Sunday, 17 September 2006

Burning Bloody Man


Bedraggled and half-drowned in emotion I was washed onto the shores of default reality last week. As I gathered enough strength to pull my near-carcass higher up the sands of life’s beach, I wept from exhaustion, jetlag, and sensory overload but mostly in appreciation of a new mystery ingredient. Its not a bad feeling just very weird. I think it is the feeling one has after gorging oneself on marrow from the bones of life.

I am talking of my experiences of going to the Burning Man Festival in Nevada and thus entering E4-B (you got to have known me to know). This mail is unashamedly positive, as was this experience for me. Of course there were dark moments and I will mention them but overall my time and effort was well rewarded and I hope the lessons learned of lasting value.

I cannot hope to do the experience credit with words and a few shots – in order to be understood this event must be witnessed. But as I owe god a death I believe I owe you all at least an attempt. And I want to because I care about all of you. And like to try to stay in touch through these mails no matter how eclectic it is or how much I expose my idiosyncratic view of the world to you. And it’s going to be long so get a cup of tea and take your time if you have it. I do not in any way mind if you are too busy to read this either. Some of you will and I hope some of you will like and enjoy it. I am quite certain I will cry again while I write this but that is ok, these are good tears in good times. I will not mention them again.

Prior to going to Burning Man (BM) I often felt that moving through life was like fighting through a dark tangled thorny thicket - slow and arduous. Sometimes the way would open up and be clear usually after such things as the vipassana course or an eclipse pilgrimage. Now, again, I feel like I have been shown a simple, palely lit pathway, soft underfoot, through the dense growth. I do not know where the pathway goes but it is inviting and calming. While writing that – part of me wonders if the easy path is the right path but that is the workings of a naturally suspicious and insecure mind having something really big at stake. For at stake is my life and who knows perhaps even my immortal soul (ha the stakes are high, not so?). I am quite certain that there are many paths through the thicket of life and this is just the one that has been revealed to me right now. I know also that I am going to take it. It is the only one in front of me and it is going my way. Only a fool would blindly scrabble their way through the rocks and thorns instead of such a clear opportunity. Or perhaps a clever bugger who REALLY knew what was going on...

This is clearly a metaphor – I still do not have a single specific goal in mind (who does?) - but it symbolises something I really do want - to be easy on myself. Not even to take the path of least resistance but rather the path of no resistance. I think the mood in my life of a simple green pathway is symbolic of the need to gently allow one’s life to happen. Of course it is also just a pathway and thus is useless to me UNLESS I do walk upon it. And while walking along it I will still have to carry my baggage. But who knows, this path may lead to a cool stream along which my baggage and I can float in a canoe and let life’s pleasures and pains drift by with even less of a care. No matter. I don’t expect it. And expectations are dangerous things – at best they offer motivation but normally they only provide for the opportunity to be disappointed. We all have had quite acceptable experiences reduced to disappointments because our hopes were too high.

I do not think it was BM alone that has allowed me to come to these realisations – it is the sum total of my life’s experiences – BM was however one helluva eye opening kick in the pants and a catalyst for change. As one cannot ‘unknow’ a thing so it feels like I have been shown another side to life. A side of life I always suspected existed. The side that was all the things I wanted to do but never let myself. This is not to say that right now I am now doing all these things – oh no, societies training and restrictions still hold me back but let’s say that I am in ‘recovery’ and getting better and better with every passing day at being myself as I want to be.

So back to expectations ... Burning Man was everything I expected but nothing I imagined.

As per the human condition of qualitative comparison I will now make a value judgement – My time spent at BM living in Camp Slaktoria (a Canadian matriarchy with a healthy dose of San Franciscans) must rank amongst the most joyous of my days.

Some (near) facts – BM takes place at Black Rock City (BRC) and lasts for 7 nights running Monday to Monday. It is on the ‘Playa’ at 4000 feet, which is a dried and super dusty lakebed north of Reno in the Nevada desert. It can be 40 degrees during the day and 5 at night. The dust is the finest I have ever encountered and sticks to you like paint. BRC is a circular city over a mile in diameter. In its centre is a vast open space and in the middle of that there is an effigy of a Man. BRC is purpose built every year just to host this event. For this week it is the 3rd largest city (39,000 souls) in the state of Nevada behind Reno and Las Vegas. You have to supply for all of your needs - food, water, shelter etc. There is almost no commerce. All you can buy are ice and tea/coffee in a communal centre-camp. The proceeds from these go either to the local communities of Empire and Gerlach or to pay the running costs of Centre Camp. In short the environment is very harsh. AS any city it has sanitation (port-a-potties) and things such as a post office. At least 4 daily newspapers get erratically distributed.

When you arrive at BM, there are 2 checkpoints – the first checks your ticket but at the second is a group of lovely volunteers. They are the ‘Greeters’. They talk to you, explain the very few rules, answer questions, give you your Black Rock City map, stickers and Events catalogue and make you feel good. Its just about banter and fun and if there are any ‘first-timers’ at burning man AKA ‘Virgins’ you have to step out of the car and go through some sort of spontaneous initiation ceremony... The least of which is to hit a large metal casing with a thick iron rod. Often however you may be playfully spanked (its a bit of a theme at BM), or made to get down and feel the playa dust which will now be your unavoidable ever present companion for the days ahead or similar such frivolity. But above all they’re there to welcome you home. It’s a beautiful thing.

