The Unfolding of the Sky

Going somewhere without knowing has to be one of the most rewarding ways of travel. Not only are you stepping into an area you are unfamiliar with, but you are going blind. People would say this is a dangerous way to travel, it can present questions that are unanswerable and anxiety that is misplaced, but I prefer to see it as a new color palette. You may be walking into the dark but when you finally see color, it is that much more beautiful and vivid.

image

Tuesday - August 19th, 2014

My last weekend in Boston was surly an interesting one. Finishing college, helping my brother Isaac move to Yale for graduate school, deinstalling my installation, moving out of my own apartment, learning how to ride a motorcycle, packing for Burning Man, and saying goodbye to some of the best friends I have ever made. I finished packing up my same red backpackers bag that has gone with me throughout my many years of travel and my mothers before me. Even through all the wear and tear it is still by far the most comfortable and practical bag I have ever worn. Perhaps this is not only due to its design but also to its memory.

I took my last ride to Logan airport and after waiting for a delayed plane took off over what once was my home. I met this guy while boarding, his name was Daniel, he overheard me talking to a friend on the phone about Burning Man and that started a conversation of our own. He lives in Tahoe and owns a restaurant. He was going on the same flights as me and was also going to Burning Man, just a few days later.

After landing in Chicago, I sat down for a beer with Daniel and Ni followed after. She was on a different flight but we have the same one to Reno. Daniel gave us some good advice for Burning Man and offered to give us a ride to the Walmart in Reno so that we could get supplies and perhaps find a ride there out to the playa. We happily accepted as we sipped our $10 Boston Lager that didn’t taste nearly as fresh as the one I had my last night in Allston. After yet another delayed flight into Reno we finally arrived, well arrival is relative, but we at least landed in the correct state. Daniel led us to his friend’s car and we made our way to Walmart.

Upon arrival we see a huge art car that consisted of a large white school bus or should I say wool bus, which was written on the front and back, with pink light emanating from the windows and door, oh and there was a pink slide attached to the back that supposable went into the butt of the sheep after that art car was fully put together, can’t forget that little detail. Daniel remarks, laughing, “Well it looks like you found your ride!”. We pile our stuff out front of Walmart and say our see you laters to Daniel and his friend, swapping camp locations and information.

image

Ni and I decide that we must go talk to the owners of this intriguing bus. Ni watches the bags, as it is quite the task to carry to all across the parking lot, and I head on over to this monstrous illuminated vehicle. A few heads poke out of the top windows of the car to greet me, I make myself comfortable and step into the bus. The whole interior is pink with vinyl seats and a multitude of sized and shaped disco balls arrange on the ceiling. At the head of the car behind the drivers seat sits a large 4 ft high mesh heart packed with similar disco balls. The space is quite limited as they had all their supplies and gear packed floor to ceiling.

image

Inside the Wool Bus

The bus had a concoction of smells; I couldn’t quite place my nose on what it was. I would get whiffs of musty age unsuccessfully masked by some cheap store bought air freshener, lathered over the scent of vinyl and what could have been burnt plastic or maybe just layers of mixed human sweat. There were 6 of them in total, mostly dressed in black with tall leather boots and holes in places normally not. I started by explaining our situation and the installation, Micro that we are working on at the playa, I asked if they might have room for the two of us and two bikes. They seemed somewhat intrigued but hesitant about the lift. After talking amongst themselves and debating about space, then they accepted. Acceptance was followed by them telling me we had 10 minutes to get what we needed before we had to leave.

In a flurry of excitement and shock I ran back to Ni, told her the news while grabbing our stuff to drop off back at the bus. “Oh shit!” Ni exclaims as we scramble to get all of our stuff together. After throwing our bags in the van we run into Walmart. Bikes first! What how are they only $75… Food next. Peanut butter, caprisun, fruit gummies…trail mix… Oatmeal bars… Umm what else what else… Beef jerky! Ok ok register time! Scan scan scan scan pay! Back to the bus. Good they haven’t left yet.

We find a place for our bikes and load onto the bus greeting out newly found friends with open arms. I slump down in the pink vinyl taking my first full breath of the pungent air. We are on our way, and we are on our way in style! An art car! I smile inside as well as out, couldn’t have asked for better transportation. They confirm with us that we have our tickets and early arrival passes and the bus cranks up, ready to go.

The bus stops after driving for what seems like a half hour but was only probably 5 minutes. I recall the bright yellow neon sign that Ni and I saw with hungry eyes while flying above the earth only a hour before and as if fate is our closest friend we pull up to the In and Out burger joint in delight. “A double double please with fries and a coke.” When will I again have a meal like this? Only fate knows.

Down the highway we continue, with the buses top speed at about 50mph we are slow and steady, letting other less colorful vehicles pass us by with their inquisitive eyes. Realizing how tired I am I maneuver myself into comfort as best as possible, set up my legs on one of the storage boxes and attempt to nap. I drift off into a half sleep and awaken only when our bus begins to hit some major bumps, our bus mates tell us we are here, we made it to the playa, I look over at Ni put my hand on her shoulder and we nod with approval and excitement.

image

Ni in the Wool Bus

The cones on the playa that mark out the entrance and car lanes have been blown over and scattered by the dusty wind. Pylons, that’s what they are calling them, it’s like a game trying to avoid them. Swearing in our massive hunk of a bus to avoid these treacherous road hazards with only blackness surrounding us on this flat mysterious plane of land that we be our home for the next two weeks. I look down at my phone. No signal. No contact. I am now officially in the black. It’s about time.

Approaching the gate we are greeted by a not so friendly gentleman with a top hat and attire decorated with metal chains. It felt more like immigration. As we are lined up outside on the side of the bus. We have our tickets in hand and another man goes in to search the bus, someone told us before that they have to search for people being smuggled in, like I said… Immigration. The man finally gets to me, looks at my low income confirmation ticket and says, “This doesn’t even have a bar code. You can’t get it. You all can’t get in now”, finishing with a sinister laugh. In total shock I look up at the man and then down the line at the faces that seem a bit less friendly now then before. I come to learn that since Ni and I have low income tickets that requires the will call office to receive them and the will call office doesn’t open till noon tomorrow, or should I say later today by now.

We all get back in the bus and decide that we will head back to Gerlach, the closest city to Black Rock City so that they can drop us off at a place called Bruno’s Motel for what’s left of the night. After about a half hour of silent driving we arrive at a row of windows which we guess is the hotel and a gas station. They drop us off there, fill up their tank and make their way back to the gate, without us this time. Ni and I slump down on our bags and get ourselves together again.

We finally get up and start wandering the dark rows of rooms. There are three main buildings, single floor, painted with a layer of dust and siding that has been discolored by the years of Nevada sun. The interior courtyard, if I may call it that, is lined with cars marks with K9 police units on them, I can only guess why that is. Windows are flickering by television light, so there must be someone here right? We pry open the side door since we can’t seem to find the main entrances and walk into the hallway. Quiet passageways with identical doorways mirroring each side, the sound is quite isolated here. Each footstep bounces of the walls perhaps awaking the dogs that lay behind them. After reaching the end of the hallway, there is no sign of a check-in desk or any one monitoring the hotel. I walk outside and check with Ni, nothing.

We sit back down on our bags scoping out the surrounding area for a potential camping spot, I brought my extra tent thankfully. But then a car rolls up, it’s a large truck with a fire engine red trailer attached to the back. A man yells out the window, “Did it happen to you too?” I guess he was referring to the will call ticket situation. We respond with a nod and a laugh. Barack, that was his name, traveling with someone who seemed to be his girlfriend or something, from Israel. The women drops Barack off reluctantly so, and makes her way back to the playa. Barack takes another look around the hotel, not fully believing us that it is empty of a greeter, then finally makes his way back to where we are on the sidewalk of the gas station. Coming to the conclusion that camping is in our future; we begin to walk around the desert area on the other side of the road. With the exception of dust and spikes bushes we find nothing but an abandoned RV.

image

The RV and the insides; Ni And Barak

image

image

image

The inside of the vehicle is quite confusing, the interior is torn apart and rusted but on the bed there are fresh newly developed photos, mostly of scenery and nature but nonetheless new and untouched. And in the back there are countless notebooks or diaries someone left. We leave them as is, feeling as if we are intruding on someone or something that is precious. Above our heads is really what became precious to us. The roof of the RV. Upon climbing the rickety ladder to the top of this fractured RV, we are presented with a face full of stars, more bright and brilliant that I have seem in as long as I can remember. That night I fell asleep to shooting stars.

Wednesday - August 20th, 2014

image

View from the top of the RV where I slept

The sleep was wonderful, I woke up feeling refreshed and ready for the adventure ahead. After a while of sitting around we made our way back to the curb by the gas station. Barack’s left with the women from the night before and Ni and I waited for a ride. Truck after van after bus passed us by with no sign of stopping even for my hitchhikers thumb. A motor home pulled up to the gas station, a women in a bright yellow dress stepped out and passed us by. The inside of her car looked like an explosion of color and interestingly designed tapestries, like a hippy van from the 70s or something. She must be going to Burning Man. I looked at Ni and then went over to the women introducing myself and then asked for a ride. She agreed! We threw our stuff in through the window and piled in being sure not to step on any of her squash or melons that littered the floor. Justin was her name or should I say, Justincredible, her playa name, this will be her 20th burn, even though she would like to say her 42nd because she used to come here as a baby with her family. Justin was such a wild woman, full of spirit and spunk and a contagious smile framed by her thick rimmed cat eye shaped glasses and long curly brown hair. She was happy to drive us in, telling us stories of her past burns and giving advice based on experience.

image

image

Ni and I inside Jusincredible’s car

This time the drive in was much different. All you could see for endless miles was desert outlined by tall gray and yellow shaded mountains looming high above you head, it almost reminds me of Pakistan. We shut the windows when we arrived to the playa prevent dust from infiltrating our space, although it will soon be inevitable. I took about an hour and a half of waiting to get through will call and another say hour to get through the entrance line, this time we were not lined up outside the vehicle and the man only peered inside the van for a minute to check for sneaky visitors. Normally if it’s your first burn you have to go through a christening, where you roll in the dust and ring a gong, I wanted to be part of this and so did Ni but at Justin’s request for a clean vehicle, we passed. I suppose we will have to take care of that later.

image

The Man

Justin showed us around the playa a bit explaining the numbering system; it’s arranged like a clock with the man in the middle, the temple at 12 and the entrance at 6. We drove up the main drag confronting the half built man with awe and excitement. His tall wooden structure and wide legs spread so far people look like ants underneath, what a magnificent construction it is. Camp Contact, the place where Ni and I were set to camp was at 8:15 and E. After a bit of driving down paths so unfamiliar to me, passing structures just beginning, people organizing, strategizing and bicycles zipping by we are finally home. Logan came running out to greet us, she said she heard my laugh and immediately stopped doing her yoga routine in what is called the “chill dome”, an air conditioned dome area with rugs and pillows inside.

It was so great to see her. So much planning had gone into this trip and now we are finally here together! She filled us in on the events that we had missed, such as our tent flying down the playa. Thankfully Logan was able to catch it and someone else had an extra tent pole to replace the one that had broken. At this point it was only the beginning of the camp build process so much of the structures still needed to be constructed. First things first, we needed to get our bikes which were still on the wool bus we had taken the night before. While discussing the happens of the past few days with Logan we made our way over the long stretch of desert attempting to understand the explanation of the layout which was hard to conceptualize now due to the lack of inhabitants that would normally separate the road from the camping areas, this will change soon, and more rapidly then I would had imagined. The playa was set up like a horseshoe, and separated by time, I mean not literally time but as if the ground were a clock and the camps were the passing hours. 8, 8:30, 9, 10, ect.. I have been told 10 and 2 is where most of the sound camps reside. I’m sure I will be spending much of my time that those hours. The others at the camp were very welcoming, I noticed right off the bat that is was definitely an older crowd and they had a tendency to hug for a longer than normal time, I suppose that what comes with a camp that goes by the name of Camp Contact. It was also around this time that I heard about what is called a playa name, it is something you are other given on the playa or make up yourself. Logan already had one, Salt, she wasn’t sure why she was given that though, kinda cool one I thought. She will end up having near countless playa names by the end of this. Jelly, Donut, Jelly Donut, Snoop Dog, …. (that’s silence) and well…a lot more.

