This article was written by RLE Member, Cecilia Silveira-Marroquin.
Another Labor Day weekend has come to pass and it made me remember Black Rock City. Black Rock City? Where is that? It is not on the map – but that is where I was for 4 years straight, back in the 2000s – on the week before Labor Day, which is the first Monday in September.
Black Rock City is a “real life” Brigadoon. It appears in the middle of the desert at midnight on Monday before Labor Day and on that very holiday it vanishes again, leaving no trace. For one week, Black Rock City residents – all thirty thousand or more – live like every individual deserves to live – in peace, love, harmony, sharing, art (oh … so much art), music, and unlimited creativity. There is no oppression or prejudice.
This festival of sparkling colors and surrealism culminates with the burning of a thirty foot statue of a “Man” amongst a tremendous firework exhibition on the Saturday preceding Labor Day. On Sunday it ends with the spiritual offerings at the Mausoleum’s burning – a Temple made exactly for that purpose…to take away what is negative and leave what is positive for us to take with us, on our way home.
There are many theories about Burning Man – especially by those who have never experienced it. A bunch of crazy hippies, drugged out people having sex in public, apocalyptical types of behavior in a senseless set-up, etc. Actually, nothing could be farther from reality. What then is the real truth about Burning Man? Explaining this magnificent event to those who have never been there, would be like describing colors to someone born blind. I am then expressing here what it meant to me, for Burning Man also carries different meanings to everyone. You just have to be there to understand it and experience it.
Experiencing Burning Man
My friends and I arrived four hours before the festival officially opened – after a seven-hour drive. It was around 3 am. We realized we were in a very different place instantly: There were no grumpy faces making us return later because “We’re still closed.” Instead, a coed group of topless young adults, dressed in Catholic school pleaded skirts and fishnet stockings, warmly welcomed us. Early arrivals are mildly discouraged, except for theme camps – campsites with visual art or entertainment centers. We were “somewhat” early – no big deal. After finding our campsite, we just took out our sleeping bags, placed them outside our truck and just collapsed.
Next morning I noticed how similar I felt to the few years before, upon arrival. The forty-thousand feet altitude played a tremendous part in my initial mood and physical disposition. My friends and I lived in a semi-desert type climate in California at that time, about forty miles from the Pacific Ocean Beach. So, some of us were very much affected by the altitude. Like the first time, I felt tired and irritable. It seemed unacceptable that I could actually let go of stress and just be myself for the entire week. This time however, I was wiser: I stayed out of everyone’s way and took naps while they set up camp. Unfair? Not really. The last thing they needed around, was a whining inexperienced camper.
Oh … but I did help. Together we all battled a series of windy dust storms which were determined not to let our ropes be tied to the rebar poles around our tents and shade structures. It felt good, in spite of my inexperience. I felt strong as an ox! I felt like a naked cowgirl, long hair blowing in the wind, controlling a young colt in its first round in the pasture.
Incidentally, Burning Man is a clothes-optioned festival. Thousands of Black Rock City residents chose to do the same. Thousands did not. Many modest but not necessarily gay men wore women’s skirts – it is a way to keep their privates free from the oppressive tightness of pants and be clothes-optioned participants. The motto is: “Just wear anything you wish or nothing at all.” Costumes are popular for both genders. As a former dancer, I had boxed costumes forgotten in the depths of my closet and was glad to put them back in action – when I felt like wearing something, that is.
Every day was a different experience. In the daytime we would bike and follow our hearts through any of the make shift streets, saluting neighbors, and looking in every direction – there was so much to experience. The colors, the art, and the people – they were there for us as we were there for them.
Meals were easy – it is amazing how little food our bodies really need. Light non-perishable foods and lots of water were sufficient. Except for decorated art cars, bicycling and walking are the only allowed means of transportation, so we felt super-healthy.
Each night there were activities and parties at the theme camps. We consulted the provided guide for the programs offered. But just biking around and seeing all the art made with lights – the colors, the glowing, the music, the joy was enough some evenings. Like many, our costumes and bikes were also sparkling with lights and colors.
On Saturday evening the Man burned. The fire effect surrounded by fire works and fire dancers was unforgettable. There was music and dance all night long – that was the climax of the week. And yet it was somewhat sad because it was all coming to an end.
The closing of the festival happened on Sunday evening, as mentioned above – the burning of the Mausoleum. It was solemn, silent, and contrite. We could hear nothing but the strong and yet sweet melody of a woman’s voice emanating from the crowd. She sang like an angel. With the Mausoleum flames went the past, the pain, and the deceptions each one of us wished to release. For all of us, the only real time of the year – when we did not have to pretend and could just be – had just ended.
The next day, Labor Day Monday, we all left. It is hard to imagine traffic in the desert but it took us four hours to reach the main highway, instead of the normal one hour. Slowly, more than thirty thousand people left the desert for – like Brigadoon – it was time for our beloved Black Rock City to disappear. But in reality, no one really minded because we all knew that in just one year it will appear again on the same spot – we will then be able to come home.
For more information visit: www.burningman.com