One of our camp Jason – a true gent I have had the pleasure of befriending in London over the last 4 months had volunteered to be a greeter. He was assigned a midnight to 4am shift 3 nights into the event. Despite it being my first time at BM, Domenique (another of the rarest Canadian treats - acquired in Turkey on the Eclipse trip) and I joined him for that shift. Quickly we also began to ‘greet’ people arriving in the middle of the night. This must rank as one of the best things I did at BM. It was unselfish and super-fun to be able to provide a friendly face to welcome all the new arrivals back home. Seeing the nervous excitement on the faces of the virgins. Seeing the glorious glow of satisfaction in the eyes of those returning for their 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 12th times. It was amazing. And it felt like I was giving something of my spirit back to the world. I met people from all walks of life, notably a 73-year-old Iranian veteran burner bringing his 20-something niece for the first time and reuniting with his young nephew at our greeting station. Mostly Americans there were several Canadians, 2 French, 5 Japanese, 5 Venezuelan, some Mexicans and 2 Germans amongst those I welcomed. All were great sports, some moved inside fast while others stayed and chatted to us for many minutes indeed. I remember most of them more clearly than many other people I met during the week in the festival surrounds. We’d read the virgin’s their ‘rights’ which included not having the right to be clean anymore but included the right to shout ‘I’m not a fucking virgin anymore’ while they beat the metal casing and so on. Not only will I return to BM but I will also be sure to act as a ‘greeter’ again.

So what of the festival itself?

There was art, there was heat, there was dust, there were people, there were freaks, and crazy outfits and there was spanking, drinking, drugging, dancing, laughing, chatting, trouble-causing, third-aiding, friendliness, impromptu violin concerto’s, drumming circles, lessons in yoga, tantric sex, burlesque dancing, free breakfasts, lunches and dinners and a much wider variety of tremendously fun activities (see one page of events randomly scanned from the events guide). The generous ingenius reality of each activity swept so far past what my mind’s eye had pictured that I remain totally stunned over a week later.

I am not crowing now and claiming I partied the hardest or achieved all I wanted, or even left completely satiated. Rather I left, as mentioned, bedraggled and worn out yet filled with a renewed hunger for life and experience. As a first-timer I believe I performed adequately for myself though I recognise there were unseized opportunities and indulgences overdone that left me burnt out by the end and wondering at how much better it could yet be. The hedonist’s curse - no matter how much pleasure one indulges in one craves more. So it goes. And even as Burning Man is a hedonist’s paradise so too there is no slating of their thirst. I feel however that I have been shown another aspect of what can be had in one’s lifetime and it is good. I certainly plan to pace myself better next year but perhaps get there early too.

Now onto the Art – there were over 240 official artworks within the open area (playa) within the ‘city’ boundaries – all mentioned within the events and guidebook. They ranged from simple sculptures to immensely complex interactive structures (see shots) playing host to trapeze or fire-dancer performances. Add numerous unofficial artworks dotting the suburbs to supply passers by with innumerable distractions. Add to this hundreds of ‘Mutant Vehicles or Art Cars’ - fabulously decorated vehicles ranging from ‘skeleton’ quad-bikes through, mobile dance-floors disguised as sharks, ‘Nessie’ sea monsters, cats, a tortoise, to a long bendy-bus built up to look like a triple-decker galleon and Mega-Volt (see pic – mad electricity behaviour). These vehicles prowled the city streets and huge open area offering free drinks, rides, blaring dance music and so on (see Art Cars shots). Add to THAT the numerous ‘Theme Camps’ all over the city, again going from things such as the Astral Head wash Lounge (you get your hair washed), the hall of true mirrors (mirrors reflected into mirrors so you see yourself as other people see you and not reversed like you normally see yourself in a mirror – trippy) to the Thunderdome by the Deathguild (geodesic dome in which contestants battle it out in a world wrestling federation meets mad max fashion) and of course numerous indoor or outdoor dance arenas, bars and chill out areas. And every single one is free to all and yes that includes free booze though often it is only of THEIR choosing such as Margarita Camp or Camp Bloody Mary and so on.

So wherever you turn in this space there is a vast array of creativity on display. It is very difficult to move fast around the place as there is so much to see and so many interesting people to talk to or interact with. The standard choice of travel is by bicycle as the city is so large and one can move between points of interest timeously and return to one’s camp to change outfits or replenish water supplies. Driving around in cars is not permitted unless the vehicle has been registered with the Department of Mutant Vehicles (and thus is an ‘art’ car)

That people go to such cost extremes to provide entertainment to participants is a sure sign of the FEELING of BM and how it all works so smoothly as a ‘gifting’ economy. Many think of it as bartering but it is not even that, you give of what you have and receive what is offered but not in a ‘I’ll do this for you if you do this for me’ fashion. It was interesting to note the exchanges that did take place and how when someone did give me something I instinctively wanted to return the favour. But through these experiences I learnt some of the lessons of giving. How to give of oneself, how to receive and how much joy there can be in both of those. I’d love to give more of my spirit to the world and by god I am happy to let the world continue to give to me. I wish to remove the self and society-imposed fetters and roar appreciative delight in the face of life itself.

The mood of the place is much like being at a very good house party. Where the assumption is that everyone knows someone else there is invited and thus are approachable and less likely to be an idiot. It was the easiest thing in the world approaching people at BM to strike up a conversation – yes of course there were idiots and people ‘not to my taste’ but these were few and far between.

