Confessions of a french moroccan kid about his first Burning Man experience
Every time someone is asking me “So, Burning Man..How was it?”, it’s the first word that comes out of my mouth, ineffable. This inability to put words on moments. Of course, photos are all there but it’s crazy how far they are from the reality of what we lived. It’s an experience that turned me so much upside down that I needed to take a little more with me than the Black Rock City dry sand. The English is not perfect, some words are not right, a “puzzle of words and thoughts” as Booba said, but I hope it will crystalize at least a small part of all the feelings I had.
Burning Man is a 7 days festival / event/ celebration camping in the middle of arid Nevada desert, with tons of hippies, plenty of crazy art, drugs and booze, all night wild party, topless chicks and outrageous costumes. When people started telling me about it and when I started to see photos that distorted reality, my reaction was “Hippie shit? Not for me”. There must be only weirdos and insane people over their, not my scene. However, I had the chance to get a ticket through my friend Eric and I always loved the concept of Life Time Experience so I thought I’ll give it a shot.
The process of acculturation is super super fast. From the first amazing smiles to the random morning dances during the dusk in the highway, we jump into another world. With no shower, completely stinky and filthy during 7 days, barely no intimacy, we give a big kick to the Maslow pyramid super fast, but we keep what is important. That’s awesome how removing layers of useless stuff allows to see inside people with much more clarity. Then, I understood way better why our ancestors had no problem connecting with each other.
With Julien, we’ve always been super suspicious about hippies, thinking about them as lazy and idealistic pieces of shit. Yeah, we’re kind of jaded, most of people keep saying that love is dead and we should spend some time making some big bucks rather than finding back the good old school Woodstock times. Except that Burning Man culture is not idealistic at all. The fact that it is an ephemeral event that only lasts 7 days per year clearly implies that it is not a place that is made to exist permanently, especially given how much we do consume. It’s one of the beautiful things about this place. It’s just a little moment that goes by like a drop falling from a feather or a butterfly that randomly find its nest inside our hand. Very often, when you wake up, you feel like you’re in a dream and everything around you is not real.
Nobody tries to give a political or philosophical meaning to Burning Man, it’s a personal journey where anyone finds the meaning they want given where you are in your life, no matter what your age is. Personally, I felt numb for a few years on my creative side mainly because of the business school, but hopefully, the energy of San Francisco got me to rediscover and capture this strength to express who I am. So I was kind of ready to receive the energy to this place. But for sure, 60,000 people will come back with 60,000 different stories.
These lights will make you feel brand new.
Burning Man, it’s something that could never happen anywhere than American. It’s most powerful expression of the individual and its potential, the quintessence of the American lifestyle. There is a deep humanism, a faith in the human being that we are able to build magnificent things. Be Amazing. When Alicia Keys sings with Jay Z “These lights will make you feel brand new”, that’s exactly how it is. It’s the celebration of experience and existence through our actions that define us. There is a deep existentialism in this event. The idea that we are not defined by any value or dogma whatsoever that existed before us. You have to act and experiment to find yourself. Many times, we’re wondering “It’s so amazing that the human being is able to build this”. Sometimes, it is bluntly intimidating to see all this beautiful people strutting about like peacocks. But they don’t really care about what other people would think. It is always okay to express yourself, I didn’t hear one single critic or negative comment for the whole week. It’s like really understanding the meaning of the word “freedom” after that.
I always thought that an intense expression of individuality would never be livable in society but it’s actually ok. We have too many social rules and we try too hard to be polite. Over there, people crash into you like oil tankers in fire and shake you to make all the little balls of shyness that you have all over you. When I was in Shanghai, it was all the other way around with the expression of the collective as a whole, we eat around round tables, no eye contact, we always wander with our armors. Every time we talk about individuality, we think about individualism and selfishness. It’s actually all the contrary, it is not offering yourself that is selfish when you fade away.
I was born in Morocco, a magnificent country but filled with tons of taboos, coercive rules and society principles that are pretty strict. The values I grew up with in France might look more liberal but they are subtly as restrictive. My last years were super influenced by academism, snobbism and elitism à la Française. But it’s completely understandable, it’s clearly intimidating to try to create something new when we come from a country that fostered so many great thinkers, artists in the city that is supposed to be The Most Beautiful City in the World. We must crush ourselves under this millenary beauty, any new creation must follow the past rules. In contrary, growing up in a country where it is thought from really young that you can be the person you really wanted to be, and that you owe to the word to live to your maximum potential, it was something really hard to process for me.
Oh, I would have never thought staring at more creation, seeing more value in giant mushrooms on fire than the whole Wall Street district.Since my college times, I really had a hard time enjoying beauty for what it is and completely stop to see things in an utilitarian way. Personal expression in Burning Man is “radical”, a super polite way to say that it’s a fucking punch in the face when it’s about Art. We are not passive staring at Jesus with crosses on paintings that are really hard to identify with. Art is monumental and super fun, symbols are popular, it’s mystical like Pink Floyd songs to see these huge colossuses lost in the middle of the desert. It’s also very participative. It means that instead of getting super bored at staying on a bench and watch stuff behind a window, you climb giants praying hands, we swirl big stones with 20 other people like gladiators. It makes completely no sense but I found more meaning in this than packing yourself in a subway a monday morning to chase something that we don’t understand.
On a spiritual level, I often tried to spark my interest to Sufi or Buddhist spirituality but, to be blunt, it’s really a pain in the ass. There’s always this do-good way and it’s not sexy, we still want whisky and topless chicks, we don’t really care about morals. And this is where I completely find myself in Burning Man, the trashiest and most vicious moments easily cohabit with the most intense introspections and soul elevations. It’s pretty crazy to stride along all the chambers of our inner castle in one single place at the same time.
Drinking the most expansive Tequila in Mexico, dancing under a burning octopus, being refreshed under an artificial cloud, meeting the founder of MTV, getting offered world class try tip steak in the middle of the street, smoking weed while listening to the guitar solo of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Freebird with cow boys from Nashville. It’s a factory of new experiences, as if all the doors of the World were all open at the same time. We spend our time doing work/pre-game/bar/club/hangover/ going on vacation to see another city or landscape we’ve already seen in a postcard. But who can boast having seen a 360° light skyline that won’t exist anymore in one more week? I was really happy when I got to the top of the Empire State Building for the first time and I keep it as a great memory but it’s something we’ve already experienced through the movies we have seen before. And then, when we finally get there, we have this kind of awkward reminiscence and a crazy lack of intensity.
The Temple of Whollyness.
What a punch of emotions. It’s weird because we feel prepared in a way. We have cities filled with hundreds of churches, synagogues and mosques, I was supposed to feel something in those, I thought. It’s crazy how you can let yourself go when you take yourself away from any type of divine admiration. I never dropped a tear at Notre Dame or in the mosque of Beijing. There, I cried my heart out. The Temple is a simple and gorgeous where anyone can meditate its own way, whatever your religion or origin. It’s really quiet and brutal at the same time. Everyone leaves a word to someone that counts. Friends, family, ex-lovers or yourself when you went through something hard. I read the message from a man who was madly in love with a woman who just left him. He used words to describe her I could have never think of, it made me want to read more poems. A couple staring and contemplating each other as if they could see into the depth of their souls, the real look of love like waterfall that destroys everything around. I also spent some time for a 24 year old guy who passed away named Hunter. I never met him but I saw many pictures and messages to honor him, he seemed such like an amazing person, it left me in pieces. It’s also about that, remembering that we are all human beings interconnected and deep inside us, there is a lot of the others, we are all linked to each other like the constellations of the Universe, have some empathy for every soul on the planet.
I also thought about my close ones, I thought about Mark and all he brought me, I thought about Milala, and to Paul’s brother, Mathieu, he did not have the chance to live the life he wanted to, too idealistic. I hope someday I will have the chance to get there with Paul. I left a message for everybody.
La Reina De Los Muertos.
The day after, I spent some time with Klaudia that moved me a lot. She’s a a gorgeous 40 years old Mexican woman, she has the same traits as my mother. With Antoine, we used to call her La Reina De Los Muertos, because she had a great way to describe Death with colorful skulls, it reminded me El Dia De Los Muertos in Patzcuaro, Mexico when we went sleeping in a cemetery. There is a cheerful vision of death in Mexico. She told me that Death was part of life and we should act as if the people we cherish created their our space in our heart. She told me to choose a day in the year and gather the objects, symbols that represent his interests and honor him that way, it makes things more vivid, I guess. She offered me a bracelet made of quartz tressed with very high quality leather and told me the story of the kid who manufactured this bracelet. I thought about that kid and wondered if him too, thought about the person who would, one day, wear the bracelet that he made.