That night I slept well, perhaps not as well as the last night on abandoned RV but well enough, I was exhausted. The playa floor is a hard surface one with many cracks and bumps and almost no cushion. But with a straight back and tired body it fit me well. I awoke to the sound of a banging pot and a cold sun, it may be the desert but I have learned that in the night and at early morning it is quite chilly. Chocolate banana pancakes were for breakfast, really? I was not expecting such a delicious morning meal, but I was also not expecting the tasks ahead both in their magnitude and in their difficulty, the meals would prove themselves to be quite a necessity. That night we went out for a bit on our bikes and were given a gift by a man who made a lion rasta art car, the head of the art car had hundreds of plasma cut burning men removed from it to create the look of the lion, the man gave us one of the scrap men that was made into a necklace. We have worn them ever since.

image

Ni, Logan and I’s tent AKA The Cave

Thursday to Saturday- August 21th to 23rd, 2014

Over the next three days we worked to set up the camp, making the shade structure, the real kitchen space which was 10 times the size of the temporary one, the steam bath, showers, domes, dance floor? Yes, a dance floor and a wooden one nonetheless. This camp is a big one with well over 100 people a part of it. I took part on two major projects, the building of the four main shade tents which was actually a system of 5 poles and a rope or bridal setup between them that held four separate tents about 80ft in the air. And the building of the 60 ft pentashoot, more easily described as a circus type tent above what will be the dance floor. For both, I learned about the Egyptian way of measuring, which is the use of cut string and strategically placed metal poles. And I was also taught the correct way to use a sledgehammer, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Feet spread, hammer in hand, swing over top while moving you hands together as in comes down and with all your body weight and power slam the top of the spike, repeat. With this you get into a rhythm, you sweat and you burn. After a while all your muscles feel as if they are about to of fall off, but you keep going, keep that metal on metal clang sounding until the pole is deep down into the hard, dry, soil of the playa.

image

Setting up Camp

The soil is an interesting thing in itself, when you look out upon the golden tan that covers the floor it seems like perhaps you may be walking on top of a large prehistoric animal, it’s scales making up the surface of which you step and with your shifting weight breaking and separating, shedding into different pieces. It’s scales arranged like blood vessels or nerve endings, smaller and larger at parts, but equally as important and as sensitive to touch as that which resides in my own body.

image

Playa Floor

I not sure how I am writing all of this and I hope you can follow me, sometimes it’s first person, sometimes third and sometimes In between. You have probably figured out by now that I am not writing it on the day it happened, except for the sledgehammer thing; that did just happened actually. Right now it is Saturday, the day before the gates open for normal arrive. The landscape of the playa has changed dramatically day by day. The amount of work and effort put into the creation of this temporary city is unbelievable. I have been fortunate enough to be able to witness this change for my first experience at burning man, I am so grateful. The thanks for that goes to Team Micro for bringing me onto help within installation. It has been such a privilege to be part of the changing landscape by way of an art installation. What a gift to bring to the playa.

From day two I spent time setting up within the team, running wire, climbing the truss and working with electrical boxes, testing and repairing the spheres that hold the electronics. Kiori and Aaron are the main artists of the project, and they are so wonderful to work with, along with the rest of the team. We work and we laugh. Ni, Logan are perhaps the best camping buddies I have ever had. Everyone must think we are drunk all the time because of how much we laugh together. Sitting in our “porch” outside of our tent cracking up about how we need a welcome mat to invite people into our home, trying to decide on what material to use and what our address on the playa is. I’m sure whatever I write here will not come close to explaining how hilarious some on the situations we have been in were so I will just trust that you believe it to be true.

image

Installing Micro

image

My favorite people; Logan and Ni

image

Micro all set up

My first real night ride exploration out on the playa was much different then the one this night. A desolate darkness, lit only by your headlamp and perhaps a few spotty lights outlining what is to become a future structure of art or some living space. With each passing day this alien planet continues to be invaded by those as spectacular as it. This ride was different, passing multicolor fish three stories high, giant octopus shooting fire, men and women with attire like something cross between futuristic cyborgs and self dressed 5 year olds, glowing with lights of all types and faces of all shapes. The gates haven’t even opened, what could tomorrow possibly be like? More soon.

image

Lights of the Playa

Sunday - August 24th, 2014

Sunday and the gates have been breached. The long line that has been waiting for hours, days or perhaps even since the last burn are slowly let back into their home. For us Sunday morning would be the relatively speaking, a quiet day. We woke up later than usual and helped with some of the final camp infrastructure setup, finishing the pentashoot, domes and lightning the trip hazards such as the ropes and wires used to tie down the tents. Now let me take a second to explain this installation that I am assisting with before I tell you about the rest of the evening.

Micro is an interactive sound and light installation that examines the world within, the intricate nature of that which is unseen or in other words, microscopic. The piece consists of around 200 translucent spheres hanging from the top of an 8by12by 8 foot metal framed structure. Each sphere holds a single arduino, speaker, RGB led and accelerometer, when you touch the sphere you are rewarded with a sound and the lighting of the led. Since Tuesday the team has been setting it up on the playa, assembling the structure, arranging the spheres, running wire and connecting the electrical system. Ni and I worked on mostly electrical aspects of the project when we got there. One main purpose of the installation was for it to be a space for dance.

image

Micro at night

Kiori is a dancer and Aaron is the technical expert of the project both are the artistic visionaries, and to my surprise they are a married couple. I say surprise because Kiori is this soft spoken Japanese women, with a beautiful flawless face and gorgeous bald head and Aaron is this goofy, sort of nerdy American man with short brown hair and a sappy smile. Both incredible people. But actually after getting to know them I totally understand how they work, they are such a cute couple, and normally I don’t say that kind of thing. One other thing to note is that they meditate together every day for at least two hours, very impressive, I’ve see it, it’s real. Ok, back to the installation.

The plan is that there will be dance performances within the installation in which the dancer interact with this microscopic world. One thing we will come to learn is this world we have built is a fragile one, needing much attention and protection. Sunday night we had our first run in with this. We had a schedule now, shifts at 6am, 7pm, 11pm and 2am, with tasks such as checking the spheres for problems, filling up the generator with gas, writing down major problems to be addressed in the morning. The power to the piece would only run from 7pm- 6am, can’t really see the lights during the day. When Ni, Logan and I went to see the installation at 11 it was turning on and off every few minutes, I ran over to the generator and thankfully saw the red oil light blink a few times before it shut off completely. Now we were left with at completely dark hunk of metal in the middle of one of the busiest areas of the playa, very dangerous. It is a requirement for all installations to be well lit so that the traveling art cars and bicycles can see it and not cause an accident; Aaron said that last year someone ran over their generator, maybe that explains why it is malfunctioning now. We stood in the dark debating on what to do, we didn’t have more gas, or a walky talky to contact Aaron or Kiori and we didn’t have more lights.

We decided that Logan would go back to camp and Ni and I would wait at the installation for a bit because Aaron did mention he might stop by tonight, wouldn’t want to miss him. After waiting for a half hour, we figured Logan must have gotten the message relayed and we headed Campoline, we planned on meeting back up there with Logan. Campoline is a camp that has a bunch of trampolines and a bar thus the name. Another thing to note is that everything at burning man is free; you never pay for anything except of course your ticket and camp dues if you are part of one. With that said, all alcohol is free you just need to have a cup so they can fill it, amazing I know. There is also a ton of events and lessons throughout the week, everything from plaster sculpting to running the perimeter of black rock city to pleasure techniques for the experimental couples, anything your heart desires it is here and waiting and free! There are also fun free food events, which I will talk about later.

After waiting at Campoline for a few drinks and no Logan, Ni and I set off on an adventure. The amount of installation art that exists at Burning Man is mind blowing. Looking out onto the playa is like observing a massive exploded outdoor art collection, each piece separated by complete darkness but surrounded by light. The majority of the evening was spent walking from installation to installation, jumping on an art car and having it take us somewhere new and unfamiliar only to find more extravagant artwork to discover. I saw one of the best views that night, in front of the man there is a large Trojan horse standing probably 60 ft high. Climbing it wasn’t so hard, not like the previous night when Logan and I made it to the top of this totem, that one was a lot more risky not to mention the idiot guy at the top who was shaking the structure.

But anyways, the horse, you would climb the legs through these foothole and make your way into the inside of the body. There were speakers built into the walls playing back these eerie low frequency sounds and ambiences which were quite effective, ascending further you climb up and around its head onto a platform then continue up to a smaller platform that overlooked the entire playa. I could tell the difference from of landscape from the totem the previous night, many more gaps were filled in, pools of LEDs and tall pointed tents scattered the view, more bicycles connecting the gaps between the inhabited areas and colorful cars moving slowly and thumping with the beat of the bass that emanated from the hearts of these reanimated machines. We ended the night with miso soup from this camp down the street called Miso Horny, every day from 10pm-2am they serve soup and sake along with these strange smokable blends that smell of roses and mint. I am so surprised at how cold this desert gets at night, I’m thinking maybe I should have brought a much thicker coat, or I may have to make this soup run a daily thing.

Monday - August 25th, 2014

I awoke to the sound of rain, it was quite disorienting considering I wasn’t expecting rain. It took me a few mins to realize what it was before I slumped back down into my sleeping bag and let the light tapping above me lull me back to sleep. All of the playa slept in a little that day, things sort of felt like they stopped for a few hours, silence fell over Black Rock City, puddles collected and lighting struck. My boots became boats of clumped dust and sand giving me a few more inches of height and a lot less stability. I went on my morning ritual walk to the porta johns down the road admiring the thunder and lighting and reminding myself to get my field recorder out to sample the sounds. When I was walking back into the camp I had my closest experience to lighting, While admiring it before I did not really think about how dangerous the playa must be for lighting. You have this huge flat surface of sand with large metal poles staked into the ground holding tents up, perfect lighting rod. At that moment I saw a lighting strike all 5 poles of the main tent structure of our camp, I must have been maybe 100 ft away. The electric light came down and hit the main pole breaking off into four sections upon contact. Aside from my wonder after viewing this spectacle I could help but notice my body and how strange it felt I wasn’t stuck by lighting I know that but maybe due my to proximity I was effected somehow, it was strangely wonderful to feel.

After the rain subsided Ni Logan and I went out to Brulee: A Kinky Circus camp for there bacon and champagne offerings. Although the meals at Camp Contact are well prepared and very healthy they are however lacking one thing, meat. Before we ate that bacon we had gone almost a week without meat, that bacon tasted like heaven, even more than it normally does. The amount of people had definitely multiplied on the playa but we were told that this isn’t even half of the people that were going to be here. Since it had rained that day entrance into black rock city was closed until 5pm due to the muckiness of the roadways and the possibility of cars getting stuck, this resulted in a crazy huge line outside of the gates, after a while we heard they were actually turning people away, telling them to come back the next day to enter due to the length of the line. This also meant that they would not be emptying the porta potties till then…oh no.

image

image

image

image

Fun things in the playa

That night Logan, Julia, Jason, this strange tweaker and I went out to check the sound camps at 10 (10 on the playa not the time). Three major camps reside there, Opulent Temple, APEX and White Ocean. Each one has its own personality and throughout the week will go through different themes and specialty DJs. Honestly I like all of them, depending on the day you will prefer one over the other. One thing it did learn from the BRC newspaper is how each camp is funded. Opulent Temple is funded mostly by donations and fundraisers from smaller parties held throughout the year as oppose to White Ocean which is primarily rich donors. We checked out all the camps first to get the feel of each. At night every one needs lights on themselves and on their bikes, this is both for safety and for fun. With thousands of people weaving in and out of each other in minimal light and possibly twisted minds, I am surprised at how few accidents there are. Impressive burners.

image

Music Schedule

Of all the parties, raves and clubs I have been to I have never been able to experience fire as an element to the environment but here fire is essential. White Ocean is surrounded by these totem sort of things that shoot huge streams of fire into the air when the bass drops or the music climaxes. The party literally lights up when this happens, you get a chance to see all these characters around you that were before masked by the dark, but now it is as if it were daylight except is has this haziness to it because of the massive amounts of gas being pored into the sky, the shadows flicker and the once dark, star filled sky, melts in the heat of the flame. You feel the heat on your body, even from a distance and you dance harder, your heart beats faster and you are left with more energy then before. There is one sound camp that is extra special; it’s called Robot Heart.