For example on one cycle ride I pulled up at a tennis umpire’s chair for a chat with a scantily clad lady atop it. She made for fine viewing but was more attractive just for the view she had. I sat in her lap and we chatted and watched all the comings and goings of the city. Then I left and cannot recall her name – nor did I see her again, but it was fun and felt perfectly normal. I mention this one not because it was a highlight but because there is a photo of it so it serves well as an example with a visual. You have to understand that there is nothing to be ashamed of at BM, nudity and more is commonplace and again, that all just feels right. Radical self-expression. In fact if you shock easily and are up tight then BM is either not the place for you. But it is a great crash course in getting over those inhibitions. Do not mistake this as a sign of a lack of respect. Barriers are still there. Yes means yes and no means no. As ever. And crossing a boundary uninvited may easily mean harshing someone’s mellow. And NO-ONE wants to do that – it is the unwritten worst crime at BM. Er… no actually the WORST thing is leaving MOOP (matter out of place) – see comment below. ‘Leave No Trace’ is one of the main principles of BM. If you bring it in you take it out. They provide no dustbins and you are even expected to remove your grey water (shower water and so on). And this is also all very achievable and they supply ample advice and guidelines on achieving it as easily as possible. They have to clean the site up to basically be cleaner than when BM started or they will have their license revoked. They’ve achieved this for several years in a row but it does require the efforts of a large team of volunteers to remain on and ensure it afterwards.

I realised too late in some cases that the city is so large that if you lose your friends you’re on your own for the rest of the day/night but that’s scarcely a problem given how friendly everyone is and how much super-fun stuff there is to do. But also you really cannot count on bumping into the same people again. If you see someone you want to talk to then you have to do it there and then. You are unlikely to randomly encounter them again. The event embodies the principles of Carpe Diem like none other. You have to seize the moment and be willing to act. My specific lesson in this occurred while playing a game of chess in centre-camp against a man so obsessed by chess that he would not leave the table to even pee – rather he pee’d in a bottle right there – perfectly ok with that. Needless to say I was defeated twice quite easily but sadly not so quickly that I had time to go and find the elderly African gentleman (50’s) in full Sotho traditional dress. Now THAT was a story I wanted to hear. Either he was someone who had been to a tiny country like Lesotho and acquired it as an outfit for the event or he was FROM that tiny country. Either way it fascinated me but remains one that got away. Now that I think about it, it may not have been the chess game that completely robbed me of that opportunity but perhaps it was the impromptu fashion show which I participated in, replete in knee-high gold lame converse boots, pink furry cowboy hat and a pair of Domenique’s knickers which fitted surprisingly well given how tiny she is. Or perhaps it was bumping into Rebecca, a yoga instructor of mine in little more than me - pink wig, stickies and glitter. Or perhaps it was the stand-up storytellers or jugglers or naked staff-twirling, poi-swinging acrobats. Or maybe it was while in the queue to order a tea (and spend a couple of bucks – rare opportunity) watching a guy have his mellow harshed being yelled at by a camp attendant for wearing a feather boa. It is VERY clear in the survival guide available all year round from the website that you should NOT wear feather boas as they shed too easily and create MOOP. His problem was that he got aggressive with her, which was exactly not the right thing to do having already transgressed a sacred line. Then again perhaps the Sotho man had been a hallucination. I’m trying here to paint a slight picture of the constant bustle of Alice in wonderland sights and sounds that prevail at BM.

So now I’ll add some meat onto the matter by describing a few of the most memorable events.

The Serpent Mother, a hydraulic steel snake ‘skeleton’ with 10’ rearing head circled around a her 8’ egg. It formed an amazing central chill-out circle surrounded by fire. Created by the Flaming Lotus Girls out of San Francisco (I think) - a crack squad of babes who’d welded an art piece of great beauty. Each vertebra (and there must have been 50) blew variable-height flames from propane canisters within. All of them could be operated by the audience via buttons on their supports and so allowed one to participate and interact with the Art. It was a beacon of warmth and beauty in and around which people would collect all night. In a grand finale on the Friday night – the egg opened to release her child - a message of hope for the future, which included a fantastic firework display. I found myself at the Serpent Mother often.

Each BM has a theme, this year was The Future: Hope or Fear. Next year it is Green Man with a focus on greening the event with renewable energy sources and ensuring that the carbon effects of burning the effigy of the man is offset with carbon credits or trees or whatever. Nice. I’m sure there will be a lot of naked green men too. I wonder if I will be one of them?

Art appreciation evening – as many in the camp plus friends as could be kept together took acid (yes, LSD) or mushrooms and went to explore the playa appreciating all of the art and silliness out there. We began as 30+ folk but in the 15 mins it took to reach the first artwork from our camp were already below 20. Such are the distractions. Dance areas, art cars, people, people who look like artworks, artworks, music, and darkness. Anyway we managed to be delighted by many of the creations for many hours dwindling to about 12 by about 4am when it was deemed time to go dancing. And then after some of that it was suddenly dawn and only Domenique and I were left. We felt we’d won though perhaps it was just us who got lost and remained out all night. A very funny time that really cannot be described. But a huge thank you to Madeline and Melanie for group captaincy skills beyond the call of duty on what was a humoungus shit show. And for never once harshing our mellow’s er… except for that one time by the alien pod-brain plastic milk carton shiny light with plaster of paris wormy-hole in the ground what the living flying fuck WAS THAT thing?

