Freestyle: Flaming out on the playa
BY ELIZABETH KIESZKOWSKI / firstname.lastname@example.org
On Thursday, Aug. 29, the fourth of eight days for Burning Man 2013, the dust rolled in. I don’t have photos of that, though, because I stayed shut up tight in my yurt, doing my best to wash my hair with a spray bottle and some shampoo. I won’t have a real shower until Monday, Sept. 2, but as I learned last year, after the third day you stop caring so much.
I stayed out of the sun, wind and dust, waiting until it became calmer later in the afternoon. After the light started to wane, I had another day full of wonders.
Thursday was the day of the CORE burn, when wooden sculptures created by Burning Man regional groups from all over the world go up in flames. Four circles of six effigies placed around the base of the Man were burned simultaneously. Burning Man organizers called it “the world’s largest intentional simultaneous Burn.”
But before I could witness this grand spectacle of destruction, I had some other exploring to do, around my camp and on the playa.
One of the best things that happened to me on Thursday was encountering the wannabe “world’s largest Soul Train dance line,” when a train pulled up right in front of my camp.
I could hear the dance director calling people to participate from my yurt, and the funk music was great, so I ran over there with my camera, and ended up dancing through the line, too — twice.
Between that and the bike rides or walking needed to do everything, including visiting a porta-pottie (they’re about two blocks from my yurt), I expect to come home a little thinner and stronger.
I was also searching for photos, and finding good subject matter wasn’t an issue. At every turn, there is something odd, artistic or outrageous to look at, including one large sculpture of a round UFO seemingly crashed on the playa.
I spent some time picking up “moop,” aka “matter out of place,” as all burners are asked to contribute to keep the site a completely trash-free zone. Doing things around my camp is no hardship though, as there are a parade of world-class DJs creating sound for us, day and night.
Once the night moved in, our LED palm trees also looked beautiful against the last blue in the sky.
As it became dark, I rode my bike out into the open playa in the center of our camp, where preparations had been made for the CORE burn. Art cars were out in force, with so much neon everywhere that it looked like the world’s biggest carnival.
It’s wonderful to be around so many people who are ready to participate in this experiment in group experience. But my day wasn’t all about spectacle.
I made contact with Honolulu’s Alani Apio on Thursday, when he came by my camp to talk story. We shared a sense of astonishment at the sheer energy, noise and light created by this event — and also shared a sense of appreciation for the freedom and creative excess on display. But Apio also shared a disturbing story: He’d encountered a woman who had apparently been drugged Wednesday night, after accepting a beer from men on an art car. Thankfully, she was with a friend, and had gotten off the vehicle before the sedative effects took over.
Because my experiences have been so positive, and I’ve met so many kind and remarkable people, I’m having a hard time imagining what would motivate a predator to come to Burning Man to drug women, when that action is so incompatible with the gathering’s origins, message and vibe. But once again, reality encroaches.
They have a half-joking saying at Burning Man: “You’re free to get hurt.” But that doesn’t conceive of the hurtful agent being another partygoer, intent on committing a crime.
It’s a reminder that Burning Man is full of people, and while many are marvelous, some people are just no good.
Elizabeth Kieszkowski is editor of TGIF, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s weekly arts and entertainment section. Reach her via email at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter.