It's Carnaval time! Zoinks, it took me forever to get all the pics posted from our Feb 2012 trip, partly because there were soooooooo many of them, and partly because... well, life gets in the way...
Now seems like a great time to look back on this epic trip, which was primarily a celebration of my 40th birthday. (Mark tried getting them to move the party back to November, but alas it didn't work.) And why not ease the pain of this big milestone by hitting the biggest party on the planet? Brazilians know how to do it right, that's for sure.
Mangueira Samba School performs at Rio Scala Ball
In addition to attending a traditional samba ball, we splashed out on some fabulous front-row seats to the parades in the Sambadrome. Unreal. Gigantic floats, elaborate costumes, and nonstop smiling-singing-dancing from every single person in the parades and in the stands. For like eight hours straight.
are we having fun or what?
sing it, sister
My siblings contributed to the birthday celebration by booking us a scuba junket in Arraial do Cabo. While it wasn't the most fabulous diving we've ever done, it was nice to get out of the city for a bit, and the scenery was divine.
and life is good
We also managed to fit in a few standard touristy things, like...
taking a trip up Corcovado to see The Big J
checking out the jaw-dropping views from Sugarloaf (Pão de Açúcar)
and loving life on Ipanema Beach
Choosing just a handful of "best of" pics was almost painful! There were just so many beautiful shiny things as far as the eye could see. (See below for links to the rest of the photos, as well as all the blog posts from that trip.) Someday it'd be great to go back and see Rio in its natural state -- y'know, without a troupe of singing and dancing M&Ms crammed onto the subway at all hours of the day and night -- but it sure was fun to experience it in all its partyrific glory.
You didn't seriously think I was done posting samba parade pics, did you? Oh heavens no!
This week's theme is the ridiculously good mood everyone seemed to be in while marching through the Sambódromo.
Part of what made our front-row seats so much fun was the ability to interact with the paraders, who lit up a little bit extra when they caught someone's eye in the audience.
Even the folks who'd been waiting all night for their parade to start were chipper and fresh and fulla spunk. Which was more than I could say, 'round about 6am. But their enthusiasm was certainly infectious!
It's uncanny how your gaze is drawn to a smiling face, even in a sea of snoof and fuzzle.
Last week we explored some of the splendiforous parade floats that make their way through Rio's Sambódromo during Carnaval. Believe it or not, I only got halfway through. For this week's Photo Friday post, here's a few more.
Most floats were preceded by a group on the ground in matching costumes. Sometimes the theme was easier to detect, sometimes it was more about coordinated colors.
A common float element was a spectacular giant face.
And then there were some outlandish themes:
The Porto da Pedra school decided to celebrate calcium this year...
Of course I totally love this Mocidade colored pencil float...
The people at top of the floats tended to sport the skimpiest costumes, but always-always had something to hold onto.
And some floats just blew me away...
Are you experiencing parade overkill yet? Try sitting and watching these in-person for 9 hours straight! Ay samba-caramba!
I'll leave you with a few interesting characters found aboard floats:
Several stories high, often with a dozen or more people aboard, and of course covered in all manner of snoof and fuzzle, parade floats are nothing short of mind-boggling.
One or two of these floatstravaganzas would be flabbergasting to behold. But each samba school has half a dozen, and we watched seven or eight schools over the course of the night. As I've said before, after a while we just got tired of saying "wow."
Ranging from the opulent to the absurd, each float has its own share of theatricality.
In keeping with this week's Seussian theme, I thought I'd feature some more samba parade photos, focusing on the floof and flounce and utter whimsy of the costumes.
All the Whos down in Whoville might've had panpoolers, pantookers, and bisslebigs, but they couldn't hold a candle to these creations. And there's the added effect of about a hundred people marching and dancing and singing together, all identically dressed with giant birds on their heads, like it was no big deal. Just when we got used to it, the next group came marching by in something even wackier.
Parade costumes are full of feathers and spangles, and that's par for the course. But a surprising number of them also incorporated frilly fabrics with froufrou ornamentation.
And strange, unexpected accents.
The amount of work that must go into sewing all these costumes simply boggles the mind.
After a while, we gave up saying "wow!" and "what the..." and just stared in slack-jawed astonishment.
This just scratches the surface of all the amazing things we saw in the Sambódromo. Over the coming weeks I'll continue to curate parade photos, attempting to put them into some logical themes rather than bludgeon you with a gigantic batch of Wow! Next week: Holy floats, Batman!
Our Sunday evening trip to the Sambodromo to watch over seven hours of samba parades was epic, to say the least. We had incredible seats, right on the ground level in the sector next to the judges.
this little dude had charazzzzzzma
Mocidade's batteria was definitely tops
As you can imagine, there are myriad photos to curate. These are just a scant few of my first-run faves.
love the energy
colored pencil float! ('nuff said)
even the cleanup crews got down with their badselves
one of Beija Flor's incredible floats
I gotta get me one of these hats!
One of the best parts of being right down in the action was the opportunity to interact with the paraders. Despite marching for 90 minutes straight, in some cases in a parade that didn't even start till the wee hours of the morning, these folks had amazing energy.
still cheerful at 5am
front row seats to the sambaliciousness
partying till the sun comes up
Watch for more Carnaval and parade pics to come in the next days and weeks! And check out the other great travel snaps at Delicious Baby's Photo Friday.
We're still recovering from seven straight hours of parades in the Sambódromo on Sunday night (and well into Monday morning). I haven't even looked through all the photos yet. In the meantime, here's a nice quiet shot of us on Leblon beach in front of the iconic Dois Irmãos mountains. From this neighborhood we picked up the shuttle to the parades.
oktapodi and friend at the Rio Carnival Tourism Office
The last two days have been pretty stressful, but, as always, oktapodi has managed to make new friends and maintain a cheerful disposition. Mark and I are just happy we haven't yet killed ourselves (or anyone else) after driving around Rio for two days. Operating a motorized vehicle here is a psychotic experience on a good day, but during Carnival, fugetaboutit. (Surprisingly, my daily Beltway training seems to be paying off! We've decided me driving + Mark navigating is the best way to preserve what little sanity we have left.) Nonetheless, samba ball & parade tickets are now in hand, the car is back in the garage where it belongs, and once we get a nice shower and a nap we'll be ready to explore the city the right way: on foot and via public transport!
It's official. We're in that pre-trip zone of chaos where piles of random items litter the living room and to-do lists rule the day. On Wednesday we're heading down to Brazil for 11 days of samba, sun, and carnivaliciousness.
We'll spend the bulk of our time in Rio, soaking up the Carnival vibe. Number one question so far: are you staying at a Marriott? Hah, no. It's notoriously hard to get the associate rate at the JW (the only Marriott hotel in town) and even moreso during the most popular week of the year. So we have a room at one of Brazil's "motels," which seem somewhat akin to Japan's love hotels, normally booked by the hour but surprisingly affordable if you stay overnight or for a week at a time. And of course we love the cheese factor... mirrors on the ceilings? Bring it! The location can't be beat, there's free parking and free wifi, and the price was right. We don't intend to spend much time in the hotel anyway.
Mangueira Samba School, photo by RCS Travel & Tourism
We decided to get tickets to one of the more traditional Carnival balls, the Mangueira Ball at Rio Scala. Mangueira is one of the oldest samba schools in Rio, and this ball is a chance to party the night away with its drummers, principal samba dancers and the flag bearer and her escort. As the CVB site says, "It is a true and real samba night; you can dance all night or just watch and enjoy the crowd." Count me in!
Sunday night we have tickets to watch some of the main parades in the Sambodromo. Figuring out which seats to book was by far the most complicated part of our itinerary! Ticket prices range from very affordable grandstand free seating to luxury VIP box seats. We opted for something in the middle, reserved seats on the floor. But even that was a complicated choice, as some sectors are more desirable than others because the judges are in a certain area and that's where the dancers do their best to impress. We made what we thought was a reasonable choice, but really it was more like a best guess. I have a feeling we're going to have fun no matter what.
diving in Arraial do Cabo, photo by Keidy Beranger
Besides the Carnival festivities, the other highlight of the trip will be a scuba excursion to Arraial do Cabo, a site that boasts the best diving on the southern coast of Brazil. This part is a gift from my siblings, who were in cahoots with Mark on the whole birthday surprise. (Have I mentioned lately that I have the best family in the world?) They found us a really cool hotel and an awesome dive shop. The beachy goodness should be a nice respite from the insanity of the city.
There are plenty of other options in the mix -- I'm dying to go tandem hang gliding! -- that we'll figure out when we're there. We're renting a car, which gives us some flexibility on day trips. But the main idea is to live it up carioca-style in one of the most beautiful cities in the world during one of the biggest parties on the planet. Follow along with our posts in the "Brazil" category!
For Mark's 30th birthday, I took him to Mardi Gras to celebrate. Unbeknownst to me, he's been scheming ever since about how to top that for my 40th. (This kind of competition is what I call a win-win!) And for my birthday this year, he announced that we're going to Rio de Janeiro for Carnival. Woot!
In 2012, Carnival starts on February 18... closer to Mark's birthday than mine, but who's complaining? We have our flights booked, but not our accommodations, so that's definitely the next order of business. We'll be there for about 10 days, so we probably won't have time to see much outside the city. But recommendations for daytrips and things to do in Rio are welcome. Should we get tickets for the Sambodromo? What about the balls? What are some other (and perhaps less-obvious) ways to experience Carnival? Let the crowdsourcing begin!
In the meantime, we'll be practicing our Portuguese and maybe even learning to samba. Should be an epic adventure.
And if anyone has any ideas for how I'm possibly going to trump this for Mark's 50th birthday, lemme know!
I just realized I never uploaded all my pics from last year's Burn. We're not attending Burning Man this year, but in honor of the 2011 event -- which has sold out for the first time ever, yikes! -- here are a handful of characters from our camp, Great Balls of Fire (GBOF).
Mama Love, Bitchezz, Forward
Jewellee in the camp kitchen
Forward & Crystal are ready for the Million Carrot March
Lunar is one cool customer
Codrin (from Michigan) & oktapodi
Liz gets a package
one of Jon's many outfits
Jim, and a bit of dust
This is but a small sampling of GBOF denizens. To see the rest of the freakburgers (and there are many), check out the full album on Google+.