Back to gifting for a minute. An example of the generosity of ‘burners’… An American pilot, Jim, currently flying with Ryan Air in Europe had sent a mail to all of us ‘Euroburners’ (yes there are regional organisation/support mail groups) offering a short flight in his 6-seater plane around Black Rock City. Oh sorry, I guess I never mentioned that BRC has an airport – or dusty strip at any rate. They call it the Spaceport and there must be about 50 light aircraft there. BRC is the third biggest city in Nevada after all (for 1 week). Anyway I guess normally you have to shag someone to get a flight but he devised a way to give 25 of us a quick zip around (see shots) and THAT enabled us to really grasp the scale of the event. It is HUGE. And all we collectively left for him in his plane as anonymous gifts were tokens of Jack Daniels, condoms, lube, soup, flowers and a finger-fright and yet after BM he wrote such nice things of his appreciation of these gifts. That flight really was a GIFT. I can completely understand why he did it (cos he could) and how good it must’ve felt for him to enable such delight in 25 fellow burners. He could share something with us. And that’s what makes it so fun there. People want to share. So what did we give back?

Fingerfrights, chapsticks, some crazy interpretive dancing in public spaces, plus of course appreciating the art, performances and taking part in the crazy things people had set up. Such as the telephone to God – pick it up and yeah, you can have a chat with God or one of his angels as I got the first time I called. But the most fun thing we did was to provide Third Aid at The Critical Tits party. The Canadian girls in the group had started doing Third Aid a couple of years back and it’s a pretty funny gig. We all get dressed up in sexy skimpy outfits – kind of naughty-nurse like but do not mistake us as nurses. That’s first aid. We’re third aid. Ok so maybe we can apply a hotlips band-aid or some pirate ones. But that’s usually to cover some nipples that might have seen too much sun. Or perhaps those nipples need some tiger balm, who maybe you’re just hot and bothered and need some shade or a sprits of lemon water or a hand massage or perhaps a uv active tattoo or some chapstick, watermelon, condoms, a kind word, a hard spanking, or vice versa, or perhaps Doctor Lobster needs to award you a humorous badge after subjecting you to the Rawshag psychonautic ink-blot evaluation system. Its silly fun but people respond so well to it.

See - post comments please – and check it again soon – there’ll be more shots along soon god willing.

All of these things are but glimpses of what goes on and does little to convey more than a superficial feel of the event. There is a depth that can only be experienced.

I can say that by the 6th of 7 nights when they burn the man, I was pretty burnt out myself. I was also a bit tired of trying to fit in by standing out in some crazy outfit. There is an aspect to which ‘Playa-attire’ becomes a bit of a uniform. Perhaps next year I will add a smart suit to the crazy gear just for some variety… though you really do not feel like walking around in normal clothes.

But I roused myself and went down to join a surging horde of nigh-pagans dancing around the effigy of this man (about 40’ high?). Immediately after the start of the burn I was separated from my friends. So for my first burn I was largely on my own. It was the best thing. I did not get naked and try to run through the flames, I did not get all shamanic or tribal and I do not really get much from the idea of BURNING a MAN. But I certainly did remove my fur coat (remember its cold at night) and run around the man’s pyre. I also did throw something into the fire dispelling unpleasant things from my past that so they’d no hold me back. It felt great. I slept very well that night.

The next day, Sunday, was so calm. I felt like a lot had been released. It was spent generally chilling out, winding down and packing up the camp in anticipation of leaving early the next morning in the Exodus. It was a great day. That night there was the ‘Temple’ burn plus they were going to burn the Belgian Waffle or Beaver Dam as we had nicknamed it. This was the largest installation the playa had ever seen. Built of 100? tons of wood by 55 Belgians, it looked like a crazy pile of over-size pick-up sticks. It stood well over 50’ high and was 50’ deep and 100’ long with great arched cavern inside. It made a hell of a bonfire. The biggest blaze I have ever seen. The flames were so hot that they were creating a vortex within the fire that kept forming into a flaming dust devil that would then sweep out and plough, cinders and all through a section of the encircling crowd. It was mayhem and only just in control.

Oh yes – that’s another maxim of BM (and third aid). Safety third. There is much debate as to what is first and second. I favour Hedonism and Adventure but others think its Ketamine and Bacon. So it goes.

So there is this weird fashion in which everyone is super-friendly and nice and doesn’t want anything bad to happen to anyone but there is equally a definite independence required. You are not there to be looked after. The flaming lotus girls or other fire dancers are not there to keep you from being burned that’s up to you. It’s a fire – don’t get close. No-one’s going to make it their JOB to be sure you are drinking enough water or have sunscreen on your back, or see that you are too battered to be climbing that tottering art piece etc. You have to be self-reliant though of course there is help if you really do need it. There is a comprehensive medical aid centre with emergency helicopter evacuation capabilities and a place filled with sensible straight people to talk the drug-freaks down if the trip goes bad. Similarly there is a large group of Black Rock Rangers patrolling the city who will provide help and support as required as well maintain the few laws that there are (no MOOP etc). And of course there are some real cops too. But I barely noticed them throughout

So… America – its remarkable that such a decadent event can and does take place. It is totally anti-establishment and this very fact made me feel a bit better about America in general. To oversimplify this … there is no chance of an event like this happening in Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Syria, China, England etc… enough politics.

Aaargghhh I still cannot really get to what its like – hmm here’s the short version I using to describe it verbally. It is like the best 50 parties or artistic/performance events you’ve ever been to, in one place, every night for a week, but it’s 10 times better than that. And there is an informative, free, artistic, spiritual, performance aspect on top too.