Some days, I felt like the American tourist lady who visits the 14th district in Paris, I Love You. I had this amazing feeling of fullness mixed with a form of nostalgia of something I never knew, but goddamn it, I felt so alive.
Be here. Now.
That’s what it made me realize about life, I still don’t live enough.I used to think I had an interesting life but I could be so much more. I could laugh so much more, touch more, watch things in a more vivid way, giving more, feeling more, looking through souls with more clarity, expressing way more what I feel. Stop watching yourself live as a 3rd person like a GTA character. Being an actor and lose yourself completely in the present. Be here. Now. Completely. Fuck books and pictures.
Watching 4 sunsets in a row and all of them would be so different, receiving a hug from a stranger who saw in your look that it was exactly what you needed at this present second, play, play! Jump on trampolines, doing contests of hoola hoop on fire, doing a strike on a giant bowling, having an eargasm when you hear Inspector Norse on Molly in the middle of the day, feeling a huge pain in the heart when I think about people I lost.
I met some of the most beautiful people I have never seen in my life, from the outside and the inside. Creators, dancers, singers, entrepreneurs who build amazing things to reveal the beauty of the Universe. It mad me feel super anxious, we tend to compare ourselves too much and often, I felt like a real piece of shit next to this incredible people, I did not even know that these kind of people could exist! The good part, you can always become the best part of yourself, with no limit.
We often feel like a Marco Polo or the people who described the Atlantis, the first people who will colonize Alpha Centauri or Cordoba in the 12th century. Something that we could never explain to someone who never saw it itself. It must have been a pain in the ass for Marco Polo to describe the smell of the spices, the shapes of the buildings and even if it was welcomed with a flabbergasted look (so happy to use this word for the first time!), they will never really understand.
It’s really crazy, there are so many things hidden that I was not able to see before. It’s a little bit like the Platon Allegory of the cave, we spend a big chunk of life seeing things in a certain way and bam, in a blink, we discover different layers, something bigger and deeper than the things that are presented to us that stop our disenchantment of the world. Me, I believe more in the Human Being than God, but the beauty and perfection of the universe are hard things to ignore.
A one second storm.
On drugs side, I was ready to try a whole bunch of new stuff, but only the ones in connection with my energy that could help me explore new senses like weed, mushrooms, molly, lsd but no cocaine or things that are too creepy.
Weed was of course working great on me, relieving and developing lyrical and melodic creativity. Maybe the only drug I would allow myself to try again occasionally.
Mushrooms revealed marvelous hallucinatory experiences. Music was taking solid forms and were shaping a rainfall of swallows and poppies gently brushing my skin. It was something insane. Orgasmic. Volcanic. The clouds on sunsets looked like Star Wars Stardestroyers made of cotton candies cruising in slow motion, it was soft and beautiful.
Molly filled me with so much love, touching girls skin was like scratching soft silk, every shared glance was like a deep swan dive in the middle of my heart, kisses had the tastes of fruits that don’t exist on Earth. One night, I randomly crossed the glance of a girl and it turned me completely upside down. So, I wrote a poem, it’s a legacy to Baudelaire’s sonnet A Une Passante (To a Passerby)
Les nuages étaient fins et portaient un rose sucré
Les basses voluptueuses faisaient echo à sa silhouette
Son blond vénitien et son nez en trompette
encerclaient le masque de ses deux émeraudes nacrées
Tournoyant sauvagement comme la fumée de l’encens
Moi, je buvais, invisible tel un réverbère éteint
Une griffure féline et son étouffement qui m’étreint
Ce cadeau éphémère qu’elle reprend soudainement
Une tornade d’une seconde! un battement qui fuit dans le vide
Pourquoi creuser dans mon âme et y déterrer mes sens
s’il faut m’abandonner, pathétique, dans ce désert aride?
Te retrouver à travers les sentiers sinueux de la danse
et revoir un matin dans ton regard, qui embue mes fenêtres
ou filer dans le flot de la foule et t’y voir disparaître
Too bad, she will never find out.