It should come as no surprise that I'm a big fan of hats. Always have been, always will be. So I jumped at the chance to attend this year's Virginia Gold Cup, espcially when friends invited us to join the Eleventh Street Lounge bus trip. Sure, a glimpse into blueblood horse country culture is fun. Unlimited booze and a spot "on the rail" at Virginia's biggest steeplechase event of the season? Good times, especially when you've got transportation there and back. But the real reason I was so excited to go? The hats.
Danny rocks his wife's hat... and this is just on the bus trip out!
on the rail
crisp and tasty
Katie sports some bling to match her chapeau
this chick's hat matches her dude's shirt
fabulous even in repose
this family is so cute it hurts
Don't worry, the gents have some fashion options too. I'm not saying they're good options, per se, but choices abound!
fellow in yellow... hello!
the original Virginia Gentleman
And, finally, MY hat! Something borrowed, something blue. Mark doesn't like how he looks in this picture so unfortunately I had to crop him out. But he wasn't wearing a hat anyway...
With the recent cold snap brutalizing the East Coast of the US, it's challenging to recollect our sweaty dusty adventures in the desert a few months back. Surely that must have happened in another lifetime?!? So, this Photo Friday, I decided to showcase a few pics from my favorite art installation of this year's Burn.
According to the Burning Man site: Bliss Dance is a unique steel sculpture utilizing cutting edge design; an unabashedly breathtaking modern sculpture in structure and balance. She celebrates humanity and shows the feminine beauty, power and strength that emerges when women are safe and free to be themselves. Standing 40 feet tall, she is dancing naked with her eyes closed; a sign that the spirit of the community is healthy and the balance between male and female is present.
Which is impressive indeed. But when you randomly stumble upon a giant naked dancing woman who seems to rise out of nowhere and softly shimmers from one color to another, words escape.
All you can really do is stand in awe. And, of course, try to snap some pics. Which is tricky without a tripod.
Someone in the crowd referred to her as "David's Wife," as in: something so classically beautiful that Michelangelo himself might approve.
She was also pretty cool to see during the day.
Supposedly the artist was inspired by the Joseph Campbell phase "follow your bliss." How are you following YOUR bliss this holiday season?
This year Loy Krathong, the Thai festival to honor the goddess of water, falls on November 21. So I thought I'd dedicate today's Photo Friday to a few snaps from our 2008 trip to Southeast Asia, where we were able to experience Loy Krathong in the Bangkok suburb of Thonburi. We got to make our own krathongs, and had a ball walking around the streets of Thonburi taking in the sights, smells, and sounds.
Art cars come into their own at nighttime. The visual and auditory splendor will stop you in your tracks, yet they're infinitely harder to capture on camera. Especially without a tripod. In fact, any crisp shots here can probably be attributed to Mark, who has a much steadier hand than I.
Hopping a ride on the bigger art cars, as previously mentioned, is a tricky endeavor. We did manage to climb aboard a few of the smaller ones, and even hitched an illicit ride on the back of the big pirate bus, at least until a disembodied voice ordered us off. Good call, as we would likely have tumbled off on our own after breathing exhaust fumes straight from the source.
we actually got a ride on this one
badass poultrymobile - the base was a funky Cadillac
the Holy Grail of art cars - we hopped a short ride on the very back
Part transportation, part artistic statement, the art cars at Burning Man never fail to amaze and amuse me. On one level, they are a symbol of the immense, far-reaching, yet totally cooperative organization behind the event: one can not drive an art car on the Playa without first registering one's car at the DMV (Department of Mutant Vehicles) in order to preserve the pedestrian-centric nature of Black Rock City. On a totally different level, art cars are a status symbol just like regular cars are in the default world. Getting a ride on one of the bigger art cars takes a combination of persistence, luck, and knowing the right person. Art cars are a way to attract chicks, especially the big rolling party buses with huge sound systems. Large as a double-decker bus or small as a dune buggy, art cars are a way to make a statement *and* travel in style.
But enough of my yammering. Without further ado, I present a selection of Burning Man art cars, part one.*
permission to fondle the vehicle, granted!
who moved my cheese?
a rolling stereotype, embraced
oktapodi's favorite art car
makes me want to talk in a Grover voice, for some reason
where's Yogi Bear?
gets trippier the more you look at it
who doesn't love a mobile party?
* There were so many fabulous pictures to choose from that I decided to split this into two parts: daytime shots and nighttime shots.
As has been previously documented, Mark & I eat way better than the Average Burner. Because we're such foodie-geeks, we had a blast cooking for ourselves and our campmates during Burning Man this year. So it was a pleasant surprise to come across other fine dining options in our neighborhood.
Yes, people really do come to Burning Man to cook for their neighbors. And no money changes hands. If one is inclined to contribute something to these camps, in the way of spare ingredients, alcohol, or volunteering to help clean up, that's appreciated. But it's not necessary.
The Sacred Cow Grille, right next door
Literally next door to our camp was The Sacred Cow Grille, serving (what else?) Indian cuisine! Tasty and fabulous. Mark happened to make our reservation on the same night as a wedding that most of our campmates were attending, so he grabbed some random hotties to join us for the meal.
random hotties, our dinner companions
the Grille's lounge area
The place was decked out in oasis shabby-chic, with plenty of couches to lounge on and hot chai served as we arrived.
The playarific waitress came over and pretended to take our order, asking "If you could have anything at all, what would you like to have for dinner tonight?" Mark stumped her with Lobster Malabar. Didn't matter, we all got the same thing, with veg or non-veg options.
yam daal, mango chutney, tofu curry, burning naan, and tandoori chicken on top... yum!