Another curious aspect to the experience was the non-usage of money. For a week one barely touched or thought about it. I think I spent a total of $20 buying tea/coffee for me and other people. I know I shirked on ice duties but I’ll try to make up for that next year. So when I reached Reno again and had to fork out cash for things such as dinner, hotel, tips and so on it felt REALLY weird and kinda wrong. What also felt REALLY wrong was all of the casino business going on. It made me feel really sad for all those folk slipping their lives into those slot machines. But of course I am not here to judge and it is their life to lead but I can understand why gambling could be considered as bad an addiction as any other drug and be made illegal.

So some facts because there are a few I need to remind myself of...

I live in London; I am STILL working on a film about Edith Piaf until mid-October (La Vie En Rose). After that I do not know what I will do but I am looking forward to it.
Yesterday was the first day that I have not cried since I left Black Rock City on Monday 4th September. The tears are not of sadness but stem from the beauty of life.

I have now been back in London a week and I feel good. Very good. Very good about being able to deal with the good AND the bad things in life. Tonight I was at a friend’s Birthday Party (Eleanor at Passing Clouds, Hackney – lovely place lovely people). It was pouring with rain. By the time I wanted to leave it had stopped raining. When I got home 5 minutes later and was inside it began to pour again. Ha I thought even luck was on my side. Then I realised that the one thing better than NOT being caught in the rain is to be caught in a good mood in the rain.

I know some of this makes me sound like a hippy and sometimes I look a bit like one. So what. That’s not a box people can put me in; I’m just the wrong shape for it.

I really hope that this email reaches you and you are not sickened by how much I am going on about all the good stuff. I get my share of downs too. Obviously. Mountains and Valleys. And I know several months ago I promised a whole lot more about THAT theory. Well it’ll come one day. I just been collecting a bunch more empirical data to metamanage-o-morphasise about.

Photographically I’d rate my time as poor. I resisted lugging my SLR around so only got some shots with it. I was quite happy to use my compact and even then did not bother too much to use it, rather choosing to enjoy the experiences without the interference of a lens. But now, back at base, I wish I did have more. And some of my friends did take some great shots and they do help in trying to convey the event. I lost the main camera card from my compact– sigh. So it goes. However I have no shots from the first total eclipse I saw in Hungary in 1999 and yet it is still etched into my mind’s eye as clear as it ever was. Most of you who know me will know that did not stop eclipses casting a long shadow into my life. Hopefully this will be similar. I think there is some credibility in the claim that we come to only emember those things we have photographs of but of course having a photo can prompt a memory one may have forgotten. I am sure each Burning Man event is like none other and all are ‘blank’ chunks of marble from which a sculpture is waiting to be released. So this one is done and these are my thoughts.

Ok wait – I have written this without rereading what I wrote on the eve of my departure 25 August – a date which feels like it should be sometime last year not last month. I shall now reread it and see if I have anything to add…


Hmm… ok it kind of made me feel like this post was VERY long and also VERY one-dimensional – just about BM. Seems obvious I guess – it was pretty monumental as an event.

As for the psychonautic operations - I don’t think I did much of that consciously – I think that will come now… there were way too many distractions out there to get too concerned about heavy introspection. But yes ore was mined extensively and brought to the surface for refining.

Many people say that going to BM changed their lives. And I agree I am sure mine is changed too. Here’s some of how.
1) I have been shown what a good party is. I am going to have to lower my expectations regarding other parties now. They will only be as good as I can make them for myself.
2) I have found my tribe (or at least one to which I will report at least once a year)
3) I will not do something just because someone else is doing it
4) I will respect that people are different and thus want to do different things.

My mail from before I went also reminded me of getting a fortune cookie from a guy walking around inside a ‘Zoltar the Magician’ fun-fair puppet fortune-telling box. Which is just another example of some of the silliness available to the participator at BM.

I was recently taught that the correct way to interpret these fortunes is to add ‘… in bed’ to whatever you get.

I got:
“Treat yourself to dessert 3 times a week… … in bed”

It makes others very funny – such as the one I quoted in my previous mail:
“The truth is not always beautiful, but the thirst for it always is … in bed”


‘Great planets are hard to find. Don’t blow it… … in bed”

Love, clear skies and safety third.


A lot of you are new to my mass mails. If you want to read what I wrote before I left – back when I was in that heady period known as E4. Just mail me and I’ll forward it to you.

Oh and I really wanted to write about the Mystic Toad and the God Box but I was sworn to secrecy so I can’t. Sorry. You’ll have to through the initiation, swearing ceremony, confession and purification to find out for yourself.

And seeing as you read THIS far here are all the links you could want: the official and excellent website (I do not know this person and a lot of the shots are of ‘girls gone wild’ which I find a bit sketchy but there really a lot of pretty good shots)

This is the third aid blog-link which is pretty fun though not fully updated with shots yet...

Friday, 25 August 2006

The End of This

Dear Everyone of this delicious extended network of lovely people I am fortunate enough to know all over this temperate medium-sized planet's surface,

Its been a long time since I last wrote. I've meant to. I've wanted to. But I guess I just haven't. Maybe because things were simpler and more complex in my life. And I have no plan to explain anything of that last statement just to move toward to an, as-ever, bright future. I find that as I approach exciting events in my life I become even more active in my sleep. Periods of stress and over-work can cause this too. But my workload has been relatively light of late. The desire to write before my next ‘big’ adventure is too great to remain silent.

Anyway last night in a hotel in Paris (work-trip), while asleep I physically threw myself from the bed and into one of the room’s corners. I cannot remember what dream state prompted it but it is pretty amusing even if embarrassing and a little disturbing. The situation became funnier when the period of bewilderment lasted long enough for me, naked (aren’t I always in these emails?), to open the door to the bathroom and step in only to find myself in the hotel corridor. Thank bugger it was a dream-state rather than a nightmare-state - I did not closed the door behind me. And thank god at 4 am the corridor was empty. Still I did laugh myself back to sleep. You may laugh at this and I hope you do but don’t put it on my permanent record please.