In harmony with the cosmos.
It’s a place outside of space and time, lost in a inhospitable desert, where the only points of references are the positions of the Sun and the groaning of all the burners when It caresses the mountains. Mountains circle around the space and are the mystical guardians of the space, they protect from the Real World.One of the words that was coming back the most often was the word “cosmic”. I grew up as an astronomy geek with my dad and the beauty of the planets has always fascinated me. In a place like Black Rock City, watching the sky, the Moon, the Sun, touching the rocks, it’s an amazing feeling. We reckon that we are all made of stardust and the perfect equilibrium of the cosmos is inside us. I guess that’s what Fauve meant when they say that we are beautiful like planets. Many things make sense at that moment.
One of the most amazing moments was Pachanga Boys Dj Set, and the only way to describe their music is cosmic. They played during the sunrise around 6-8AM and it had something really mystical. It’s incredible to reconnect the mystic spirituality that we lost in our big cities with the disenchanted evolution of the modern human beings. There is nothing old school or cheesy at Burning man, there is nothing more modern. There are many signs about the definition of the human being and the way he will live in the future, what we can do as society projects but also many other fields such as urbanism, performance art or spirituality. All these stuff that can seem super boring for kids who grew up with Youtube and 9gag but that are 1 million times more powerful. I enjoy more counting the stars than my Facebook notifications. Connect tribal energies, the immensity of the cosmos and the looping synth chords of the fifteen fantastic minutes of Pachanga Boys’ “Time”. Suddenly, when the mi human mi UFO voice pronounces “Lost track of time”, I felt like I was in a soap bubble lost in space. There are as many explanations of the beauty of the universe in this track than in Aristotle or Plato’s philosophy. In harmony with the cosmos.
Just like children.
Sometimes, I had a really hard time to engage with people in a genuinely simple way. It sucks to come from this culture where we intellectualize too many things. We think too much about what we’re gonna say and often, I envied the people who were able to lose themselves like children. Think less, do more. I met this girl and it was so stupid, we were around a big bouncing ball hanging on a stick and we created a game that we called Bootyball. No “where are you from” or suspicious looks. We juste played like children.
I guess that kids of our age, we don’t allow ourselves to live like that, we’ve seen and heard everything, all the boundaries have been passed, there is no black space on the map of the world, we will never see Hendrix play at Woodstock, 68 must have been a spoilt kids thing and with 12% of unemployment, you got to think about filling up the fridge. It’s too bad to turn off this light.
The journey back with the buddies was awesome, even if we all lived our own experience in our own way, we stared at each other in the eyes with the feeling of being deeply human. This is the kind of look you have after an all-nighter of sex or after seeing a solar eclipse. We took the van and our filthy clothes and we all had a crazy awesome smile, the kind of stuff that will link us to each other and that we will never be able to explain. As Ivan said, every time we will bump into other Burners, we will look at them and we will understand.
Despite all this, I feel I barely lived 5% of all Burning Man had to offer. There are so many opportunities and open doors, but only when you give yourself in a selfless way. When a connection is not purely genuine, the other person will always feel it. I made this mistake many times, looking for a connection that was either motivated by my ego or lustful instinct and it messes up the whole thing. It’s clearly the kind of trip that is not for everyone and I would not advise it to my friends, only those who feel they are ready to give themselves and connect with their inner youth, calling into question any form of ego and cynism, pushing back the boundaries of their shyness, or the majority of the trip will be filled by a monumental frustration that I felt several times.
You should not be afraid to be extraordinary, express this little light that each of the 7 billions of human being have in themselves. Life is a gift and it is a duty to shine bright. Don’t be a pussy. We owe it to ourselves but most importantly, we owe it to the rest of the world. We should never turn off the light, express yourself and sparkle like diamonds (go, go Rih Rih!). There are as many types of life that are possible that you want it too. Not expressing yourself will kill you. Boredom is always your fault.
It reminded me the classic Kerouac quote: “the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”
Hey, I know that this feeling won’t last forever and that I will be back being this jaded and cynical french-moroccan kid, and that we will stop watching the sky to go back on our smartphones but what is certain is that we will all find each other howling like wolves in the desert in the next few years.