Another fine dining establishment, this one a few blocks away, was L'Homme Flambé. Zut alors!
We didn't get a chance to try this place out, but judging from the signage in front, it was a saucy spot indeed.
snarky restaurant signage
Not sure how much of this is readable, so here's a quick transcription of the snarky signage:
DRESS CODE IN EFFECT
If you're wearing something we don't like you may have to take it off.
FIVE STAR RATING
Not from the Michelin Guide, from some other tire company
Call 1-234-Eat Me
ALL MAJOR CREDIT CARDS
valet parking, hah
Who says you can't eat like royalty while out on the Playa?
Today’s guest post is courtesy of the always-delightful Mama Love, who took a brief but eventful sojourn around Center Camp with Oktapodi during Burning Man 2010. I’d originally intended to just post the pics, but thought you might want to hear about the adventure in her own words, and get a small taste of what it’s like to meet and greet the public when accompanied by America’s favorite bath toy.
This night at Burning Man started out like no other night, which at Burning Man is how every night starts out. I found myself in the area called Center Camp waiting for something to happen. I was looking at an art piece when my friend Forward told me “Mama, that should be your refrigerator magnet”. I needed a photo of this to make his statement so. I found my sweet Sonia and requested the use of her camera to capture the moment. As I walked back towards the art piece, I realized that I had a little hitchhiker with me: my ol’ friend Oktapodi. Oktapodi and I had shared our 2008 Burning Man experience in a very intimate way, but that’s another tale, and yes there are documented photos of our love! On this particular night, I felt Oktapodi was searching for some human burner connections.
He and I decided to take a swirl around Center Camp to fulfill his need.
We started by energizing his soul with the lantern light.
This seemed to dry him out a bit and luckily we ran into this extraordinary creature who was willing to share her straw of magical electrolytes with him.
He became so excited he jumped into the middle of a California threesome. A video was also taken, and can be purchased at www.Pulpology.com for a nominal fee.
Oktapodi’s thirst was not quenched by this interaction and he moved in search of warm flesh over wooden clothespins. Next thing I knew he was being fondled by a pair of cavewomen.
He was insatiable and this is when I found him squeezed in between these two dusty-lusty women.
A little taste of burner love and he was inspired to attempt manifesting his dream girl, Barbie.
He ended up with a Snowbound Burner instead but I don’t think he was disappointed.
It didn’t take him long to move on to the next shiny thing… He attached himself to the backside of a girl in the marching band.
There was a competition going on and he jumped from the trumpeter to the hat of the very perplexed conductor. The chase was on! He is a very fast little cephalopod.
Just as Okapodi reached the edge of the dome with The Man and the free playa in view, he was snatched by the green-painted, dreadlocked crossing guard. He read Oktapodi the Ten Principles of Burning Man and instructed him to go forth and radically express himself.
Oktapodi immediately began putting sticks together
to create a reef to share with all of Black Rock City.
The night was young but the siphon was full, so a quick stop to the Okta-porta-pottie was in order.
Technically I've been back in the "default world" for several days now, but am still shaking off the dust, literally and figuratively. As usual, this includes wading through the huge pile of photos and stories. Just to give you a little tease, in honor of Photo Friday, here are a pair of random pics from this year's Burn...
my brain still feels like this
some of the cool kids from GBOF camp:
Mama Love, Forward, Crystal, Bitchezz, Pringles, Emily, and yours truly
Part 4 in a series of Burning Man-themed Photo Friday posts. (Links to the previous weeks' posts are below.)
some funky-ass Burning Man trash
And in the end, to paraphrase The Beatles, the trash you take [out] is equal to the trash you make.
The exodus at the end of Burning Man involves cleaning up every scrap of anything you brought with you, packing it into your vehicle, and hauling it out. One of the key principles, Leave No Trace, is taken verrrrrrrry seriously. Legions of volunteers remain behind, combing the Playa for weeks to make sure even the most minute bit of MOOP (Matter Out of Place) is removed. This is yet another thing that sets The Burn apart from most festivals.
But let's not think about the end when we've not yet even begun! This concludes my four-part Photo Friday series leading up to Burning Man, which means the moment is finally here! Tomorrow we initiate the liftoff sequence. (For further details on that, check out Monday's post.) Since we'll be off the grid for the week, this is the last you'll hear from me until after Labor Day. Stay tuned for LOTS of stories and pics streaming your way in September!
For those who will be at this year's Burn, we'll be camped with Great Balls of Fire at 8:00 & Athens. C'mon by and say hi!
Whew! This weekend we managed to pack up about a dozen boxes and send them on the road with a fellow DC Burner who is driving cross-country.
Thus officially begins the logistical complexity that is Burning Man. The first step is shipping out furry costumes, inflatable furniture, bike decorations, and other essentials. Check! Early Sunday, we'll hop a plane (carrying as little as possible) and land in Sacramento, where we'll spend a day collecting other supplies like groceries, booze, and our bikes. Then on Monday we'll pick up the Mothership of Love & Justice -- aka a Cruise America RV -- and lumber our way out to Nevada. With any luck, once on the Playa we will be reunited with our gear, and the festivities can begin!
Everybody's going to the party have a real good time.