What drives me to write now is that I am on the eve of another momentous adventure. My first trip to Burning Man. In much the same way as I eagerly await Eclipses so I have anticipated this trip since deciding I would do it back around the time I saw that last eclipse - 29 March. My fourth. At that time I also had the fortune to meet a Canadian Burner (Domenique) who reminded me of the festival’s existence and judging by her stories it seemed like a bloody good idea to go.

Back then I wrote that I had decided to start to measure my life according to a solar eclipse calendar. Hence I was in the period to be known as E4 (until 1 August 2008 when hopefully I will enter E5). Well I have decided to add another letter to that equation. B. To be added when I have been to Burning Man after an eclipse. So in a few days time I will be in the period E4-b. Then in august 2007 E4-2b. E5 as mentioned above and then approximately 4 weeks later hopefully E5-b. You understand that this is ALL just for a laugh.

I like the way this starts to sound like a chemical compound. Even though I decided to hate chemistry at school (the bad smells during my experiments always earning a reprimand which ruined the fun), I have always liked the Periodic Table. That everything was made up from a combination of these really very few substances. Substances that in isolation could never appear to be useful forms for makings nice things. How was the soft roundness of a breast made from a lump of coal and so on? In later years I was delighted to learn that probably a quarter of the table was practically non-existent anyway, elements that had been created for the briefest of moments in science labs at ridiculous cost and so existed only barely longer than the theoretical. And another quarter so rare as to not be worth bothering with. Great, all so simple then. Except life is of course wonderfully not so.

Anyway - there is something about the Burning Man festival that despite my never having been I yearn towards. Is it the radical self-expression? The radical self-reliance? The leave no-trace? Or indeed the one I sometimes forget to mention when talking about it - the spirit of community and its gifting economy. Naturally it is a combination of all four. That plus the recognition that most 'burners' I have met have been remarkably open and generous people. Of course I have not embraced all I have met but the fact that 'burner' communities exist all over the planet suggests there is something about the experience that can provide something of a uniting spirit. I even let a person I have never met stay in my house in Turkey pretty much because they were in need but also somehow as they were a 'burner' my hand of hospitality was extended super-fast. I have yet to meet this person but there are plans to do so at BM this year. Nice. Rather than write much more about BM itself I’ll suggest you visit and check that out. Of course I will write a ‘report’ on my return.

I have benefited magnificently from the introduction of certain 'Burners' into my life over the last 4 months. They have allowed me to indulge so many of my fantasy lifestyles and creative outlets. I have in this period, travelled, written, photographed as never before, painted, danced and acted. Its been wonderful self-exploration and feels like the manifestation of years of watching and learning. Or indeed perhaps years of not watching and not learning. Only time will tell though I am now quite convinced it doesn’t really matter. Either way I am not being specific about the influences in my life – they know very well who they are.

Or is it that I have allowed myself this pleasure? Throwing off the shackles of self-restraint and denying myself no longer. Who knows. But I will try to keep it all going. As my life travels take me through valley and over mountain, its all good. The valleys are beautiful places of growth, rest, recovery and preparation, the mountains, exhilarating places to put to practise new skills on steep learning curves. Places to view fresh and broader horizons from.

I have always wanted to go into space. As an astronaut. Recently I had a remarkably pleasant philosophical discussion with a man I have been friends with for many years and who indeed I met in a queue to register for Philosophy 1 in 1990 – Jonty Rooke. He enlightened me as to the concept of a psychonaut. This apparently is the phrase to describe a person who actively pursues an exploration of the interior of their own inner-space with the same intensity as an astronaut wishes to explore outer-space. Sounds good to me. I’m down with being one of those. Doesn’t stop me wanting to go into space though. That’s still on my list. I plan even more in-depth psychonautical studies out in the desert at burning man though there surely will be enough distractions around. I expect them to inspire and as an opportunity to observe the wilder folk of this planet trying to be at their wildest it’s probably unbeatable.

So anyway, other than that, this period of horizon broadening has also coincided with learning how to paraglide and the irony of the literal and figurative coinciding is not lost on me. For me paragliding has done to air what Scuba diving did to water. Gave that element a whole extra reason for existing. No longer is water just for drinking or swimming in – it is something to envelop oneself in and move through exploring. So now air is not just for breathing – it is also for lift, flight and moving through. It is extra space on the planet for me. Considerably less cluttered than the ground layer. Much more of that to come.

Moving on...

I am not sure but I have not detected the ability to feel a tree’s living roots beneath the ground under my feet anymore. I used to have this. Or at least think I did – I never dug a tree up to find out for sure. In exchange I seem to have acquired more of an ability to detect inclines. I think I prefer the idea of feeling tree-roots more though its not much of a special power compared to x-ray vision and super-breath etc.

Finally an update on the Year of the Dog (**see below**). It seems quite certain that I have been searching extensively in the past 5 months and have found many things. And its equally certain that the trail and discovery of them have been incredibly fun just as an experience. In other words the jury is still out in terms of whether or not the things found have long-lasting importance, relevance or worth but as expected the trip has been along the scenic route and much-enjoyed. As a result I have enjoyed the most mentally relaxed of Northern Summers thus far. I hope at least that attitude remains long into the future.

