Sunday, September 07, 2003

a moment at the Temple of Honor

This really isn't my story, it's Almeida's, but I tell it because it captures some of burningman for me. On Sunday, the day we chose to clean up for a few hours and check out the art in the deep playa, one of our stops was at the Temple of Honor. A fanciful, vaguely Byzantine structure set in a direct line with the Man, the Temple seemed to be constructed entirely of cardboard tubes and light wood, the easier to burn. It also did not have to support the weight of people walking around on it, so it had all sorts of things sticking off of it. It had been papered in black and white designs, apparently photocopied, that combined to create a very Moorish feel.

The Temple serves a different purpose than the Man. It's usually burned the day after, winds permitting, and I'm told that the crowd (much smaller, as mamy people go home right after the Man burns) is much quieter and more contemplative. The Temple honors those who have passed, and is inscribed with names, covered with photos and small items, surrounded with flowers, and so on.

Visiting the Temple is sobering. People write messages to their departed loved ones, sit quietly at the base, and cry. I wrote something that I won't share here, expecting to stay cool, and found myself crying and had to turn away for a few minutes.

Almeida was standing near a man who clearly wanted to cry, but wouldn't let himself. He was shaking, she explained, with the effort to contain himself. So Almeida wordlessly put her arms out, and he fell into them. Which is apt, as she is short enough that for many of us, hugging her does require a bit of an altitude adjustment. He hugged her and he cried freely. When he was done, he thanked her, and they parted.

"So often," she said of the experience afterwards, "I feel like I know what the right thing to do is, but I feel constrained. If I'd seen him somewhere in the outside world, I would have wanted to do something, but I wouldn't have felt like I could, like my gesture might be rejected. Here I could do the thing I knew was right."

So much of burningman is presented as this massive libertine explosion--you can do whatever you like, whenever you like, with whoever you like. And in a very messy and visible way, that's true. PRobot heard a story about something that happened in a Portolet that totally bears this out, and eventually I may write it down. But there's another facet, besides the drugs and the silly costumes and the dancing and the screwing and the sunburn. I think burningman also offers the freedom to behave in line with one's best instincts.

It also magnifies and exacerbates, exaggerates and intensifies. PRobot and I had a discussion there that probably took a turn (at least on my part) that it didn't need to because I was pretty exhausted and stressed out. We agreed to a moratorium on Discussion until we'd had a chance to come back to the so-called real world; then our schedules precluded our talking. We're going to see each other today. I am very curious to see what happens.

I also have to return my rental funmobile this afternoon. And I never figured out how to use the four-wheel drive! I don't suppose it's wise to try that on the freeway, running errands. Maybe I'll try driving over a curb, or one of those things they put in mall parking lots to block your wheels.