Dancing in the desert blowing up the sunshine. - System of a Down, "B.Y.O.B."
Pringles IS Guitarzan!
We all know there's lots of rave music at Burning Man. Ditto for drum circles. After all, this festival is the equivalent of Holy Week for hippie-ravers the world over.
However, there are alternatives to the standard mmp-tss mmp-tss mmp-tss! Many camps offer open mic events for musicians of all genres, and one of our favorites in 2008 was The Golden Cafe. Self-described as "a casual sidewalk bar offering exotic cocktails and live music," this camp was a great place to visit during the late afternoon hours. Mark went there to jaminate more than once, and was even bestowed a Golden Cafe VIP medallion.
the Golden Cafe
This year, we'll no doubt be hanging out at the Cafe, but in addition Mark & Keith have been working on their own musical act: Mystical Shit, a King Missile cover band! (You remember King Missile, don'tcha? They're best known for "Detachable Penis.") I've heard them practice a few times -- OK, once -- and can attest that Mystical Shit will be a spectacular addition to the Playa festivities at our camp.
For those who will be at this year's Burn, we'll be camped with Great Balls of Fire at 8:00 & Athens. C'mon by and say hello, and join in the Mystical Shit sing-a-long!
And for those who aren't Playa-bound but still want to bask in the glow of Mark's shred-a-licious guitar skeelz, stay tuned for announcements about his latest band project, AquaSpank.
Most who come to Burning Man camp in tents. They tend to eat things like jerky and trail mix and those godawful camping MRE packets that are loaded with sodium and some vague chicken-like flavorings. If they're lucky enough to have a camp stove or a makeshift camp kitchen, some might even consume hot food from time to time.
We are not like most. (Hardly a newsflash, I realize.) Mark and I arrived at the Burn in 2008 in a big honkin' Mothership of an RV, which was outfitted with a pretty decent kitchen. Being the ridiculous foodies we are, we'd stocked up on plenty of delicious culinary supplies, and ate pretty well throughout the week.
The last night of the festival, just prior to the Temple Burn, we held an impromptu dinner party for anyone remaining in our camp. Nothing too fancy, just a little clams marinara over some pasta, maybe some red wine thrown in for good measure. But after a week of grubby camp food, as you can see from the photo above, this meal qualified as the Best.Spaghetti.Ever.
For those who will be at this year's Burn, we'll be camped with Great Balls of Fire at 8:00 & Athens. C'mon by and say hello, and we'll likely gift you with some hospitality from our kitchen!
In honor of our trip to Burning Man later this month, all of August's Photo Fridays will be related to The Burn. I've posted many of my favorites before, in various places (see below), but this is an attempt to dig a bit deeper into the experience.
Sonia & Andre ring the Virgin Bell
First-time Burning Man attendees have the opportunity to ring the "Virgin Bell" at the entrance and then roll around in the dust. When we arrived around 1am, it was freezing, there was dust flying everywhere, the whole thing was completely bewildering and yet strangely festive. And thus the week began.
Those who will be at this year's Burn, we'll be camped with Great Balls of Fire at 8:00 & Athens. C'mon by and say hello!
In honor of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, here are a few teaser pics from EarthFair which took place in San Diego's Balboa Park last Sunday, April 18. This enormous fest, which spread throughout the entire park, provided classic California crunchy goodness, and of course some great people-watching!
En route to find the world music stage, we encountered this woman dressed entirely in plastic bags. Her group's exhibit raised awareness on the perilous impact our society's addiction to overpackaging has had on our planet. (Can you tell this is an issue I am firmly behind?) I also loved her octopus accoutrement, and she was happy to strike a pose with oktpodi.
representation of the Pacific Garbage Gyre
save the shrimp!
reducing our plastic consumption is everyone's responsibility
More fun pics coming soon from EarthFair and the rest of last weekend's San Diego trip! In the meantime, check out more fabulous travel photos at Delicious Baby's Photo Friday.
If you enjoyed this post, please help us spread the word!
The Cherry Blossom Festival lasts two weeks and tends to be one of those things Washingtonians do once or twice and then cross off the list. It marks the official start of tourist season, wherein legions of fanny-packin' clueless zombies invade the National Mall and clog up the Metro by not standing on the right side of the escalators. That being said, it's also a wonderful time to celebrate the classic beauty of our Nation's capital.
NCBF volunteers and our new Park Service friend
The focal point of the Fest is the Tidal Basin, where thousands of cherry trees frame the Jefferson Memorial. (These trees were presented in 1912 by the mayor of Tokyo, to replace the original batch, which all died of disease a few years earlier.) However, this year the organizers moved the performances, and the info booth, to the Sylvan Theatre Stage. You may remember this stage from such memorable gigs as American Giant's May 2009 show. It's at the base of the Washington Monument, which is a pretty kickass setting. There are plenty of cherry trees at this site as well, so even though the volunteers spent our time at this location we were able to see lots of blossoms.
Kyo Daiko troupe from Philly
All in all, it was a great way to commemorate my mom while doing some community service and getting some fresh air. Happy Birthday, JEZ!
As promised, here's the second in a four-part series of my favorite Italian food porn from our recent trip.