All of this reminds me a fortune cookie I once received “The truth is not always beautiful, but the thirst for it always is”

So short term I am away until 6th Sept on a hugely fun psychonautic exploration far beyond any threshold I have crossed to date. I’m looking to learn, dance and have a good old time. Then return to England, finish this film about Edith Piaf off and plot a course for the future, I hope to see you there. More likely if it is in the upper west hemisphere.

Finally I hope all of you are all happy and well-fed from suckling on the teats of life.

I wrote it fast ... And I know I am being a bit elusive about the recent times. Too bad. They’ve been good to me.

Clear Skies


Monday, 17 April 2006

Turkish Extravaganza

Where the hell am I going to start with this one...

I know its late but its been difficult to collate my many thoughts on the experiences of this particular eclipse trip. Yet only as it was such a remarkable time. I reread what I wrote the day before the eclipse and am struck by how aware I was that the ride ahead was going to be an emotional wringer... I'm glad I wrote that then and could reread it now because in the weeks since then I have been oscillating between ecstatic and wonderfully weird.

I've been exhilarated most of the time exploring new avenues of desire and uncovering many secrets of the world yet have felt quite emotionally fragile at times too - shedding tears at random intervals and often just at the sight of something either beautiful or just poignantly human. My last day in glorious Istanbul was no exception – watching old men, just happily passing time or desperately trying to earn a lire with shoeshine or scales on which to weigh one-self. Flower-sellers surrounded by a wealth of vibrant colour in the sunshine yet themselves so obviously poor. All these drew tears from me but not so much for the sadness as somehow the beauty of the sadness. I even cried at the sight of hundreds of jellyfish bobbing by on the Bosphorous.

It all ended a couple of days ago, and I write this heavy with lack of sleep but afire with inspiration. Heavy also at the return to the streets of Soho, London that I have trudged for 10 years now and to a life that is less appealing than the carefree state I have been in for the last few days. I think that is down to an insight I had about myself as explorer/adventurer. Sometimes all my heart desires is to walk down a street I’ve never walked down and in so doing feel I am exploring the world. Sadly I have walked the same streets in London for too long. Yes I could move house and find a new neighbourhood to explore but why not rather move myself wholesale to another locale on this beautiful planet? By heavens one of these days I will see an eclipse with no plans to force my return to reality. Yes, in fact the very next one – to be sure.

Getting ahead of myself as usual, thoughts bounding ahead like a dog pretending to lead his master.

I sure as hell did cross some thresholds and perhaps indeed pass through the Gates of the Silver Key... And once you have crossed a threshold there is no going back, one cannot unknow something. Time will tell on that one.

Damn it was a good eclipse. My heart is heavy that I did not share it with some loved ones and I feel terrible that I will go on about the eclipse at their expense when they did indeed want to be present BUT as I owe god a death so I owe this witness's tale.

We camped at the lighthouse the night before the eclipse which was in itself a beautiful experience. The eerie and silent light arcing overhead all the time, mesmerising and worth the steep climb by itself. I include the location shot again to set the scene.

The day broke like any other without indication of the events to come. Clear skies and still air promised good viewing conditions. Heavy camera gear was dragged further up the mountain to the best vantage point which we had to seize before the rumoured wave of BBQ-ing american astronomers, 100-strong, arrived. Final angles and views were selected for each camera and the wait began. Aside from the occasional loud anorak amateur everyone was quiet and introspective, calmly inspired by the remarkable view, passing time painting, chatting, eating, re-checking cameras again and so on. The sense of anticipation built as did the doubt that there even would be an eclipse. Surely darkness in the day could never happen.

Imperceptibly the landscape lost colour to become steely grey. Shadows became sharp and just past high-noon the celestial machinations revealed themselves. The moon began to blackly edge across the sun’s face. It really was happening again. The wind came up, clouds began to form with alarming speed and race towards us. It was a race between the moon and clouds. The moon our unwitting ally, the clouds our spiteful enemy, both intent on covering the sun. focussed. Finally all that was left was the thinnest crescent, the clouds had lost the race, the view was clear. The crescent broke into pinpricks of light and as everyone removed their solar glasses a great darkness engulfed us. The entire horizon, grey a second ago was lit up orange and yellow, a pale sunset all around, the distant snowcaps, gleaming pink. The sun, directly above was no longer an unwatchable glare but a deep gateway drawing one’s eyes to it but one’s soul through it. The silvery strands of the corona, delicate, intense and almost never seen dance around the edge of the jet-black disk. Clear hints of magenta signal solar prominences.

People are screaming, shouting. Someone shouts ‘Mars, Venus’ and sure enough two stars are visible. Light clouds and haze prevent any others being seen. The lighthouse has come on. People are hugging, many are crying. Its icy and the chill is primevally felt in the marrow with the loss of our live-giving sun. Thoughts of cameras and photography are gone. It is clear this is a moment that cannot be caught and can only be experienced.

brighten from the southwest, within a further few seconds the corona, prominences, stars and sunset disappear. As if nothing had happened the dayAfter what feels like 3 seconds, 3 minutes 40 seconds of other-worldly twilight begins to is bright again. People are stunned and silent. There is little conversation. Most sit on rocks, lovers holding each other. Then people begin to move around, automatically doing routine things like pack gear or food away. Quiet words are exchanged. People, humbled, can barely express themselves. ‘Wow’ is all a tear-stained woman can utter, again and again, low, filled with wonder. There is little thought to look at the receding moon still visible through solar glasses, as nonchalantly it moves on. And then even that is gone. Everything is packed and sedately we leave this enchanted place with it forever etched into our memories for a sight so unique and exquisite.

