Friday, January 30, 2004

Burning Man 10: Glossary of Terms

Visualize a horseshoe, points up. Think about the bottom of that horseshoe. That's Center Camp. Now imagine that horseshoe is a mile or so across from side to side (inside, that is), and imagine 23 thousand people are living and performing on that horseshoe. It's a terrible analogy, but that's the basic shape of the camp, and that's how many people were there. I heard. Rumors fly more quickly there than anywhere on the planet, I think.

Center Camp nominally the locus of activity at Burning Man. It's the only place that serves coffee and sells ice (profits are donated to the nearby town), and it's big and shady and comfortable. There's at least one stage, which has a variety of acts, some of which I think just spontaneously generated out of playa dust and too much beer. There's some art, including one that figures slightly in a story I may write shortly. It appeared to be some sort of foam rubber igloo, painted blue and green, with an entry low enough to make you crawl. The reason, it turns out, is to keep the ambient light low--the inside (apparently-I was too dazzled by the rest of the place to get inside) was blacklit and covered with stars and zodiacal signs.

All in all, Center Camp is a good place to just relax, if you've been wandering around and were tired of walking, which a lot of people are at one point or another. In fact, it becomes a goal in and of itself--"let's walk this street all the way to Center Camp" means you'll see several hundred pieces of art/performances/weird people, and probably a hundred more if you walk the same street back. Because everyone's promenading. It's all weird, all the time.

But Center Camp being a high traffic area means the camps around them are high traffic too. Imagine an almost complete circle outside a complete circle, the complete circle being Center Camp itself. Since this is such a prominent area, those camps are regulated by the BMOrg(anization). To get a spot, you must submit a plan for your camp several months before the event, detailing what you plan to do. If you're accepted, you've got it made--and more importantly, you can suck off of the power grid that powers Center Camp. In case you haven't figured this out, we were one of those fortunate camps.

The gift economy bears explaining as well. It's practiced in many forms around the city, but the most important thing you need to know is that money is not allowed. Purchasing something won't get you thrown out, but it's guaranteed to get you razzed (and ostracized in certain extreme camps). It's also not exactly a barter system, although in most cases this is what it devolves into. To the untrained eye, though, that's exactly what it is. One person wants something, and offers something in return. This is what the Boyscouts taught us.

See, the Boyscouts didn't bring any water. They brought beer. Which they traded for water. Brilliant, because they had a Costco card, which gets you cheap beer, in both senses of the phrase. Coors Light, I think, which isn't my favorite. At least, it wasn't at the start of the week.


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