Part two: open-air snacks at fabulous festivals There's no doubt that festivals are *the* place to get the best treats, regardless of where you are in the world. We were fortunate to visit Italy during the fall, which is prime festival season. Two of our favorite fests were fairly close to our home base at La Tavola Marche: the San Sisto Mushroom Festival, and the Apecchio Truffle Festival. They afforded us not only a plethora of tasty snacks, but also a window into small-town life.
get down, get funghi
and don't forget the salumi!
fries, polenta with ragu, and vino della casa
piadine con salsa di tartufi
Missed part one last week?
Coming up next week: Part three: handmade with love!
We'd been looking forward to the Apecchio Festa di Tartufi all week. Located in the next town over from our agriturismo, the it promised to be a celebration of Italy's earthiest treat: truffles!
polenta with ragu and vino della casa
We sampled truffle spreads, truffle-infused oils, truffle cheese, truffle salumi. And of course there were plenty of other wonderful local dishes, like polenta smothered in ragu and the most fabulous buttery green olives I've ever tasted. Abbondanza, indeed!
Club dei Brutti play a festival tune
The festival also provided an amusing window into small-town Le Marche life. It seemed like the entire region came out for this delightful Sunday afternoon celebration. The people-watching was exquisite. And as an extra treat, the famous Club dei Brutti ("Ugly Club") strolled down the main drag to play an impromptu concert in medieval costumes. True to form, the tune was a bit ragged. But what they lacked in musical chops they more than made up for in spirit, and soon the entire town was dancing and clapping along. Add in a generous splash (or ten) of vino rosso della casa, served out of recycled plastic water bottles, and you have one festive day!
It was worth it just for the scenery alone: a mountainous drive to the hilltop town of San Sisto for the annual Mushroom Festival. Great funghi, and lots of awesome pecorino cheese to sample. Turbo-yum! We bought a bag of mushrooms and some cheese to bring back to the farmhouse for dinner.
Next week marks the start of Burning Man, the wacky hippie-raver festival in the desert that defies explanation or description. While we're a bit sad to not be attending this year, today's Photo Friday seemed a good opportunity to wax nostalgic about some of the more surreal moments of last year's Burn. The gentleman in the above photo provides one small glimpse into the surreality: we encountered him one dusty afternoon while en route to something else entirely, got distracted by his purple ensemble, and proceeded to engage in a lengthy conversation about travel through India. At the end of the chat, he reached into his gold suitcase (one of TWO gold-spangled accessories) and gifted us with a set of George Bush voodoo dolls. And then he went on his merry way, possibly back home to the mothership via the spaceship art car you see behind him in the photo.
Just another day on the Playa.
There were many, MANY more such moments during our weeklong visit to what Mark often describes as "a 7-day-weekend on the moon." One of the beautiful things about Burning Man is that it's so huge, and such a personal experience, that everyone comes back with their own set of stories. It often seemed as though even the people we camped with had attended a completely different event. Hopefully we'll return to the Burn again someday... it's been one of our most extraordinary travel adventures to date!
It's simply not summer in the US until Memorial Weekend, the official inauguration of the season of grillin, chillin, and overconsumption of the vice of your choosing. This year we decided to start our summer off right with a trip to Osyrusfest 2009 in Coatesville, PA.
We'd attended this event two years ago, and it was great to see how it's grown. Started a few years back by the illustrious Preston and Paul Hoffman as a way to celebrate jam bands (and an excuse to drag millions of dollars of lighting equipment to the quarry outside their old family homestead), Osyrusfest has evolved into one of the premiere small music festivals in North America. The schedule was jam-packed full of excellent bands from all over the country. Even for someone who gets easily bored with the never-ending wiffly-wafty nature of jam music -- ehm, that would be me -- the jaw-dropping lights and striking Ofest setting kicks the whole thing up a notch or ten.
Learning from past mistakes with leaky tents, this year we decided to rent a big honkin' RV and drive up from DC. Several participants flaked out at the last minute, which just left more room in the RV of Love & Justice for me, Mark, and our friend Josh (better known in some circles as The Minister of Intoxication). We got the exact same model we'd rented last year for Burning Man, and the minute I stepped inside to load up our gear I had a huge flashback to our dusty, surreal adventures on The Playa. And, sniff, I missed Crystal and Foreward and the rest of the GBOF crew! Nevermind, we were about to create a whole set of new memories with a new cast of characters.
We finally hit the road around 8:30pm on Friday, which meant missing most of the hideous weekend traffic, but it also meant arriving just before midnight. After taking a wrong turn at Gum Tree and almost taking out their neighbor's mailbox, we rolled into the Hoffman Estates just as the Mobias Project set was ending. I wiggled the Mothership into position, and we cracked open a frosty beverage to celebrate our successful arrival. The party raged deep into the night, complete with a DJ set and a neverending supply of Fisherman's Brew beer. (Sponsorship is goooooood!)
The rest of the weekend was somewhat of a blur, albeit a totally mellow and relaxing one. Daytime consisted of parking ourselves in the shade outside the RV and interacting with our neighbors, sharing beverages and tasty treats. If we were so inclined, there were several sporting options to partake in... everything from whiffle ball to bocce. Mostly we just sat around chatting and enjoying the continuous current of music from the DJ tent, live guitar and drum circles, or our own RV sound system. It was chillaxed to the max!