I picked the site for its height and amazing 310 degree view of the distant horizon hoping to finally catch a glimpse of the shadow wall but once again had no defined view of it though definitely a good sense of it. The clouds and horizon haze might’ve diffused this. Also it was not as dark as previous eclipses with only 2 stars visible though others were probably obscured by light cloud. Perhaps my 16mm bolex shooting at 64fps will show something as I had held it in the general direction and fired off as long a burst as the spring would give it. Actually what do I know? I saw SOMETHING like a darkness approaching us and definitely SOMETHING like a LIGHTNESS too. Just because they did not conform with what I imagined does not mean I did not see it. Haha what a fool, after all is it not true that an eclipse is everything one expects but nothing one imagined? And it can take time for the event to sink into the psyche and be fully absorbed.

Photographically I achieved some good shots – a decent series of partial-phase shots, a fabulous large one of totality, a full 360 panorama of the sunset horizon and an excellent study of the lighthouse before and during achieved with a remote timed camera. (see lighthouse eclipse shots). I have not developed the super8 or 16mm film yet so still hope for some good material from them but as the super8 ran out half-way and I heard ominous noises from inside the bolex I am not holding my breath. Also I messed up the exposure on a diamond ring shot by underexposing by about 10 stops! Ok I got a very interesting sliver of chromosphere from that and at least I have a diamond-ring photo from my Zambian trip. More importantly I was well-prepared enough to get all of this yet not worry about any of the failures during the moment. I spent at least 2 full minutes merely gazing and appreciating this magnificence. Perhaps that’s why this one impacted even more than previous ones.

Well perhaps it was also that I was in Turkey, a great country of my choosing. There were friends from Grand Cayman (Katie and Skezza), a Canadian Third Aider (Dominique), South Africa (David and Emma) plus numerous wonderful people acquired in Turkey over the last years many of whom made huge efforts to be there plus friends of theirs from England. I felt relieved that they all agreed the efforts were nothing compared to the reward of what they had witnessed. Now at least they understood my fascination with the phenomenon.

The most wonderful thing this eclipse helped me to do this time around was to enhance the ability to focus on the NOW, to be present in the moment and understand detail. For many days after I was subsumed by an understanding of existence in an instant. How I was able to enjoy a glance at something, a touch from someone, the beat of a bird’s wing, a breath of fresh air, a sip of excellent wine, a jump from a rock, the kiss of the sun, a note amongst many in a melody. Now I feel suffused with good and creative energy.

As the Chinese and Muslims live by the lunar calendar and the West live by a man-manipulated Roman-Greco-Julian construct I see no reason why I cannot live by an eclipse calendar. So now I am in E4 (that’s cos I’ve seen 4 total eclipses see...). A period that will last until E5 on 1 August 2008 – I know this nomenclature is used within other believe structures to indicate dimensional states (see but as I am making no attempt to start a cult I am happy to use it for myself. And as my fascination for an interest in TOTAL eclipses is even further enhanced I accept that my life may become ‘ruled’ by eclipse cycles. Their role has taken on the aspect of a pilgrimage for me and provide for excellent adventure and are few and far enough between that some level of normal life is possible. A friend described me as a man of the night – the 3-minute night, which I liked.

So now to the future...

1 August 2008, seems like a nice enough time , mid-summer to visit Siberia. Or perhaps China though more chances exist in the years ahead to see eclipses there... But there is also the northern reaches of Canada during which the Sun will rise in eclipse and THAT might also be well-worth viewing! mmm-hmmmm.

Between then and now there is much life to be lived and I wish to suck the marrow from the bones of it.

And I will continue to tread the path of a Modern Romantic Completionist (more on that later)

As it has been said that life is what happens to you while you are busy making plans, well then perhaps the more plans you make the more life is lived. Dunno but the planning starts now either way and I have never found that just planning really interfered with living, specially as no battle plan ever survived contact with the enemy. So make plans but keep them fun, loose, outrageous and lively.

I’ll be between London and Paris though mostly London until the end of September working as VFX producer/supervisor on a French film about Edith Piaf. I plan a brief Cannes film festival and anticipate going to Burning Man this year.

So that’s me then. Hope to see you around.

Clear Skies...


Once again I feel the need to stress that these phenomenon and effects can ONLY be achieved by viewing a TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE. Anything else, partial, lunar or annular even at 99.9% are not any good. They may be remarkable in themselves and I enjoy them too BUT they’re so far away in effect as not to even count.

Friday, 27 January 2006

Year of the Dog - Woof Hey!

And that was that, the end of the Year of the Cock, a year in which you may have achieved much by way of many little steps or even great bounds but better still if you planted seeds to be found as treasures in this year ahead.

This coming one will feel like a year of searching but is really a year of finding. Yet there is much more to this. This is a unique year in that it is one of extreme positivity. What you seek you shall find BUT only if it is worth finding. If what you seek is deemed by the hound not to be worth the digging then you will discover that it was the digging itself you benefited from.

Natural yet positive force will lead, happy to trot out in front pretending to know the way yet often glancing back for confirmation that this really is the path you want. Pursue your dreams at the pace the dog chooses for you this year, if slow then enjoy the view, if fast then enjoy the wind and thrill. Yet always be content. The discovery will come - though you may not recognise it at first sniff. Even if you meander in a great circle you will return much richer than when you set out.

Happy Year of the Dog

Clear Skies

29th March Turkey, Egypt, Libya, Nigeria, Niger - be in one of there!