This is a movable camp that travels out into deep playa early morning and climaxes when the sun is rising. We went to this camp late into the night and traveled with it but not until the end. We are planning on “chasing robot heart” as they say later in the week. Robot heart is stage on top of a two story car art with a huge heart above the DJ, we may not have been able to see the climax yet but we did see them rise the huge 20 ft high led robot above the stage behinds the heart, it was super epic. Art cars also follow Robot Heart and there were some really interesting ones there that night.

Art cars have to be one of the most fascinating and unique things about Burning Man, other places in the world have parties, installations, and music but no where else if there art cars. The amount of work that is put into each one is incredible. The sound systems in some of them are top class and the designs are so well constructed. Space ships, rhinos, fish, lions, fire spitting octopuses…what?! It really makes me want to make one for next year. Coming back from Robot Heart we followed parallel to the laser lights coming from the sound camps, the intense green strings of light stretching miles into the darkness of the deep playa, moving and shifting but in the end leading us back to where we had come from.

image

Robot Heart

Now you may be wondering who Julia and Jason are. They have to be some of the greatest people I have met here at Burning Man so far. Julia is part of the micro team as well, she is also a painter and a yoga instructor who works in New York. Julia has such a beautiful soul, she is so kind and her spirit is so full of life. She is a wonderful example of a strong and beautiful woman. When she hugs me I can feel her warmth and compassion. I am so grateful to have met her. Jason is such a wild character and a free spirit. He doesn’t really have a particular job, he waits tables, entertains for kids birthday parties and does odd jobs here and there. He sort of lives in DC but moves frequently. I believe his main purpose in life is to bring happiness to others; he emanates love and is entirely selfless. You can see it when he talks to people and when he helps others, it is a beautiful thing. Without both Julia and Jason my time here would be nowhere near as fun and enjoyable. If either of you are reading this, thank you.

And Ni. She is a special one. We went to Berklee together and over the past year I have grown closer to her than I ever have with someone in such a short period of time. She is the one friend who is always down to do crazy shit with me at anytime and anywhere. It surprises me sometimes when she is so enthusiastic to do something when most others wouldn’t even consider it. But that is one of the many reason why I love her. She will do whatever, no matter how dirty, illegal, or strange it is. We have worked together on so many projects and there are many that I would have not completed with her. She gives me strength and pulls me through things that feel impossible. She believes in me and I her and thats what makes our relationship so amazing. We both helped each other in figuring out how to come to Burning Man in the first place, through all the trials and tribulations at are involved in preparing and getting here. Ni is someone who will be close to me for the rest of my life. And that is a gift that I will never give up.

Tuesday - August 26th 2014

It has been seven days on Tuesday that I had not had a meal with meat in it. Both Ni and I were having bad cravings but luckily we had heard about a BBQ and “yard sale” at this camp called Suburbia not far from Camp contact. We got there and yes there were hot dogs, I shoved two in my mouth almost immediately and stood chewing blissfully, I could never be happiest being a vegetarian, this proves it. The yard sale was basically a bunch of boxes with random stuff in it, some good things though like face wipes and a fox ear headband which I took. From there we walked around a got a snow cone and some bubble tea, which were both equally delicious. Right across from the bubble tea place there was a rope and silks camp, on one side they had a series of ropes with hoops on them that you could swing from off of a platform. Logan and I tried it, it was hard. It’s all about rhythm and upper body strength. I think I got the upper body strength for it. But halfway through I lost rhythm and fell to the ground, oh well. I did try the silks though, silks are these long silk pieces of fabric that dancers typically use for performance, I never tried it before but I always looked fun. I didn’t know any tricks so I sort of just messed around on them, getting tangled in the fabric and the finding my way out, nonetheless it was an enjoyable experience.

image

Tangled up in silks

image

image

image

More fun things on the playa

After tiring ourselves out in the heat and the rope course we went back to the chill dome to take out afternoon nap before dinner. I awoke from the nap with a note and a piece of chocolate by my pillow, it said
“Over the deepest
darkest river,
streams of fireflies,
slowly flowing.”
-Shiyo
I wonder who that is? The chocolate was heavenly.

Today was the day the temple opened. The temple is a special place on the playa. It is built for memory and for mourning, for loss and for celebration. Many people who come to Burning man come here to release something or deal with a loss in their life. The temple is the place to do this. That night we decided to make a visit to the temple. We have been seeing it being built all week, the temple this year was said to be a small one although I didn’t see it as very small. The detail that was put into this temple was beyond description. Not even a picture will do it justice. It was all built from wood, fine cut wood, like some sort of hand carved jewelry box holding the collective emotions of those residing on this barren landscape. There were lights surrounding the outside fence encased inside these diamond shaped wooden cages held up by a lattice base. The main structure was lit internally as well. In the darkness you could see the shadows of the negative space on the ground around the temple. Walking through it was like stepping into a sea of invisible lace; walking on it I treaded with a lighter step, not wanting to disturb this shadowy film of textured light that covered the playa floor.

image

image

The Temple

People had begun to congregate inside the space, upon entering you felt as though the air was a little tighter, heavier, your breath was slightly hotter and your skin more sensitive and tingly. I grab my arms and try to control the bumps that have begun to form. The faces of those around you were a mix of sadness, confusion, release and solitude. Some came here to mourn a loved one who has passed on and others are here to remember, to let go and to move on. Leaving a piece of that person in the form of a note, a photo, a box, behind in this sacred space so that it may be burned with the rest of this beautiful structure a few nights from now. This place is a temple; the name is perfectly accurate. And of all the temples I have been in, this one is by far the most sacred and also the most temporary. I kneel down to the base in the center of the structure, its holding up a large diamond shaped wooden piece about 30 feet up into the air, I grab one of the pens scattered atop the wood and write three names. Three names of people who are now not in my life, people whom I will always hold close to my heart. I cherish the memories we shared together; you will always be with me.

image

image

image

image

Inside the temple

Time is such a fleeting thing, this flow moving forward, pushing us, unstoppable and unable to be chased. Time is always here, always beside us. Holding our hand, unknowingly, as we take steps through this wide open world. Through time we construct ourselves, we invest in the things we care about and attempt to calculate the things we think we don’t. But in the end we still end up falling in love with that which seem incomprehensible through time, things that cannot begin to be calculate like the others. People, places, visions; every once in a while one of these comes by that is undeniable, this medium that was once holding our hand, lets go and the flow becomes a steady, silent stream with each disturbance felt as a single ripple traveling across a frozen pond. This place is like that pond, and each person, like a ripple, a ripple felt like a wave. The feelings here are overwhelming and all-consuming.

image

The temple visit really changed the rest of my time at Burning Man. It is so easy to get caught up in all the activities happening in this place but it is important to remember what this place really means for all of us who made the journey out. The temple was a reminder of the complexity of emotions that resides both within the playa and outside. The rest of the week went by much quicker that the first part.

Wednesday - August 27th, 2014

Today was super hot, so hot we barely went outside of camp until the night. Logan, Ni and I went on an ice cream hunt, which was unsuccessful, but I finally got my postcards. I got to see Logan, Julia and Kiori perform in the installation today for the first time. It was beautiful. Kiori drew up a basic score for the performance but most of it was left up to their interpretation. They started close to each other, then moved far out into a circle and finished on the ground together. Each of them has a unique style and grace which fit well as their movements intertwined. The light of the spheres lit each of their faces but only faint enough so that a colored shadow would reveal each of their fine complexion and beauty. What an amazing trio it was.

image

When the sun went down, along with the temperature, Logan and I went out to explore. We were told that today was the day that mostly everyone had arrived and they were right. The streets were filled with people traveling up and down this grid system that was laid out for us. All the spots that used to be dark and empty were now full of lights and activity. Riding into the sound camps this night was much different than a few nights ago.

Before we even reached the sound camp area, bikes had flooded the space. It was hard to even distinguish where the bikes stopped and started; it was literally a sea of LED lights and dusty bikes. Art cars made their way carefully around what was suppose to be the perimeter of the camps as we weaved our way through the maze. Each camp was booming with sound, speaker systems as tall as buildings blasting beats into the clear Milky Way filled sky. The sky in a way resembled the floor of the playa, I would imagine that if I were seeing it from above it would look like a star-filled sky.

Paul Oakenfold was playing that night and you could tell what camp he was at by the even more exorbitant amount of bikes at that particular location, White Ocean. All lights on, fire, lasers cascading above our heads far down into deep playa. It was like nothing I had ever seen. Everyone was in a trance, lost in the sound of the blasting speakers and the heat of the bodies around. Slowly more and more clothes were stripped off as more dancing ensued. For what must have been hours we stayed there, traveling to and from the different sound camps. At one point we went exploring, we saw what looked like a chariot or something off in the distance. It was glowing with yellows and pinks and looked almost golden. We walked closer, trying to guess what it might be, but we were wrong, very, wrong. We saw people in it…in this..bed? Naked. Oh geez. Four people. Two men, Two women. Very attractive I might add. Logan and I approached it, still very curious even though we already knew what was going on. Looked at each other and laughed so loud I’m surprised we didn’t disturb the lovers. We made a sly u-turn around this sex chariot while watching this love affair with intriguing eyes. We could hardly believe it. It was way out in the playa, in the middle of no where!? Incredible.

After that little treat we thought it might be appropriate to go do some more exploring. We grabbed our bikes and headed out into the world of installations. The journey started off with us heading through this collection of massive led lit flowers. The lights only outlined the basic forms so with the night sky as its backing it was hard to distinguish parts of the flower from the stars up above. Making our way through the garden of lights past the labyrinth of ladders, under the giant wooden wave, across the playa to Embrace.

image

image

Flowers and the Wave

Embrace has to be the most impressive installation I have seen here so far. It was made for to represent relationships and connection and I also think to remember victims of suicide and consists of two figures holding each other, or embracing on another. It is constructed entirely out of wood apart from the metal hearts that reside inside each body. We had been watching it being built all week. You see the heads, then the shoulders, then the hands, and now; complete. The sheer magnitude of the piece is overwhelming, let alone the incredible craft and artistry that went into the design and development of the artwork. Never have I seem such an impressive installation in my life. We hadn’t been able to see it up close or go inside of it until tonight. It was the perfect night to come as well; there weren’t many people inside so we didn’t have to deal with a large crowd. Logan and I entered the body quietly. In the middle of the chamber there was a large mechanical heart. It pulsated. In and out. The sound of moving parts and metal gears bounced off the wooden walls. Standing under it you could see the inner workings of this mechanical muscle, turning and ticking, never stopping.

image

image

image

Embrace

The wood used for Embrace was made of torn apart plywood, for some reason it reminded me of driftwood. It was layered on the skeleton of the structure leaving strategic holes for light to peek out. The floors and walkways were designed incredibly well, in order to get up into the head you had a two-way separated stairwell that would not allow you to walk along on the wrong way. It was quite steep but that was to be expected. Logan and I were silent as we walked through the body, exploring its many parts and all its intricate beauty. On the walls, there were notes from visitors, some wishing a loved one peace and others sounding lost and empty from this void which now exists in their life. We waited quietly in the line to go up into the head. After some time they finally let us in, there is only supposed to be a certain amount of people in the top level at one time I guess. Step by step we make our way up. Holding onto the sides wherever we can and making sure not to trip, finally space opens up above us and we pull ourselves into the head of the beholder.

The walls are covered with beautiful paintings, figures of people and faces decorating the 360 degree surfaces around us. I walk over to one of the eyes, peering out of to witness its magnificent view. One eye gives me a good look at the opposing figure, and the other of the incredible night skyline of Black Rock City. I have never seen a skyline such as this. It is so beautiful and difficult to describe. There are many traditional words I could use to try an explain it to you, but there is nothing that would come close to the what I saw and what I felt while looking out of that eye. It was such a powerful experience, the floor of this city was alive, moving and pulsing just like the heart below. Outlines of familiar places below us, shadows of ones unfamiliar; this is a place of such color and vibrancy, of mystery and of excitement. It is like a microcosm of the worlds best parts, thrown into a place that is traditionally uninhabitable, where we all live in not the most comfortable environment but also a place where everyone here, wants to be here. Where else can you find that? Where else can you find a city of 70,000 people who all actually want to be there? Everyone has taken such effort to be here for this week and this effort shines through just by looking at it. We built this, all of us, we built this city.

image

This was a special night for Logan and I. Similar to the view from Embrace, it is hard to explain but equally beautiful. I feel we share a connection that isn’t something you find everyday in life. I look over at her as we are both peering out over the city, bundled up in our dusty jackets and ratty hair I feel as if I have known her all my life. Strange thing is, asides from a very short dinner together with friends a few years back, this trip is the first time we have ever really hung out together. A little back story; we grew up in the same hometown of Bethlehem, PA but had never really hung out before this. We have shared mutual friends and grew up with experiences what could easily be exchanged with each other. Logan has so many beautiful sides to herself. She has a certain drive and spontantanity, a sort of light inside of her that I am draw to it. I honestly don’t know what this trip would have been like without her. This is the beginning of a longtime friendship, I feel it and I believe it.