The highlight of the weekend was indisputably the stellar set by Eclipse, a Pink Floyd tribute band from Nashville. They totally stole the show. Mere words can't quite convey the exhilaration of standing on the overgrown quarry floor, surrounded by lights and fog, listening to this band belt out Pink Floyd favorites like "Comfortably Numb" and "Wish You Were Here." If I closed my eyes, I coulda sworn I was actually seeing the Floyd live and in the flesh. It was truly breathtaking. The band has seven members, including one vocalist who sounds more like Roger Waters and one with more of a David Gilmour sound, plus a hot female saxophonist/keyboardist, and another hot female vocalist who can belt out "Great Gig in the Sky" like nothing I've ever heard. So they can really cover the full gamut. If you are the least bit fan of the Floyd, make it your business to see these guys in concert. They blew us all away.
And then, the icing on the cake: we got to hang out with most of Eclipse after the show. Such is the benefit of having a ginormous mothership of a vehicle... you get to host the best parties at the festival! We never quite matched the 20-person pileup of BM 2008, but we certainly did circulate a lot of folks through the RV of Love & Justice on Saturday night. And I have to say, in addition to being a phenomenally talented bunch, Eclipse are also outstanding peeps to hang out with. It was a pleasure getting to know them. The absinthe was flowing, the hookah was fired up, and the steady stream of innnnnnnnnteresting people kept the conversation lively, to say the least. Good times.
By the time Monday rolled around and it was time to roll on home, everyone was a bit rough around the edges, as you can imagine. Preston was overhead to say something to the effect of "I can *feel* how much fun I had this weekend. Even my teeth hurt!" Amen, brother. We were all using our inside voices the following week at work. No matter, it was completely worth it! Kudos to Preston and Paul for a tremendously successful Osyrusfest 2009. Oh, and on top of all the fun, we raised a bunch of money to help provide clean drinking water to Varkhadiya Village in Gujarat, India, via the fabulous folks at 1Well. Gotta love fun that benefits a great cause. Summer 2009, here we come!
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I arrived at the Ambassador's residence around 9am for orientation. Stepping inside this oasis of lush style, you'd never know you're just a few steps from the Dupont Circle Metro Station. From the stunning entryway leading to a jaw-dropping wooden staircase, to the dining room with Elizabethan wainscoting, to the skylight in the Edwardian ballroom, the Thomas Gaff house is a true DC landmark. It's a few blocks from the actual Embassy of Colombia. But it was no surprise that this was the chosen site to host the Embassy's open house. The place is sa-weeeeeet!
This was Cultural Tourism DC's second year organizing Passport DC, a series of 30+ embassy open houses all occurring on the same Saturday in May. The event provided a unique opportunity to visit some of the most gorgeous properties DC has to offer. Embassies from Australia to Zambia opened their doors to the public, offering cultural programs, food tasting, and a rare glimpse inside buildings that are not often open for walk-ins by the Average Joe. I'd heard about the event from the volunteer coordinators at the Cherry Blossom Festival, and it sounded like a great opportunity to give back. I received two assignments: morning shift at the Embassy of Colombia, and afternoon shift outside the Embassy of Ukraine.
Last year's event drew over 50,000 people, and this year they expected even greater numbers. In preparation for a day of directing the masses, Denisse Yanovich, Cultural Attaché at the embassy, gathered up a group of Passport volunteers and embassy staff to dole out assignments. As any good volunteer knows, there's nothing better than knowing exactly what you're supposed to be doing, so it was a great relief to see the shifts planned out in precise detail. Denisse explained that some of us would be tasked with crowd control, making sure that nobody brushed up against the priceless Botero painting in the foyer or wandered upstairs to Ambassador Carolina Barco Isakson's private residence, and some of us would be serving treats or handing out literature in the main ballrom. I ended up at the passport stamp station. The event program guide featured a "passport" section in the middle, where visitors could collect a stamp for each embassy visited. My very important job was to offer an official stamp to those who wanted to commemorate their visit to Colombian soil. Most embassies used standard ink stamps, or stickers, but at the Embassy of Colombia we didn't mess around. I got to use an ancient metal seal to emboss page after page. After a few hours the muscles on my right side started to feel like jelly, but it was worth it for the excited reactions. "Oooooo! It's so *official*!" and "Coooooooool!" and "Wow, that's awesome!" were just a few of the standard responses. People really dug it. And as any good volunteer knows, there's nothing better than recognition of a job well done.
Last year, the Embassy saw about 2,000 visitors. I don't know what the final count was for this year, but I'm guessing we surpassed last year's benchmark by about midday. The line stretched out the door and around the block. People were almost as excited to see the exquisite artwork as they were to enter the raffle to win a free tshirt emblazoned with the "Colombia es pasión!" tagline. Visitors were also treated to videos extolling Colombia's tourist attractions, free Juan Valdez coffee, and bocadillos with guava and queso. I didn't see the Couchsurfing group who met up for the day, but did run into a random friend who was surprised to see me wielding an official Colombian seal. It was a great morning.
My shift was over around 1pm, when I was relieved by the afternoon volunteer. Denisse directed me to the kitchen in the bowels of the residence for a spot of lunch. (As any good volunteer knows, there's nothing better than a free lunch! Especially one awarded in recognition of a job well done.) I was a bit sad to leave, but my next shift awaited. I ate as quickly as I could, and caught the Route 3 shuttle bus to my next destination in Georgetown.
