashram Galactica.  Rugs and pillows on the floor, hammocks, mattresses, (clean) dog beds, etc.  The BMorg well knows these time-tested methods of providing comfort on the playa.  As it is, the Center Camp Cafe is still the hub of cultural exchange, and desert refuge on the playa.

A self-portrait with a couple of random friends I encountered at the Man base.

At the Orange County regional booth at the Souk, I had a brief interaction with some of my fellow OC'ers.  They had, among other things, a mechanism for dispensing playa names.  Many new burners crave a good playa name, but the best arise organically from spontaneous and unforgettable group experiences. Anyhoo, their playa-name picker consisted of two spinning wheels, which would spin, and then the attendant would randomly stop the wheels, with pointers pointing to one of twenty or so words written on each wheel.  So your random playa name would be like "Scarlet Monkey", or "Angel Spirit", or some other two-word, fairly forgettable name (unless the random phrase just happened to fit for some reason). They had taught me how to work the name wheel, and as someone walked up, I thought better of it and figured I'd just give her the first name that popped into my head, which happened to be "Bubbly Betty."  The name wheel gave her like "Mystic Magenta" or some such.  So she had a choice of two names, equally random and perhaps uninspired.

At the feet of the Man

The best time I had at the Souk came at one of the other shelters, where a small four-person drum circle was hopping along.  Being one for spontaneous group performance, I gravitated towards it, and was dancing to the beats with my mask, as well as drumming and piping in rhythm.  One of the guys jumped up, and asked me if I was from orange County.  When I confirmed, he said he recognized me, and my mask, from the Laguna Beach full moon drum circle, which I always attend, and dance with my masks.

One of the chill spaces at the Souk, a small drum jam.

More photos of the Souk and the sky at the end of the post.  Now on to the Temple.  

The road to the Temple

Just about a half-mile from the Man is the Temple, a more sober spot on the playa, a place for reflection, communion, and all kinds of mourning and celebration.  A few art pieces caught my eye along the way.

Sculpture near the Temple, Embrace in background.
Center, in the distance, a wave of wood rising out of the playa to form a perfect curl, with surfboard for photo op.
Another library. This one had hundreds of hand-made books with blank pages for burners to write and draw in.
Someone's alternative Man, out on the deep playa, school of fish in foreground.

The Temple is different every year, but this year it was designed by my personal favorite, David Best.  His temples are always delicate wooden lace-work forming a sacred shrine-like structure.  The citizens of Black Rock crowd inside, and leave countless inscriptions on the walls.  People leave placards, little shrines, or other remembrances to loved ones past, other issues in their lives.

The central structure of the Temple, looked a bit like a helmet.
Many years I have had deep intense connection with the Temple, and been able to purge a lot of negative emotions.  More recently, I don't seem to need it as badly, and make only a surface connection with the Temple.  It is all too easy to get lost in the intense wave of emotions that flood and surround that place.  Just walking in, and looking around, I seem to take on the burden and weight of all that grief and sorrow.  It is normal for me to break down and cry there.  

the free radical at the Temple of Grace 

Needless to say, the Temple was gorgeous.  I have heard the designer say that it has to be a complete work of art, in order to keep people there, having to look at it, for long enough for them to get what they need, the release, catharsis, healing, or whatever it is.

The Temple complex, a fence with archway entrances, several shrines, benches, focal points, and then the main Temple structure with its central stupa, or altar.
The ornate, softly-lit fence surrounding the Temple
Temple and fence
Inside the Temple
Ornate central lamp 
Airy, open architecture, gives a feeling of being indoors, but still connected to outside

This time I was there more or less to see the Temple, but hadn't planned for sufficient time to have an extended sit there, to find my spot and meditate, check in, and leave a remembrance.  I made a token effort in this vein, but was anxious to see the Embrace before it was closed off to the public.

The Temple has a different feel at night.  Very mellow, and meditative, with a smaller, quieter crowd.

But what was this? I noticed some people, a large group actually, engaged in some kind of performance or ritual.  They were arranged in single-file lines with their hands on the shoulders in front of them, all wearing blind folds of black cloth.  The lines of people were being led around by some organizers without blindfolds.  I was curious as to what was happening here, and hung around long enough to find out.  Near the Temple was the start of this ritual, where people were being blindfolded and lining up.  One man was holding up a flag which seemed to draw people into the ritual.  Coming around him, I saw it was the flag of Palestine and a slogan on it read "Peace for Palestine." This was right around the time of a major offensive by the Israeli military in the West Bank.  Seeing this, I started sobbing openly.  I am also outraged by the treatment of the Palestinians, and feel continual sorrow over their seemingly hopeless plight.  I saw someone else walk up and hug the man holding the flag, and I felt I could use a hug as well.  The man was agreeable, and we hugged it out, both crying.  I declined to participate in the ritual, thinking to move on to my other stops, but it had done its job, in drawing my awareness to the untold suffering of the Palestinians.

The vigil for peace for Palestine

As the darkness closed, I gathered my gear and headed over to the nearby Embrace sculpture.  This was the much-talked-about highlight of this year's large-scale art.  It had been recommended to me that I get to it, to see the inside, before it closed.  But sadly, by the time I arrived, the flagged rope perimeter told me I would not be allowed inside.  A friendly attendant at the rope fence told me that they had been closed for several hours already and were trying to clear everyone out of the inside so they could begin prepping it to burn.  They were going to burn it in the morning, at sunrise.  I was disappointed, and perhaps a but angry.  Burn it in the morning?  What was the point? Didn't they know people like to sleep in the morning?  And isn't the blazing light of a bonfire kind of ideal for the darkness of night?  Ah, but what do I know?  I'da done it at night, and left it open long enough so that I could get inside.  As it was, I slept in the following morning and missed the spectacle that was said by all to be awesome.  Resigned to having missed the interior, I just stood and admired the piece from outside the perimeter.  It was still pretty cool.  Look to others' photo albums to see more in depth shots of this amazing piece.

There was more to my night ahead, but that's all that I took photos of.  More to come.

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