Making our way back to the camps we wondered, what time was it? Was the sun coming up soon? We thought so. We also were out of water and quite staving. We headed back to camp contact, made some eggs, refilled our water and found Julia and Justice, an awesome guy who I helped set up camp with whom we had grow quite close to. The sun had not risen yet but it was close; you could feel it. The air was a little foggier from the faint light that illuminating the dust in the air, your breath felt thicker; sort of like an early morning after a snow except without the cold. The sky was slowly changing and every second you looked away and looked back it was far different then before. Color crept through the darkness, revealing a canvas that resembled the mess of an old forgotten painting pallet. By this point we had decided to walk past the temple, further out into the playa to witness the unfolding of the sky.

image

As time went on the pallet became clearer, brighter and more organized. Shades of every color imaginable were peeking through, settling into layers of brilliant light. And then in a moment when I thought it could not get any more spectacular, a burning hot red sun was born on the horizon. I don’t know how long I stared into that sun, it must have been for quite a while, but I do remember at some point hearing a voice in my head reminding me that at some point I may go blind. I turn my head, catch the breath that had been taken from me and lay my head down. My eyes can see the whole sky and even the sun from this magnificent view. The silhouettes of the monstrous mountains surrounding this once fertile desert plane outline my peripheral vision. I lay in disbelief of the extraordinary beauty that is around me. I let myself get lost. There is no way to fully understand how something this incredible could possibly exist. But it does. This was my first sunrise on the playa.

Thursday - August 28th, 2014

Only two days left till the man burns. I slept for the first half but who really does anything in the morning. I prolly shouldn’t say that, there are actually quite a lot of people out during the day but I guess I just prefer the night and now I am a keen to the early mornings because of yesterday, or should I say this morning. Time is smeared; I have to keep reminding myself what day it is, what time it is… where am I.

We heard that Skillex was playing today. Yes I know that is quite mainstream of me to actually remember that one but hey, I’d like to the big shot perform. Opulent Temple, that’s where. Now let me introduce Tracer. He is quite the character. He is a super tall guy with short curly brown hair, a fragile smile and a soft-spoken voice but he is wild! He dances like a tiger on steroids and he sort of became one on a later night, minus the steroids. I think. Explain later. Tracer, Logan, Julia and I went out that night. Ni was volunteering at center camp so I left a note for her in our tent to meet us there. We biked over to 10 o’clock and found an open spot in the crowd which was already pretty packed. Opulent Temple has an interesting setup. It feels a lot more intimate that then others, perhaps because of the proximity of the projection area and raise platforms that sit facing the stage. There is a small platform in the center of the dancing area where you can go up and press this button after it lights up. I thought it was suppose to make the fire go when you pressed it because that’s what it seemed to be doing for the other people but whenever I pressed it, it never worked, oh well.

Skrillex’s set was kind of confusing, I’m not sure when the person before him stopped and he started, I think it was basically a joint set between them but nonetheless the music was great and the energy was high. Most of that night was spent at the sound camps, we tried to find Robot Heart at one point but it was no where to be seen. It wasn’t late enough for it to be out in deep playa so we weren’t sure where it could have gone. Without realizing how late it had gotten, 4am when we looked at the time again, we decided to go back to camp refill our waters and kill some time exploring installations before Embrace was going to burn.

During our walk to Embrace we went by Micro, without even keeping track of time we arrived right when Kiori was going to do her sunrise dance in the installation. We were so happy that we made it in time. We sat down and watched as Kiori interacted with the space and the shapes. He body flowed like mercury just as Logan had explained. Her movements were so delicate and natural, with a grace that I had never seen before. She is such a beautiful woman, and not like a beauty you see everyday, it is a rare beauty. Striking and captivating. She approached the spheres that hung from the beams as if a child first born into the world. She was gentle and curious with sweeping motions and fluid gestures. She wove in and out of the structure, teasing the objects and exploring them with her dance. She finished on the ground, curling up into a ball and then silence like I haven’t heard here before that moment. What an exceptional performance.

image

We walk to Embrace, quiet, reflecting on what we have just seen. I think in a way it prepared us for what was about to come. We finally get to Embrace and we sit and we wait, the arguing about seating arrangements dies down as we have finally found a place to sit up front. It wasn’t our fault that we were placed in front of some people, it was all so confusing and the fire squad was ushering us in that direction anyways. This will be my first major burn of this year. Embrace. It’s hard to imagine that beautiful structure turning completely to ash, right in front of my very eyes. But it will, soon. The clock is ticking and they said 7am was burn time. Its after that so we sit….and we wait.

I shuffle around, trying to get comfortable in this tiny spot we landed ourselves in. Its getting warming and the sun is already quite high in the sky. That sunrise was by far the best sunrise I have ever seen. It even beats the one the other morning, didn’t think that was possible. The procession getting here felt long and solemn. Thousands of people flocked over the desert all aimed at the same particular spot, for the same ritual, for different reasons but all to see one thing. Fire. Flame. Burning. Change. On this morning it is quite dusty so the sunrise looks different than before. Slightly disconnected from the sky, glossed over by a haze of sand and emerging heat. Glowing the most brilliant orange I have ever seen, traveling through layers of thick cloud and dirty air, getting cut off in areas at times but in term making the other parts even brighter. The sky is full of muted colors, gaining brightness and depth as the sun continues to climb. Far out into the playa you can see a mirage of heat approaching, making the art pieces that lay between myself and this massive star distorted and interrupted. The closer I get to Embrace the higher the sun, the clearer the morning and I am reminded that this is the beginning of the end of Burning Man.

image

image

There it goes. It’s starting to smoke, they lit the fire. It begins slow, just wisps of gray smoke and then it grows and grows, its flames billow out of the heads of the intimate bodies. Ash and flaming particles fly through the air, massive currents pick up the pieces and create small tornados in the sky. As it burns, blackness blocks out the form of the sun, sparks of flames catch fire to the sky and light up the surrounding area with what could be mistaken at daylight stars. There is a point, a moment, at which Embrace reaches the peak of beauty, when it is even more beautiful then before it was lit. Far more beautiful I must say. Half of the heads are gone but you can still make out the form of each face. Gusts of wind tear off pieces into the sky, some come crashing to the ground and others hang on with dear life as the fire rips into the structure. This was the point, the pinnacle of the entire trip; it was all downhill from there, even the burning of the man, nothing could top this moment.

image

Piece by piece the bodies slowly lose their form. The presence that gifted us with welcoming arms is no more, replaced are simple figures on the horizon. The inner structure reveled, more than just wood was burned with this structure. And with that burn; freedom, release, and an unexplainable weight off my shoulders.

image

These weeks have been tiring both mentally and physically. After the burn of Embrace we made our way back to camp through my first white out storm. I covered my face with my bandana and trudged through the blinding light of the desert dust. Tasting it in my mouth and feeling it collecting on my skin and in my hair. But I didn’t care, after the cleanse of that burn, nothing could dirty me now. Finally we reached camp and exhaustion swept over me.

Friday - August 29th, 2014

I must have slept for 18 hours that day. No joke. I woke up to eat dinner and that was about all. Friday is what I called recovery. We didn’t it do much that night. I think we just walked around a bit and had some of the warm Whiskey Logan brought with a mixer of warm Caprisun, not very tasty I might add. Not sure what else to say about Friday.

Saturday - August 30th, 2014

I woke up midday, ate another unsatisfying vegetarian meal. By this point I was very sick of the meal situation or better day, no meat situation. This is the night the man burns. Maybe it was just because I was slowing down but I felt like the whole city had taken a step back at this point. We all knew the man was burning and this was the end. Some people were planning to leave right after the burn but I really wanted to see the Temple go up in flames. And we also had to break down the installation on Sunday, cant forget that part. This night we all went out together, finally. Logan, Ni, Myself, Julia, and Tracer. It was nice to have us all together. All week it seemed like we always kept missing Ni. She did some extra volunteering at Center Camp and it was normally during the time that Logan and I were ready to go out and explore. There really is no meeting up in this place. Once you are out, your out. There no way to contact anyone and attempts to meet in specific location at specific times never worked out. Also if you lost someone, chances of finding them are slim, you probably won’t see them till the next day at camp.

We made our way to the center, following the crowds of burners to the ring of art cars that surrounded the man. Every art car in the city was here. Its amazing how many there are and how many that are new to me even after being here for two weeks.

The blaze started with a bang. Literally, it just sort of exploded. Fireworks were everywhere, the music from the art cars were muffed by the sounds off all the people and their excited screams. After the initial burst, the fire of the gigantic figure burned slow. You could see areas getting weaker and pieces falling off but the burn was slow. They must have really built this thing well because it was impressive how long it stood. This burn may not have been as special as Embrace but it was quite epic. The fire in the night sky and at such a height was beautiful and exciting to watch. The flaming ashes went far down the playa and truly looked like flaming stars. After the fireworks came to the end we waited, and waited for it to fall. But it still stood. I watched all the burners making their way through the crowd, some leaving, some dancing. Tracer was doing cartwheels n the crowd with made all of us nervous because we thought he was going to kick someone in the face on the way down. Fortunately he did not.

image

image

image

The Burning of the Man

After quite some time we made our way out of the crowd and left the burning stick figure behind us. Ni had already went back to camp by now. But Logan and I had been wanting to go on the Ferris wheel and this would most likely be our last chance. We got in line and by some chance of fate, a man came up to us and gave us a skip the line pass. We took it with gratitude and went up to the front. If he had not given us that we would have probably been waiting in that like for at least an hour. Julia, Logan and I squeezed into the small rickety metal frame of a seat that was attached to the large metal wheel, pulling down the bar with excitement and awaiting our adventure into the sky. Away it went, we felt the cool playa breeze and were confronted with the breathtaking night scenery of this wonder place we were fortunate enough to experience. Here it is now, and tomorrow it will be gone. The sea of lights, which a week before were so mysterious to me, now are instead attached to some of the most incredible experience I have ever had. I can honestly say that this place feels like home, it is a place that is like no other in the entire world. And I will miss it. Now is the time when I should say all the things I learned and how all of this has changed me but I don’t think that needs to be said. From reading you can see know how powerful this trip for me and how thankful I feel that I am here and grateful to all the amazing people that I have met and experiences we shared together. This place brings people together and with my life and my work that it what I strive to do as well.

After the Ferris wheel we wonder around the playa more quietly then we had previous nights. And to our surprise it had gotten quite late. We had to be ready to break down the installation at 9am so our perspective of what is late had to shift quite a bit from the other days. We end up going back to camp after some time and head to sleep.

Sunday - August 31st, 2014

We wake up a few hours later, go to Micro and start dissembling. This project was really a great one. It was so exciting to see all the people enjoying it and experiencing it. I think Kiori and Aaron were happy with the outcome of the installation, I am so happy for them. Taking it down was bittersweet. Thankfully it has plans to be installed in a gallery location in Australia later in the year. I learned a lot from this installation and it gives me insight into how I need to prepare for my installation on the playa, what will work, what wont, what I need to watch out for and most importantly the whole experience has helped me see what it is that I could really bring here to make this place even better. The future is an exciting thing.

After breaking down we head back to camp, many other people are burning their structures and installations. This really is the end. We are leaving at 4am tomorrow, Monday, morning. Ni is heading to LA then back to Boston and has found a ride with some people in the camp across from us. Logan is heading to Reno the back home to NYC and I am heading to San Francisco to start the next chapter of this adventure. We pack up our stuff and shake off the dust as best as possible. Tonight is the temple burn. This is a very important one for many people on the playa because of the emotional value attached to the space. I feel that way too.

