September 11, 2011


Our time in Black Rock City was superb. I have been searching for my camera charger all week and meanwhile thinking about how to describe our trip. Finally found the charger today. First and foremost, the kid did great. Her grandparents were rock stars and tears (hers, mine) were minimal.

Where to start?

Black Rock City is 90% dust, 10% fun fur, and 10% fire. That's 110%, which is exactly right.

For one week, it is home to 50,000 people, across more than five square miles.

There is no email, there are no cell phones. The only cars that can drive here are "mutant vehicles". For example, a truck that looks like a praying mantis. Of course.

So we all bring bikes. Nothing makes you feel like a kid again like you and your sweetie pedaling around the desert together for a week.

No matter the hour, you always have dozens, if not hundreds, of gatherings to choose from. There are always big shows or dance parties happening, and you don't need a ticket for any of them. There are about two thousand bars, because it always seems like the right time for a drink in Black Rock City.

For the week we lacked watches, and told time by the sun, or, at night, by Orion's height. We danced till the sun rose. We sweated in the day and froze at night. We survived on far less food and sleep than we would normally tolerate (and, accordingly, we've been recovering all this week).

For the week the only thing we could buy was ice. This is one of the most important rules there: no commerce. So many things were shared with us, and we, likewise, were able to share as well. This is very good for the soul. Being on either end of a warm breakfast or ice cold juice feels just wonderful.

The scale of the art in black rock city is hard to describe. Flames that light up the desert a mile in all directions. A tesla coil taller than us. A yacht on wheels. Double decker party buses. Gigantic sound stages that make your bones vibrate. I mean, look at the temple below - do you see how tiny the people standing on the ramp are?

Words we used a lot: wow, beautiful, awesome, and whooooo!

Things were burned, safely and with much celebration.

The sewing machine was a hit. It totally held up, with a little tension funny stuff from the dust. I spent an afternoon in the spot below, and earned a terrible sunburn for it.

About ten people came along and sewed quilt blocks together. An uncountable number stopped to observe, photograph, or share stories of mothers, grandmothers and aunts who had sewn on similar machines. About half the people who stopped to sew were men, and a few people were even naked, to keep things interesting!
My husband was off with the camera while this was happening so I don't have any other pictures of that epic afternoon.

Humbled by my sunburn, the next two days the sewing machine and I hung out in the shade of the Black Rock Boutique, whose tagline is "let us slip you into something a little more questionable". I helped people alter the fabulous clothes they'd pulled from the racks, while grooving to whatever the DJ was playing.

Requests from my two favorite "customers":
"I'm going for an 80's Bowie meets the Vampire L'estat sort of look" from a tall blonde in a velvet dress.
"I think this needs to show more of my butt," from a burly fifty year old guy in a lacy slip.
Hilarious, awesome, and so fun to help people feel wild and beautiful.

Some stuff just astounded us. This mechanical octopus vehicle was the belle of the ball and commanded admiration whenever it was about. This video of it in action shows why we would ride over to cheer it on whenever it came near. What an invention!

This participatory zoetrope "Charon" had to be seen at night to absorb its genius. This video shows it well, but trust me that it was far spookier in person.

And that is what this place is like, a bunch of people who take big ideas and make them bigger, who push the boundaries of what you can do with sculpture, light, sound, and fire. A human experiment that is complete exhilaration to be a part of.

Two stories really stick with me.

One night, 4am about, we rode far out away from the city into the dark desert ("deep playa") intrigued by a bright green light. When we arrived we discovered it was simply a small tube of plastic, shooting a green laser out in a flat plane over the ground. Chilled and our energy flagging, we felt underwhelmed. We searched the distant sea of lights to choose a new destination but became distracted by clinking sounds coming from a vehicle parked not far away. Then, the clatter of a pile of plates being set aside, wholly unexpected and curious.

We rode over and beheld the Dust City Diner. An oasis of light and warmth in the deep darkness. A mobile forties themed diner, parked and open for business, with its several barstools occupied and a few folks waiting their turn to clamber up.

Delightful smells of warm coffee and food enticed us to wait with the others. Music and snippets of conversations fell upon our ears. Soon we claimed a pair of vacated spots and after "ordering" the only two things on the menu, we were served grilled cheese sandwiches and pickles by spirited ladies in beehive wigs and uniforms. They brought us coffee, and we delighted at the silver creamer pourers and glass sugar jars. The clink of my spoon against the cup gave me chills; after all, I'd been drinking from plastic camp cups for three days. The coffee was refilled, this time with an optional splash of liquor. Our eyes sparkled with the pure magic of it all. A bustling diner in the middle of desolation. A good idea taken to the nth degree When we left we were enchanted and invigorated and ready to ride till the dawn.