The first time I heard the art cars without sound was at the temple burn. The temple burned quickly and fell to the ground all at once, in a spiral nonetheless. It began burning and went up into flames within a few minutes. The flame was hot and I could feel it close to my skin exciting each membrane in my body. People surrounding me were feeling this just as I was, going through their own process of grief and loss, of absolution and release. Whatever they left inside the temple during the week be it a memory, an object, an obsession or confession is now burning, it is parting from them and parting is hard. I left some things in there too, I can feel it as it withers away, the breaking off of the ones I’ve lost, sour memories, past resentments and a failed relationship. There is something unique about this communal release. I have never experienced something like it with such power. We are all here, letting go and remembering. It is a beautiful thing. 

This was my last night on the playa. The smell of smoke and burning wood fill my lungs, the sounds of lingering parties still milking what little time the have left. My skin feels different, the multiple layers of dust that cling to it like algae to rock, my hair has turned gray like an elderly woman and body tan and ageless. My cloths are dirty and this pink flower headband that I put on days ago seems to have grown into my dreadlocks for good. My soul feels clean, my head clear and my body alive. Such inspiration I have come upon on this first burn; the first of many I know. Change is coming and I know that is the only thing I have to rely on, which to me is freeing.

image

The Unleashing of the Kraken

I sit here with only 500 miles behind me and I already feel overwhelmed with the amount that I have to write in order to explain the beginning of this adventure to you. 

A few trips ago I made a commitment to myself that I was going to write on every trip. Sometimes it is hard to stay true to this but every time it is rewarding. I feel like writing helps me process all that I am experiencing and absorbing throughout the journey. Sometimes I read back and it helps me realize all the little details that I otherwise would have forgotten. I have also been hearing many of my friends and family talking about the idea of living vicariously through these words that I write. I must say I very much like that idea and I can only hope that they inspire whomever may read them to turn that energy in adventures for themselves.

My aunt suggested that I change my blog name to, “Vicarious Adventures through Chelsea Southard”. I think I may do that now.

Ok, onto the good stuff.

So if you read about my Burning Man experience below this one, you will quickly realize that right after leaving Black Rock City, I made my way to Reno then hitched a ride to San Francisco from a man named Steve Barney or Butterbean, his playa name. Julia, a friend from Burning Man met him in the buffet line at the casino hotel we were crashing at. He was from Boston and somehow the conversation came up about a ride to San Fran and Julia made the connection. We made plans to meet up in the morning and exchanged information. That night I took my first shower after the burn and attempted to remove the play dust that was now engrained into my dreadlocks. Sleeping in a bed felt unreal.

The next morning I packed up all my stuff one last time, said my goodbyes to the Micro Team and headed down to Starbucks in the lobby to meet Steve. It was a more then pleasant car ride where I get to hear all of Steves stories from the many years at Burning Man and I as well shared mine from my first. We were heading to Treasure Island to meet up with an artist friend of his who for some reason I cant remember, but he is really awesome and does a ton of led light installations. When I remember I will put it in here. The place we went to was this big art space that was located behind The Winery on the island. It is the location of Marco Cochrane, the very famous sculptor who makes the large dancing women on the playa. I got to see his work space and the deconstructed “Truth Is Beauty” woman.

 image

Marco Cochrane’s Studio

After waiting a little while and trying my best to explain my location to my friend Victoria Dorn, she finally arrived! I hadn’t seen her in a year and I had missed her so much! She was my closest friend back in Boston, it was hard when she left but I was also very happy for her because she landed a job at Sony working on games which is super sweet. I gave her a few big hugs, said goodbye to Steve and we made our way back to Victoria’s.

Now starts my crosscountry motorcycle story.

Over the next week Victoria and I did a bunch of fun things around San Francisco. Bought some plants and named them, went to the Exploratorium, saw a show downtown, ate at my favorite sandwich place Ike’s, I got to watch Victoria play in a Magic the Gathering Tournament which was interesting to say the least, went to the John Muir Woods and watched American Horror Story, which I found out I am quite fond of.

image

image

Victoria and I at the Exploratorium

During this time I was also scowering Craigslist to try and find a motorcycle to buy. It couldn’t be over 1,500 and it needed to be able to get me across America. Hard find I know. After looking for about a week I found a few that I wanted to check out. Luckily Victoria had a friend, Paolo who has a brother Marco who has owned quite a few motorcycles. Fortunately everyone was free on Saturday of that week and we were all able to go check out this bike together. Since I never bought a motorcycle before I was very thankful that Marco was able to give me his opinion about it. The first bike we looked at was a ’93 Yamaha Virago 535, dark blue. Ralph, the man who owned the motorcycle was a really nice guy. I guess this bike was the first one he owned but it had two previous owners. Marco gave his approval and I really liked the way it felt. So I bought it. With all the money I had left in my world. Knowing full well that I would have to figure out a way to get the money to make it the rest of the way home. I bargained Ralph down to 1,300 due to the starter issue and the problem with the head bearings. But it was a beauty. And now it was mine.

 image

I was telling my friend, Shaye Jones, who was back in Boston about the bike and she came up with the best name for it. The Kraken. She said she thought about me riding the bike and would imagine my dreadlocks would look like the tendrils of the Kraken. It was perfect. And so was born the name of my trip. Unleash the Kraken!

Over the next few days I began to realize even more what a tough money situation I was in. The gear that I was selling back on the east coast wasn’t selling and in many ways I was banking on that. So what is there to do? Find a job.

I again start poking around craigslist and apply to anything that seems doable. And then I find the one. It was a courier job for a company called Orderahead, $15 an hour, start immediately! All the things I need. I fill in the application and get an email from a guy named Rob almost immediately. He asks me when I am free for a skype “interview” and I say the next morning. When I get around to the interview, I am straight up with him. I tell him my situation, about the trip and my money problem and that I can only work for about a week or until I make the money I need, then I have to quit and head out for my trip cross-country. I am expecting him to be weary about my response and perhaps even end the interview right there but he does the opposite. He totally supports my trip and wants to get me on board as quickly as possible. I happily accept the job and work quickly to get all the paperwork together. I arrange to come pick up the courier bag the same day and to get set up with all the other supplies I need.

For the next week or so I work all day, everyday, delivering all types of delicious smelling food to rich folk in the Silicon Valley. The job isn’t half bad and the staff are super helpful and understanding even though our only interaction is over the phone. How it works is that there is this app on my iPhone, I get sent a job, I got to X location, pick up food, go to Y location, and drop off food. Do that over and over again. Then done.

The hardest part of the job was being on my bike for over 12 hours a day. Since Palo Alto, where I normally worked, is across the Bay from where I was staying at Victoria’s in Hayward I had to make the 45 min commute everyday, and then work basically for 12 hours with a 3 hours break in midday in which I normally went and visited some part in the area. I think I must have visited every major park in the Silicon Valley area. But that long on a bike really tires you out. Your neck gets stiff, your hands tired and you feet sore. One thing it did help me with is that I learned a lot about my bike. When I got the job I had probably only ridden a motorcycle about 50 hours total, I mean I only learned how to ride the weekend before I left for Burning Man, which at this point was only 4 weeks ago. But I learn fast and it’s really not that hard to ride a motorcycle anyways.

 image

One of the parks I visited in Palo Alto on my work break

My friends at Orderahead, the courier service in San Fran

And about the repairs. So I took the Kraken to a mechanic shop in Hayward. After inspection they said that it would be about $500 for all the repairs. Geez. I didn’t really have that. And I thought it kind of silly because I really want to learn how to repair the bike anyways. I took my keys back and set out on a mission to find a Mechanic, and I did. A friend of a friend, Cody Daniels, lived in San Francisco and was a member of a local motorcycle club called Piston & Chain. I connected with him and over beers we planned a time to meet up and do the repairs together. I was so happy! It really was the answer to my problem and I will get to learn from it too.

 image

The weekend came along with my parts off eBay and Cody and I went to work. He had never replaced head bearings before so it was a learning experience for us both. But I felt much better having someone else there during the process. Piston & Chain was a super cool motorcycle club fit with two bike lifts and some crazy awesome bikes on display. The people there were friendly and helpful. At one point during the installation of the bearing rings an older man came over and corrected an error that we had. He just took the mallet, banged on it a few times and shook his head in approval. The repairs went smoothly. We designated two days for the whole process and in two days we were done. Oil change, new bearings and I decided not to change tire yet. The guys at the shop assured me that I had at least a few thousand miles left in it and I could replace it along the way if needed.

 image

image

Repairs!

I also got to check out Codys lab, 3Scan. Cody is an engineer who works on a team that is designing a new type of microscope. I guess this microscope has the ability to slice material, such as brains, into extremely small slices in order to be analyzed and perceived in a different way so that new data can be collected. He showed me some videos of slices that they complied that made of the entirety of a small mouse brain. You were able to move through the small pieces and observe the different parts seamlessly. It was amazing! The lab was equally as interesting. I have only ever seem labs when they are in large facilities where they appear sterile and official. This lab had character. There was stuff everywhere, microscope parts, huge servers, petri dishes, hacked up arduino circuits and big red buttons, which I found out functioned as a killswitch sort of. It’s like a mad scientist lab! I love it!

 image

image

Cody in the lab and the microscope

So I’m gonna hurry up a bit now because I’m super tired and If I’m gonna leave on time tomorrow I need to get to sleep.

 image

Will it all fit?

image

Saying final goodbyes to Victoria and Paolo at Sony Playstation

So repairs were done.

I earned all the money I needed for the trip.

My route was decently planned.

So, I left my first destination.

The Big Sur.

image

 image

The first day I broke all my rules. Which I am not exactly proud of but its just how things happened.

Don’t drive in the dark.

Don’t drive in the rain.

Don’t drive in the dark and the rain.

Don’t drive in the dark and the rain and on steep cliffs with 100ft drop-offs.

Well it could only get easier from here.

Besides that the Big Sur and Route 1 or the Pacific Coast Highway were absolutely breathtaking. Here’s a picture to give you a taste.

 image

image

The first night after finally arriving and not dying off a cliff face was spent at Willow Creek. There was a sign that said no parking, no camping but what was I gonna do get back on my bike and crash. No.

I took all my stuff off my bike and went down the hill. It was a beach. I didn’t expect that but it was a happy surprise. With my headlamp on I found a spot that seemed far enough away from the water that I wouldn’t wake up in the ocean and I set up camp. There was a car sitting in the lower lot with two guys playing music and talking in strange accents. They also weren’t just strange; they kept changing their accents, like they would be pirates on second, then Irishmen the other, then American hillbilly’s the next. Like they were switching between storylines or something. Occasionally they would talk in what sounded like there normal voice but it was confusing yet entertaining to listen to.

Thankfully I had gotten a can of chili and a beer at the store miles down the road before it got dark earlier so I had something to eat. After the tent was all set up I wrapped myself up in my jacket and sat on the pebbles on the beach, ate my cold chili and cheap beer and watched as more and more stars appeared before me. The two guys had begun to attempt at building a fire but it took them a good hour to finally get it, I had to chuckle to myself quietly. After a while I shut myself in my cozy tent and fell asleep to the sounds of waves.

I awoke to rain and surfers. They were watching the ocean with quiet and patient eyes trying to determine when the right waves would hit for an ideal surf. I packed my stuff up carefully, trying not to get to much water on my things, but there was a point where I realized it was useless.

One of the surfers came over to me, asking if I had stayed here all night. I nodded my head yes and introduced myself. We exchanged conversation about where we were both coming from and how we had gotten here. He was on his way to Reno to visit family but came 300 miles out of the way to check out the surf. It was his hobby, his passion, his love, as he called it. He offered to give me a ride back up to my bike and I accepted happily.

I began packing up my bike, getting more and more worried as I looked over at the foggy, winding , wet cliffs that I was suppose to go riding on. My surfer friend was about to drive away until he rolled down his window and offered to follow me until the rain cleared. He said he was heading towards the Lighthouse anyway to check out the waves, which were in the same direction I was going. Feeling slightly relived I mounted my bike, shook of the rain as best as possible and headed off down the mountain side of Los Padres National Park.

Through much struggle, fear and adrenaline I made it though the treacherous mountains, alive. It felt like bursting through into freedom when I finally hit the clean, clear and dry roads of the southern route 1. We stopped off at a gas station and I said goodbye to by guardian angel, giving him my contact information and promising him a card from some location throughout my travel. I really hope he emails me.