This is the only time I've ever left a restaurant without paying, and it felt so strange to do so. We thanked the diner staff heartily and rode off to a new adventure. And that's how this place works. You receive magic and kindness and instead of exchanging money, you try to be magic and kindness for someone else. I  think I achieved that when a young woman bounced up and down at the sewing machine the next day and exclaimed, "This is the coolest thing I've seen!"

And the other story: One day at a packed dance party a large man appeared in front of me holding a flat silver key in front of my eyes. "It's not mine," I shouted over the music, thinking he had found it on the ground. He leaned in. "You have to keep it," he urged, "It's the key to success." I wondered why he wanted me to have it, but this was clearly not the place for a conversation. So I took it from him and placed it on my necklace with the sewing machine's cabinet key. We each returned to dancing and I didn't encounter him again. After our return home this week, I received two bits of promising news, personal and professional (that are far too tentative to share here now). So who knows, maybe he was right? Maybe the key to success was waiting for me in the desert!

So, that's our adventure. Now we're back to our cell phones and cars and there's no dust in our noses. And we are still holding on to the magic and remembering to keep working at being better humans. Thanks for all the reassurance, and for the delightful quilt blocks you sent with me. And if you hung in to the end of this post, wow. Thank you.

I'll be back to quilting in just a few days, see you soon...


Прозрачная said...

wowzers... you are lucky one!!!... I was dreaming to visit this fest for a long time... thanx for sharing memories***

Barbara said...

My son was there. I told him to look for you. He said it would have been like looking for a needle in a haystack. I enjoyed your post very much. Gave me the feeling of being there.

Fiona said...

I just loved reading this and the pictures with your stories... such fun...

Suzanne said...

Welcome back. From the sound of your post, this was unbelievable and unforgettable. I hope your transition back to "regular" life goes smoothly. Sometimes it's hard to re-enter after having experienced something so fantastic. Cheers!

Gene Black said...

I have considered going to Burning Man for a few years. You made it sound like a great time.

grendelskin said...

Terrific post! Thanks for sharing it with us.

Elsa said...

wow! awesome! beautiful! great pictures and story, Christina ~ I'd love to go sometime.

Gail Lizette said...

Thanks for sharing those amazing stories... and photos too! I hope that key to success will lead to another beautiful story :)

felicity said...

Thank you so much for this! Your warmth and happiness just radiate from your words about this experience. I loved reading this.

Anonymous said...

I loved your post. I don't know that burning man is for me anymore, but I love hearing about it in the details you share. thanks Nancy

Jessica said...

thanks for sharing it all with us here.
fingers crossed that your "success" surprizes will keep you happy for a long time.

designcamppdx said...

Looks like so much fun!

Unknown said...

Wow, that sounds amazing. I don't think I have it in me to go, but I loved reading about it and seeing the pictures! It sounds like nothing I've ever experienced.

Anonymous said...

Love it Christina!!! Awesome.


Pétra said...

Wow that sounds pretty amazing! Thanks for sharing your magical experience.

DragonPoodle said...

I've heard about this, but yours is the only description I've read where I felt like I "got" it. thanks!

happy zombie said...

I have ALWAYS wanted to see this. And that you sewed there? OMG, my head just exploded. Or rather… caught on fire. Thanks for taking me there with you! WOW, wow, wow, WOW!

happy zombie said...

I just had to read this a second time. And no doubt I will read it again for a third. Mad Max and Utopia all rolled into one. And your "You receive magic and kindness and instead of exchanging money, you try to be magic and kindness for someone else." brought me to tears. And gave me hope that there is hope for a better world in our sometimes crazy world. As for the key, I think you've had it all along. You just didn't know it.

Katie said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this post - although I didnt' know you were talking about Burning Man until I clicked one of your links. LOL. . I thought you were just a good fiction righter! ;c)

Brakmack said...

Thanks for sharing about the playa! It brought back many memories and the urge to be there again revisited. And wow! A sewing machine...never thought of bringing mine there. Awesome idea. My husband and I waffle over when it will be 'ok' to take our son (who's only 3 1/2 now).
Thanks again....
Cristina aka "Phoenix" on the playa....what was your playa name?

Carli The Quilter said...

Great story, thanks for sharing. I've heard of this place, now I know a little more.

Sara Baker said...

I can't wait to go home... )'(

Susan said...

Wonderful post. Found you via Jaye of Love the sewing machine at Burning Man. :)

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