I rode for another two hours until I got Santa Barbara. My friend Smadar lives there and I was going to spend the night with her before heading to LA. She has just been accepted into a Graduate program at UCSB, which she was starting the next week. She had just moved to Santa Babara that weekend and the place she lives is quite lovely. It’s the quaint little house that feels like it has been well lived and well loved. There are lots of people lots of cats and a big funny dog named Nugget who lives there. Its very Smadar I must say.

The next day I rode down to LA, which is where I am now. I have been staying at my Friend John Schmidt’s house for the past two days. He is an good friend from Berklee and I must say it has been fun staying with him, this LA life is something else. Now it’s Sunday September 28th or I should say Monday morning, the 29th, my Dad’s birthday! Happy Birthday Dad!

 Monday- September 29th, 2014

Its much later that I hoped it would be. I really wanted to leave at 5am for Death Valley National Park but I may have to leave a little later than expected. We will see.

chelseasouthard

My Tiergarten Stopmotion!

chelseasouthard:

Tiergarten Stopmotion: Reflection and Manipulation

While in Berlin this past January I spent quite a bit of time in Tiergaten. While there I took a series of photos that captured the changing of reflected images. By using water as the medium for manipulation I am able to morph the image on the surface of the stream by simply dropping a pebble, disturbing the still and quiet state of the substance and creating beautiful, natural visuals.

Within the video I used a quote by Hans Margolius that I believe fits the experience quite well.

"Only in quiet waters 
do things mirror 
themselves undistorted. 
Only in a quiet mind 
is adequate perception 
of the world.”

The music is “One and Three Lights” by agraph.

Personal Translation

January 22-23, 2014

Over the next two days I took it easy a bit, woke up kind of late and just wrote and read in the mornings. Planned my schedule for the festival the next week and made sure everything for the start of my final semester was squared away. Early afternoon on Wednesday I headed out into town, my plan was to go to the museum of science but once I got there and found they had limited hours that day I didn’t think it would be the best idea, I was sure it would take more then 2 hours to get through it. So I walked down to Kreuzburg, an area of town known well for its food. I had looked up online “10 Best Cheap Eats” and this place called Curry 36 came up, saying that it had Currywurst prepared the traditional way. I was passing by it and figured I might as well have another. I ordered my meal and stood at the table sipping my Berliner Beer listening to the multitude of languages unfolding around me, the cold glass stealing away the warmth from my hand but with each sip, a slight recovery. I guess the traditional way to have a Currywurst is to have it without the skin, I actually think I enjoy the not to traditional one, it has more crisp to it, but it was still good.

I had heard that there was an independent film festival going on so I checked that out and found that there was a bunch of showings at a local theater not far from where I was. I got on the U-Bahn and headed to Babylon. When I got there the door was closed and I peered inside the glass to see if anyone was inside. A man at the far end of the room saw me, smiled and came to open the door. He explained that they only open 10 mins before a showing. He gave me a pamphlet listing the shows for the evening and I looked though it trying my best to decipher the german. In the end I mostly worked off the picture in the booklet and the flyers scattered about to make my decision. I had the choice between a spanish film, Pescador and german film, Uber Das Meer. The spanish one looked rustic and maybe something about a struggling family or a forgotten love, perhaps a drama. The german one looked dark and mysterious, with a cover of a man far out on a foggy dock, like a suspense or thriller maybe. I went with the german film.

I got my ticket and my beer, yes beer in the theater is great, and followed the mans directions on how to get to the screening room which is not located in the main theater area. Out that door, down the road, to your left, down the stairs. I sat down and had some small talk with a group of german business men sitting behind me, we clanked beers and the movie began. It started with a scene of two german men in all black wetsuits looking quite sneaky. I found out quickly that there were no subtitles but by no means did this ruin my experience. I have gotten used to watching shows without subtitles, I watch Turkish soap opera with a friend of mine from time to time and its quite entertaining trying to figure out whats going on. Since I don’t have someone with me to confirm whether I am right or wrong about the storyline whatever I tell you about the movie is purely my impression of it, it may be way off.

Uber das Meer translates to Over the Sea, after watching for a bit I realized that it was also more of a documentary about a mans story about his near death experience out on the water with a friend. The area of the sea that they were swimming was a dangerous one and it was guarded heavy by Nazi troops, they could not just go swim freely they had to sneak in. One time they were apprehended by an officer and taken away in there vehicle. Another time they were stopped at a road block by a group of inspectors, in the trunk they had all there equipment and knew if it was found they would be in trouble. The officer tried opening the trunk from the back and it was jammed, then he tried getting into the trunk from the folding seat cushions but his light was busted and he couldn’t see inside. Luckily they got away.

These men would practice their swim technique in the local pool then swim way far out to sea whenever they got a chance. Until the day disaster struck and the mans friend almost drowned, In order to save his life the man attached a floatation device to his body tied a room to his own waist and tugged him back to shore. They were something like 20km out, which is almost 12.5 miles! Crazy far! I watched as the mans face explained the struggle he had out at sea, on screen he looked like he was reliving the event, shifting from disbelief and horror, to fear and anxiety, to perseverance and willpower. His face was ridden with wrinkles of time and beaten down with scars of the past, his eyes looked like dark green marbles, swirling in shades of emerald and black. When I watched only his eyes, I learned more than what any words could have expressed. The eyes are such an incredibly transparent part of ourselves. It is almost impossible to hide what is hidden within them.

When the movie was over I called Edrin, his work is right up the street from the theater I was at. We went out for a beer then I headed back to my new home. I took the M4 tram going in the direction of Zingster street and got of at Indira-Ghandi stop, oh cool thing, I am staying at the corner of Indira-Gandhi Strabe and Chopinstrabe, pretty good combo I think! Anyways, I rung the bell when I arrived and headed up the four flights of stairs to Flo’s apartment. He was playing WoW! His troll mage on a private server, Wrath of the Lich King patch. It made me really want to play again. Maybe I will treat myself to a month of two when I return home, its been a while. I made some eggs, as it seems to be the cheapest and healthiest option on my budget then went to bed. Who says you cant go to Europe for a month and live on only $500 total? Not me.

Thursday I walked around Berlin quite a bit exploring the stores and local galleries, in the evening I went to a Chamber Concert at the Berlin Symphony. Trio Jean Paul was playing a very enticing set for piano, violin and cello. Ludwig van Beethoven Piano Trio No. 1 in E flat major Johannes Brahms String Sextet No. 1 in B flat major (arr. for piano trio) Franz Schubert Piano Trio No. 1 in B flat major I got discounted tickets for being a student which was a nice surprise, so with the extra money I bought myself a nice glass of whiskey to start of the show. I went and sat in, waiting for the musicians to revel themselves. They are greeted onstage by about a 1/3 filled audience, the room is wonderfully designed almost like the inside of a very modern temple. The ceiling is funnel-shaped, asymmetrical with the cut out in the peak relieving a slightly off-white interior. This is where all of the wires are hanging down for the lights and microphones. From where I am sitting it looks like a canopy in the peak of the ceiling with a web of wires attached to it. I am slightly indecisive if the wiring adds to the overall look or detracts. The musicans begin to play and the hall fills with beautiful harmonies, bouncing off the carefully designed walls to make the sonic experience that much more powerful. My favorite performance must have been Brahms, it had a strange melancholic feeling to it. There were these two voices within the pieces that would talk back and forth to each other, at some points arguing, while at other times in agreement, but at all times in conflict as to what the other one wanted. Like neither could be pleased with themselves or with the other. Schubert came second and Beethoven was third. When it was over, I decided to go for a night walk in Tiergarden to revisit the places I had walked in the daylight a few days earlier, and to recreate the water and photo experiment I had been captivated by. I walked into the cold woods, the air was brisk but at least I was dressed for it. The park was so different at night, it was hard to even tell you were in the middle of the city. The lights behind you would slowly start fading out as you continued deeper into the trees, there weren’t any people around but every once and a while you would see a small critter running about through the bushes and up in the mess of branches above. I found the stream I had been to before and sat by the water for a while. The top of the stream had a layer of ice of it now giving a nice opaque background to some of my photos. I searched for a rock of some sort so that I could throw it in the pond and capture the transitions between the water and ice. I couldn’t find any rocks! What is this place did they clear out all the rocks from the park or something? I searched and searched and finally found a small stone. I set up my camera, threw the rock and pressed the button. Firing off at 4 frames a second I captured the transition of ice to water. Sadly only a small part of the ice broke off, I guess the stone wasn’t big enough. I stayed in the park for a while, trying my experiment a handful of times till I got tired of trying to find rocks. Then I made my way out of the trees once again and into the forest of metal and glass.

More Than Just Luck

January 20-21st, 2014

Through the rustling of bags and slamming of doors in the morning on Monday I couldn’t help but
start my day early, probably for the best as well. I greeted some of the fellow travelers in my room, there homes ranged from Italy to Australia, some passing through while others were in Berlin to stay. I made my way downstairs and took advantage of the free breakfast offered at the hostel; bread, salami, corn flakes and coffee. Then reality set in and I knew I had to find somewhere else to stay. There was this other guy who said I could stay with him for like a week a few days ago but he hadn’t responded to my latest message so I wasn’t sure what was going on with that, what was his name? Oh yes Jeffrey, an LA tattooist living in Berlin.

I set up downstairs in the lobby where the internet was most reliable and started posting on couchsurfing. It takes a lot of time to find a host, there are so many of them on there and most with very detailed profiles. Also the way you write and what you talk about in your email is so very important, I think I have gotten it down by now after using it for as long as I have but still each time it takes forever. I emailed about 12 hosts, caught up on my emails, connected with Edrin to make sure he was still alive and tried for the first time connecting with my parents. I called my Dad but as soon as he picked up he was like, “Umm.. I’m so tired…can we just talk later hun?”, “Yes, Hello Father, nice to talk to you as well. Im doing good, thanks for asking! I was homeless yesterday. No big deal. Talk later!” Just kidding, I didn’t say that. “Ok, Ill call back another time, Bye!”. They are funny, I love how they just don’t worry at all, its one of the many things that makes them so great.

Honestly, Monday I didn’t do much except work on finding a place to stay. It was very icy out also so when I did finally go out for dinner I almost slipped and cracked my head on the ice, good times. Lets continue right into Tuesday.
I woke up early Tuesday with hope of having an inbox full of Acceptance emails from the people i wrote yesterday. But nope. Not one. Sigh. Though all of this I was desperately trying to post my weekend blogs but the internet was terrible and it took me like two days to upload four pictures. What I did next was sort of out of desperation. When I was first making plans to come to Berlin I wrote a ton of couchsurfing people. I got quite a lot of responses, mostly no but some maybe. I rewrote them again in hopes that some of them may now have a free couch. I wrote and waited.

It was like 11:20am and checkout for the room I was in was noon. So I had to decide in the next 20 mins whether to book another night. Then like magic I got an email from a man named Florian or Flo. I had written him about a couch but he said before that he already had people staying and then he was leaving for Bavaria for like a week, I wrote him back previously and just mentioned going out for a beer or something. He was writing me now to make plans to go out, I explained to him my situation and he told me to come on over! I was so relieved and seriously in the nix of time. I told the front desk I was leaving and with 10 mins to spare I went up to the room grabbed my stuff, through my sheets in the laundry bin and hopped on the U-Bahn to Weissensee, which is right around where Kinderkranken Haus was.

I arrived to a cup of warm coffee and super awesome host. He is a programer, which got me excited already. He works remotely for a programming company out of Bavaria, his home town. Depending on the job he works on different things but it seems like now he is currently working on server development and web-based protocols. He has also traveled all over the world; he told me about stories from his one year trip through Thailand, Malaysia to Australia and the many other places in between. He at one point worked on a tree planting farm in Australia for about a month, at first I was like “Wow, that must have been fun!” but he quickly changed my thinking. I guess every morning you are given like 80 saplings and a small shovel, you go around and make a hole, put a tree in, cover, repeat, repeat, repeat, go get more sapling, repeat. He said it gets quite old and not very fun, which I now can imagine.

I made dinner, pasta and sauce with mushrooms and onions, then guess what…we played DOTA2! I was so happy to hear that he plays games! This lead to much conversation about WoW, Diablo, LoL, Left4Dead and well, Steam in general. It was great to just hang out and play some games. The past weeks have been amazing but very busy and after that fiasco with Brigitt and not having a place to stay, I was happy to just chill out for a night.

Broken Bones

January 19th, 2014

Sunday I visited a historic place but it was not a museum, it didn’t require a ticket and there was no advertising. Nonetheless it may be one of the last places in Germany of its kind. I heard that it will be torn down in the next few months so it was a must see. The place is called Krampnitz, a military compound about 20 mins North of Potsdam which is west of Berlin. It was built by the Germans during the rearmament period in 1937 and used by the Nazis until the end of World War II, then it was operated by Soviet troops until it was abandoned in 1992. There is a room in Krampnitz with a ceiling mosaic displaying the infamous german eagle, cross and swastika, possibly one of the last authentic symbols remaining in Germany.

It took about an hour to get there, first you have to take the train to the west until the last stop, then another train till the last stop and finally a bus out into the middle of nowhere. But as soon as you get off the bus the place is right behind you. Being unsure of how security was at the place we entered in an opening on the side of the compound. There were tracks showing that vehicles had been driving through so I made a point of staying off the roads, with that I went into the first building I saw. The floors were really warped in this place, besides the main corridors which were cement, the rooms with wood flooring were buckling in on themselves. The floors were almost wavelike, rising and falling with the expansion and contraction of the wood due to the changing weather and temperature. I did my best to avoid stepping on those areas.


Hallway after hallway, silent and empty, with only the creaking of broken window shutters moving to the wind and the occasional iron door slam from who knows exactly what. Climbing up each step to a new floor but feeling as if it may be deju vu, the structure of a military complex very much resembling the structure of the military itself; ordered, repetitive. There were these staircases in the middle of each of the buildings, they would spiral up to the next level, very strong and made of cold cement, covered with shattered glass reflecting the light coming in from the nearest window, like pieces of crystal needing some attention. The crunch under your feet was unavoidable, watching your step to make sure the shards weren’t big enough to cause any damage. When reaching the top of the building you could look into the holes in the ceiling and admire the skeleton of this living creature you have been traveling through. Massive wooden beams trying desperately to hold a ceiling so weighted down by the passing years of fallen debris and aged as if you could almost see the war upon it.

From building to building I walk, listening to the air being breathed in by the surrounding decay. I inhale myself, enjoying the process and watching my hot breath rise up into the overhanging trees. Occasionally using some of that warmth to thaw my now frozen fingertips. I approach a building that looks quite different than the rest. Most are L-shaped with smalI courtyards or the remains of what seems like a garden in the middle. This one is square but thats not really what gives away its importance, every window and door is covered in cement blocks at least two floors up, making entering quite difficult and also quite intriguing. What treasures lay behind those barricaded walls?


Circling the perimeter, keeping low, as it is close to the nearby road, I see an entrance, a broken window. Only problem is there is a 8 ft gap between myself and the window with a drop almost two stories down. I look around for a log or detached door to bridge the gap but find nothing. I continue around to the other side in hopes of another passage, I am in luck. A window on the second floor with a broken door propped up against it, not so hard to climb. After securing the door with a large rock I hoist myself up onto the ledge, grab for the edge of the empty window frame and pull myself in. I notice the wood of the frame is quite rotten so I hurry, its much to late to turn back now, my feet have already left the edge of the door. It holds my weight and I swing my body around and my feet land firmly on the solid ground of the second floor. Well thats gonna be fun when its time to leave, I think to myself. Edrin follows behind me and we begin to search the building.

Moving from room to room, eyes focused on the ceilings in search of the infamous mosaic. Each room, nothing. The building is surely different than the others, the ceiling alone are more than double the high of any other building. This must have been some sort of special meeting house or ballroom or something. There are fireplaces in a few of the rooms, each with a ring of stone above it chipped away as if something was removed from it. When looking at it more closely you can see the vague outline of an eagle, what a find that must have been. One of the rooms has a beautiful dome ceiling, inlaid with brilliant gold and painted with as if for royalty. Another room has a huge stone in it, must have been 10 feet high by 5 feet wide. Looks like the head of a statue of some sort but I cant for the life of me make out who it is, huge chips of stone taken from the profile and cracks running deep into the piece. After searching the whole building, no mosaic. By now the sun is starting to set and darkness is coming. The temperature has dropped and the light is running out of time.

We exited the building the same way we came in, safely I must add, I just feel bad for anyone who may try and use that entrance again. Heading towards some buildings we haven’t seen before we pass a section that has the same bricks as the big house we were just in. Might as well check it out quickly, most others aren’t blocked up at all. One side of the building as an old broken down VW van next to an open window, I climb up onto the vehicle and enter easily. I walk through quickly, not particularly hoping to find anything but there it is.

Up the first staircase I see it, filling the ceiling, surrounded by wooden circular molding. The large eagle filling the middle space its talons gripping a swastika. Each corner is covered in what looks like white plaster, from previous photos that I have seen I know that behind the plaster lay more of what the eagle grips. What a sight it was. How real it was. I think of the people that must have walked on this floor before me, their heads above a symbol each held so close to the hearts. Each holding onto an idea, an idea that cost the lives of innocent millions. The area looked like it was recently used, unlike the other building on the property. The floor is carpeted with a large oriental rug cover the floor below and the walls covered in some relatively nice looking graffiti. I had read that this place was fixed up and used in one of the scenes of the movie Inglorious Bastard, I will have to watch that again. I stayed there for the majority of what was left of the light, then it was time to leave. With my back to the 50 buildings I may never see again, I selfishly feel as though I haven’t seen enough but perhaps it is time for this page in history to be turned.

We walk down to the bus stop only to find that our bus doesn’t come for another hour and a half. Not wanting to wait in the cold for so log we begin walking towards the closest town. After walking a while the cold is setting in, I try to hitch us a ride from the passing cars but have no takers. I guess one dreadlocked women dressed in dirty black clothes with a gas mask and an man who looks like he’s straight out of Iran don’t really fit the bill for “most likely to be picked up on a dark road in the middle of the woods”. We come to another bus stop and check out alternate options for bus destination, we see a bus that will be arriving in 14 mins heading in the direction of the main train station.

After the twenty minute ride we end up somewhere in Potsdam, its a quaint little town with small wonderfully smelling restaurants that I cannot afford and shops at equal prices. I peer into the shopfront admiring the items and tasty morsels in the bakery windows. I’m getting hungrier as I walk and tireder along with it. We pass the Potsdam Brandenburg Gate (or as I like to call Mini-Brandenburg Gate, the towns people don’t like that though, they find it insulting), I hear church bells and try my hardest to get to them before they end so that I can add it to my collection of recorded German Church Bells, but I miss it. Then we get on the U-Bahn into Berlin, I rest my head on the window of the train, looking out into the passing scenery, the vibration of the train running though my head, I feel each bump in the tracks as we glide further along into the city. Its in its own way relaxing, the hum of the wheels moving at a more or less steady tone and my consciousness moving with it. After arriving I am starving, we eat at a thai restaurant and head back to the house. I was hoping for a nice warm couch and a good nights sleep, little did I know what was awaiting me.

We walk up the stairs to the apartment and I see my stuff scattered down the stairwell. Oh no, crazy german roomate. We enter only to be blockaded by Brigett (read the post from a few days ago to learn the backstory on her) she is yelling at me saying I have to leave and I cant stay there and that I stole her shampoo? What? I’d never use her shampoo. She tells Edrin he has to leave tonight and that she is calling the police. As soon as I saw my stuff on the stairs I knew I was out, I pushed through her went to get my stuff together. I shoved all my things in my bag, tied my sleeping bag on the back and headed out the door, Edrin gave me an address of where I might find a hostel.

I suppose you could say I was homeless in Berlin for a little over an hour. I finally made to the hostel called “The Cat’s Pajamas”, south of center city Berlin. It about midnight by now, I stumble into the hostel drop my bags and ask if theres a room for the night. The women sets me up with a 10 euro room in a 10-person dorm. Thank goodness. Hardly understanding or believing what all just happened in the last two hours I walk into the darkness of what now is my room, collapse on the bed and pass out. Ill figure out whats next to come in the morning.

The Ticking Clock

Saturday started a little late due to the previous night. I woke up with the two handstamps of the clubs plastered on my cheek, which gave me a good laugh. Edrin was off for the weekend and we had tentatively made some plans to go exploring. It was a pretty nice day out but since it wasn’t so early I thought it might be good to go to one of the places within Berlin.

Kinder Krankenhaus was the best place to go, this is an abandoned children’s school in Weibensee, northeast of Berlin. We got on the train and heading out. Upon exiting at the U-Bahn closest to the school we didn’t see anything in sight except for a broken down carriage house sort of thing. We walked around the block, knowing well that that house couldn’t be it. Up the block and to the right then we saw it. The gate was wide open and we could see people walking around the building already. There was a old women in a wheelchair sitting at the entrance and her husband was walking inside. I couldn’t help but think, was she a student here when it was in operation? a child of what remnants of the school now remain? They greeted us politely as we made our way through the broken door.

image
The entrance opened to a gorgeous hallway with windows revealing courtyards of what must have once been playgrounds full of children. Now they are filled with vines, brambles, trees and shrubs; they are full of growing things, so maybe the contents of this courtyard haven’t changed so drastically as one may think. From there the hall splits in two, off to the left I’m greeted with an long hallway of open doors on both sides. Amber light pouring out of each opening creating an arch on the opposing wall highlighting the layers of paint peeling off the wall like the scales of a fresh fish. The rooms are marked with the words of some previous visitor, some of wisdom and others of careless youth. With my footsteps I pass from door to door. Each space desperately trying to hold on to its place in time but the clock keeps moving, ticking away as the walls grow thin and more fragile with each passing moment. To walk through halls like these is to witness the product of time, to touch the substance of something passing and to see what has grown from its presence.

image

image

image

image

image

I will upload more pictures when I have better internet. It took me two days to upload just these.

Breathe Deep the Infected Air

I don’t even know where to start when explaining the events that have transpired this weekend. I will try and start from the beginning. Friday.

The first part of the day I did a bunch of research into companies and sent email about meetings and the like. I headed out at about 1pm and went to Alexanderplatz to try and get the key situation fixed since my copy still did not work. I biked down and spoke with the man, he told me to come back in 15 mins. I was a little hungry so I went to check out the local supermarket and see what snacks I may be able to pick up. I saw this wall of chips with the name “Erdnuslocken” on them, which means Peanut Lure. I thought it might be interesting to try them so I grabbed a bag and a can of coke. I opened the bag and took a bite and wow these chips were gross. I thought maybe they would taste good dipped in jelly or something but I wasn’t gonna try. I packed them up grabbed the new keys and headed off to a job meeting with the owner of the pedicab company I connected with a few days back.

I made my way across town, winding through the streets of Berlin, stopping and going at each traffic signal, riding under the massive Brandenburg Gate and making my way through the paths in Tiergarden encased by the leafless trees above, their long crippled fingers grabbing at the clouded white sky. I get to an roundabout that is in the middle of the garden and keep to the right. The pedicab headquarters, if I may call it that, is in Hansavietel, almost directly west of Mitte (center city Berlin). The man I am meeting is Micheal the owner of Donbikes. I call him when I reach the square, he told me the shop is sort of hard to find, he will be there in 20 mins. I bike around a bit to look for the place and find a garage under the U-Bahn, I bet thats it. I wait on a nearby bench observing the city as it goes about its day. There are three beautiful Churches in the area. One has a series of three large bells stacked on top of each other next to the steeple. I should have taken a picture of it.

Micheal gives me a call and we head down to the garage that I noticed before, it was the right place. He shows me the shop and all the bikes. He designs and build all of the bikes in the shop! They are so well crafted and unique! He tells me about how he started the company and the process of working for them. He reassures me that it is quite easy to start and that I would be welcome on the team when I move here. There are a few papers that I need to get sorted out with the city in order to start, he said if I get those then I could start while Im here. Only thing is you kind of need an address, which I don’t really have. He suggests that I just send an address of where Im staying to him and he will look into the details. I tell him about Boston Pedicabbing and he is quite intrigued about how the system works, I tell him how we work out rentals and payment and shift sign-ups. After about an hour of conversing we swap information and part ways. Seems like a very feasible way to make money here in Berlin. I leave excited and hopeful.

I hear the church bells ringing and quickly get my field recorder out. I listen to them sounding, each bell with its own tone, lofting harmoniously through the cold berlin breeze. I now have a collection on Berlin Church bells, I think I am on 5 now. Once I get around to editing them I will be sure to post them. I was suppose to have another meeting with a company called Art+Com, check them out they are super awesome. They do interdisciplinary installations and they are quite well known in Germany. They are super busy so it looks like it will have to wait for next week. There is an internship available for Interactivity Design which I am very interested in, we will have to see what happens next week.

I head back to the house, the plan tonight is to go to some clubs with Juno. We are meeting up at 2am so I figure it might be good to get a little sleep before the night begins. I sleep for a few hours then met up with Juno and friends down by the Gorlitzer U-Bahn stop. We hop in a taxi and head to Tresor. Tresor is a famous underground club and record label for some for the best techno music. The entrance is a huge steel door, I hear the low rumble of bass shaking the walls of the club. I head down a flight of stairs to the coat check area, streams of people on all sides, of all different styles moving in all directions. I walk down another flight of stairs into a fogged tunnel smelling of moist air and cigarettes, it fills my lungs. You cant see but a few feet in front of you as flashing red lights race down the ceiling leaving trails of light to disipate on your retina, its deceiving and disorienting. The music gets louder, the thumping closer and the air hotter. The walls open up to a large room caged in by bodies and fueled by the intensity of the sound that has now fully infected the air. Steel bars line the end of the room and behind them sit the master controller, the DJ.

Upstairs is a different story, the ceilings are much higher here, the room has more space. What looks like oversized construction lights hang over the dancers below, flashing between a multitude of colors. At the back there is an opening where people are sitting, a huge beautiful warehouse is behind them, it looks almost abandoned. It spans three floors made of steel beams and cement floors. Juno tells me that in the summer its a huge club called Kraftwerk (yes Kraftwerk like the band), what an incredible place for a club. I guess it was built around the time of the Berlin Wall and it used to power most of Berlin, then it was abandoned for some time, then renovated into a club, do I need say more?

Now back to Tresor, the DJ playing was one of Junos friends. He was incredible, the music pulled and pushed like the movement of a tide, sucking you in and spitting you out. The sounds and textures were crisp and wove in and out of the endless bass with ease and tasteful deliberation. The heads bobbed and the bodies moved, along with my own. Junos friends that came with us were each very interesting people. They all worked for a man named Olafur Eliasson, an artist whom I watch very closely. Olafur is a artist who does large scale installations and sculptural works with the assistance of his 100+ person team at his studio in Berlin. How I would like to get on that train! I talk to each of them about their work, some programmers, IT people, archivists, web design and such. They tell me about their experience working for Olafur and they all have good stories to tell. I have plans to apply to work in Olafur’s studio so this gave me some great insight into what its like there and what he looks for. Couldn’t have asked for better people to connect with!

After being at Tresor for some time Juno and I head out to another party at a place called Salon Zur Wilden Renate in Friedrichshain. We get on the U-Bahn passing though a not so quiet Berlin at what is now 6am. We walk into a courtyard then through some plastic strips in a doorway which lead to a stairway and up into what I’d like to call a lair. The decor in this place is for sure one of a kind. The first room has a ceiling lined with different sized disco mirror globes with 50’s style flower wallpaper and a collage of lights pointing in all directions. The place is more like an apartments transformed into a music den. There are two main music rooms playing two slightly different styles of techno, one more minimal and the other busy. Separating the two rooms are rooms filled with couches, beds, dancing poles and a collection of people of all type, shape and style. The decor changes with each room but the flower wallpaper stays the same. The other music room has a ceiling lined with overlapping frames with the contents on the frame being some sort of paisley sequence or something. Each room had its own flare of reddish/orange glow emanating from them, traveling through them felt like I was working my way through a part of the color spectrum. By the time I left it was well past daylight, walking out the door into an entirely new spectrum of colors.

This was my Friday.
I think I will split up these weekend days so its more manageable.

Verboten!

One of the people that lives in the place I am staying is a woman who goes by the name of Brigitt-Leila Von Lindenberger. She is, how do I say, not the most approachable person. She talks quite loudly in german and stomps around almost as loud. I heard her come in, she was yelling a bit then she went into the shower. After I heard her get out I went into brush my teeth so that I could leave. The second I touch the door handle I hear, “I have to get ready for fucking work!”. I let go of the handle and turn to this angry german women wrapped in a towel. I tell her I will only be a second and she continues to yell saying that I can’t use it, how I should just leave and how she doesn’t have time for me, among other things I will not elaborate on. I eventually turn around and head back to my area, get my stuff and leave. Geez, glad to be out of there. German anger is almost as bad as Russian, almost. Since I left in such a hurry I forgot my scarf, and today was cold and rainy. So I biked down to the thrift store at the end of the street called “Humana - Second-Hand Kaufhaus”. It wandered around the store, they had a nice selection and lots of scarfs. I found a bin where they were selling for 1 euro, I took the warmest looking one which was a magenta cotton made by a brand I think H&M sells. Either way it was cheap and warm so I bought it. Cant hurt to have two scarfs.

I headed out on down Karl-Marx Allee and over the bridge into Kreuzburg, went parallel to the river until I came to a large park. I kept my eye out for anything that looked broken and then I saw a large orange and red canopy about 30 feet high and a Verboten sign. Ah ha I must be here! I locked my bike and headed down the path into the woods. The place looked tight, every cut int he fence was reinforced and the barbed wire went high up. Still I carried on making my way around the perimeter. Finally I found an opening, way on the other side from where I parked my bike there was a small two by three foot break in the fence. I pushed my stuff threw and slide in after it. The area I entered was full of bushes and brambles but I was able to make myself to a set of old train tracks, like the ones you see the little kids riding on at a typical amusement park. I saw some trailers off in the distance and thought I saw a light on one of them, don’t want to go over there I thought. So I followed the tracks until I came to the opening of a cave with a water slide on top of it.

From there I saw it, the huge Ferris wheel of Spreepark. That was my destination.

I walked over the endless slides and roller-coaster tracks and stumbled upon another monument of the park, the monster mouth. Its one of those large open mouths that the roller-coaster goes through. I stayed there for a bit then went on towards the Ferris wheel.

But to my surprise a dog turned the corner, he was alert and didn’t look very happy. A large man came form around the corner like something out of The Lord of the Rings, Aragon-like but not nearly as attractive. He yelled at his dog first then at me in unintelligible german. I asked him for English and he laughed and yelled louder. One word I did understand was Verboten and Photo Verboten! He told me to come with him but I was hesitant. Who was this strange man who emerged out of the woods? Was he really security? Does he live in that trailer? I told him I knew a way out and was going to leave through there and he kept saying “Nein, nein, nein Verboten!!” and waving his hand to come with him. I started of in the other direction and he took his phone out at started to call the police saying “Polizei, Polizei!” So I told him to wait and went with him. I tried offering him 10 euros for a tour, again and again I asked and he said no ever time. I laughed and sighed and asked again but nope, he wasn’t going for it. We walked on until we got to a very large fence, he pointed up and up and over I went. He laughed at me when I was on the other side as I continued to take photos of the area, what a crazy man. I finally was able to get a picture of him that you can see below, its not the best but he didn’t want me to take his picture so its the best I could get.

I walked around the perimeter once more and met this group of kids shooting a horror video in the woods, I think it may have been for some kind of music video but I was a little unsure. They said they were in some kind of Metal/Rammstein band. A few of them had some typical horror masks on and a bunch of recording gear as well as a Go-Pro which I thought an interesting choice for filming, I suppose they are getting quite good these days though. I talked to them a bit and I told them about the Spreepark experience then we went our separate ways.

Since I didn’t really get to see the Topography of Terror exhibit the previous day I decided to check it out. I read everything so it took me along time to get though it but wow, is that a good exhibit. So much detail about the inner workings of the SS and Hitlers horrors with incredible documentation. The pictures posted of the people were hard to look at. You would see the faces of the persecuted Jews and the SS guards laughing at them and even the crowds of german people, mocking and humiliating them… killing them. There faces were so painful, you could see it like they were standing right in front of you. The way the information was presented made the the experience so engaging and immersive. And being on the grounds were most of these acts of terror were decided made it all the more real and horrific.

Signal from a Smoke Stack

I finally got my bike today! It was a little messed up but nothing that couldn’t be fix with a few tools. The handle bars weren’t secure, they would move up and down when you tried to hold onto them so turning was proving itself to be difficult. I heading down to the bike store early in the morning and asked to borrow a tool, I also bought a bike basket so I didn’t have to carry my stuff on my back. They were very helpful and the basket only cost 5 euros. Then I stopped at Kaiser’s, a local supermarket and brought bread, cheese, salami, apples, jelly and peanut butter. Cant go wrong with that combination!

My plan today was to do some urban exploration, I have to start going through my list. Since I didn’t bring my big flashlight and I thought I would find one in the airport but didn’t I had to go get one. I was told I could find one at this camping store so I headed that direction, while biking I saw a large smoke stack, it was broken at the top so it instantly caught my attention. Broken smoke stack = Broken Building. I biked by it to check it out and it was obviously abandoned, I went on to the camping store and bought a headlamp that was sort of overpriced, but eh, it will probably be one of the only things I buy myself on this trip and I will use it for god knows how long.

I made my way back in the direction of the smoke stack, parked my bike and began walking around the perimeter of the building. It was sandwiched between two major roads, I found a gap in the fence on one side but continued walking till I found another on the lass busy side of the building. I slipped into the crack and walked into the first floor. I thought I was golden but then I realized this room didn’t connect to the others. I went back out and walked up to one of the main doors on the outside, it was welded shut. I looked around a bit trying to find a broken window or something, then I found it but it was on the second story. I climbed up onto the roof of the first floor by using the gaps within the bricks then made my way onto the roof overhang of the second floor. I threw my stuff through the second story window and pulled myself through. You can see the window right above the sign in the picture below.

Stepping onto the floor of my first german exploration felt good. The place was in pieces; beautiful, decaying pieces. It smelt just like home, molding, damp and heavy, so familiar. I met someone almost right away, a man in his 50’s. He was right in the next hallway, he heard me and I heard him. I poked my head out from behind the door and he smiled. He was dressed in mostly gray, with a small camera and black hat. He didn’t speak much english but we understood each other we walked through sometime together, sometimes separated. I spent a lot of time in most of the rooms, observing and photographing, he was just there visiting. He told me he comes a lot and has come here for many years. When we got to the top of the place he told me a few broken stories about the parties he used to have here with his friends, then he told me that all his friends are mostly dead; heroin, suicide, overdose, hospitalized. But from his words “This is life”.

Making our way to the roof he tried to tell me to be careful, saying he didn’t want me to fall though. Thats him there in the picture below. The roof was caving in, at least a few feet, looked like if I threw a rock on it it would collapse. We walked around the edge, the side are normally reinforced so more or less safe to walk on. The view was terrific, you could see the whole city! And what a place to see it from, I didn’t even have to pay 10 euros. We went down into the basement, one of the rooms was completely collapsed from rooftop to the floor, rubble from 4 floors lay scattered in front of me, there must have been a fire in this section of the building, soot and crusted ash painted the floor. After going though all the rooms we made our way back to the window exit. This time I gave my stuff to my friend and headed out the window, I took a few pictures on my way out and when I turned around to say goodbye to my buddy he was gone. Where did he go? I looked down the street and he was nowhere to be seen. Maybe I will have a chance to meet him once more on my next stop.

My phone was almost dead by now and I had plans to meet up with Edrin later maybe, I headed down to the Topography of Terror exhibit, I had heard it was a good thing to check out. Also maybe there have an outlet I can use to charge my phone. I biked my way though Berlin, bikes have there own lanes and lights here. You have to be very conscious of them because if you blow through a light the chances are you will get hit. I did it once and regretted it instantly, luckily I was not hit. When I got to my destination I went down stairs found an outlet but then realized I forgot part of my adapter! Luckily Edrin called and told me to meet him at his work. When I got there I went out to dinner with him and his work friends. They were all very nice, I got to head a bunch of crazy stories about Africa and being arrested in Nigeria. It was very entertaining to say the least. Then we went to a hookah bar and I learned how to play backgammon, but lost 2-5 unfortunately. Fun game though.