On the shuttle, I sat next to a woman who had just come from the Embassy of Uzbekistan, and was en route to Saudi Arabia. She and I marveled at the fact that when you've lived somewhere for a while, you tend to take for granted the goodies that are available in your backyard. When else do you get a chance to see what the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia has to offer? Legally, Embassy grounds *are* officially the soil of that particular country, so it's probably the only chance someone like me might get to "visit" Saudi Arabia. Alas, today it wasn't meant to be, as I needed to continue on to my next shift at the Embassy of Ukraine.
Long story short, I got redirected to help out at the main information booth back at Dupont Circle. I spent the rest of the afternoon directing folks to the appropriate shuttle lines, explaining that although the Embassy of Australia closed at 3pm there were still plenty of embassies open until 4, and handing out program guides until they ran out. While not nearly as organized as my time in Colombia that morning, it was nonetheless energizing. By the time my afternoon shift ended around 4:30, I was exhausted and more than ready to head for home.
It's too bad Passport DC is only once a year... so many fabulous embassies, so little time! But for those who are looking for a second chance, the European Union countries are doing their own open house events next weekend:
We began this festive holiday with another festive 2-hour massage, and a breakfast featuring the funky custard apple. This bizarre fruit looks like a cross between a grenade and an artichoke on the outside, with a silky white interior and big black watermelon-type seeds at the core. I think it's one of my favorite food finds in Bangkok so far, although it definitely falls into the category of "How did anyone ever figure out that this wacky-lookin-thing might be good to eat???"
After a quick email check, we headed to the nearby market to pick up some goodies for lunch. Not nearly as frenetic as last night's flower market, it was a huge covered farmer's market featuring all manner of fresh fruits & veggies, prepared foods, and a vast array of meats & seafood. We picked out a dizzying combination of satays, salads, sweets, and a few more oddball fruits. By this point Mark and I were starting to get a bit of a handle on the culinary scene -- which skewers of what go with which sauce, and what the hell those freaky merangue tacos are all about -- but there was still a lot to choose from. Fortunately Zoe's cousin Kung knew all the best vendors, and helped us navigate to the right stalls. I almost got some durian, that infamous foul-smelling and nasty-textured fruit that you either love or hate (and most people hate it based solely on the smell), but that will have to wait till another day.
Lunch was the usual insane affair, with a small army of plates and platters and arrangements of exotic snacks. Mark learned an important lesson about how verrrrrrry small peppers can be deceptively cute but wickedly spicy. And after lunch, time to make the krathongs! These small boats made of palm leaves and flowers become offerings to the river goddess, as a means to wash away the past year's transgressions and start anew. Taking the materials purchased at the flower market, and trying not to be complete bumbling idiots, we followed Zoe's example and set about folding palm leaves, arranging orange and pink flowers, and topping our creations off with a candle and three incense sticks. And, voila! Krathongs for the festival. We tested their seaworthiness in the pool, and learned the correct protocol for offering up a prayer to the goddess before setting one's krathong afloat. OK, we're ready for the fest.
There was quite a bit of discussion as to how and where to best enjoy the Loy Krathong festivities, since Zoe & family would be celebrating with a quiet night at home and we two farangs would be on our own. That was understandable, as it struck me as the equivalent of celebrating July Fourth on the DC Mall amidst the huddled masses. After you've been-there-done-that, the noise and the crowds and the heat loses its luster. And, really, we'd been coddled enough; it was time to strike out and see the town on our own. So it was decided that we'd be dropped off in nearby Thonburi, a nearby suburb, which was closer to the house and not quite as frenetic as downtown Bangkok.
Spending Loy Krathong in Thonburi turned out to be a truly authentic experience, as we were the only whiteys at the celebration, which was awesome. We spent the next few hours wandering through a maze of street vendors selling everything from satay to Rubiks Cubes to fried bugs. A huge stage adorned with sparkly blue waves featured several traditional Thai dance performances by spangled schoolkids, as well as an enormous beauty pageant. I have never seen such a colossal quantity of bejeweled gold headdresses, beaded evening gowns, and humungous hairdos all in one place; it was truly stupendous. We also watched several Muay Thai matches between eight-year-old boys, which was a bit shocking to behold but now we can cross that item off the list. Down the block we saw a takraw match, a sport that is somewhere between volleyball and hackeysack, with musical accompaniment. Right. At the riverfront, crowds of people lit their krathongs and set them afloat down the Chao Phraya river. They had a pretty interesting setup where you put your krathong on the edge of a little waterslide that shot the boats down to the water. Most of them flipped over before they hit the river, and the rest floated their way downstream to be collected by village kids.
Overall, it was a splendid way to witness one of the biggest Thai festivals of the year. Much like my experience at the festival in Nebaj, Loy Krathong in Thonburi was bewilderingly alien and yet somehow universally familiar. When people gather to celebrate anything anywhere in the world, you have food & drink, entertainment, sporting events, and the cosmic desire to shake off the daily grind and party with your friends and neighbors. Happy Loy Krathong, everyone!
The first order of business, after a breakfast mimosa, was tackling the cleanup of the RV, which looked hungover after yesterday's rampage. Fortunately, with four of us working together, it didn't take long to clear out the empty cups, wash the dishes, set aside random personal items left behind, and sweep at least some of the dust out. Ready for the next party!
The afternoon was surprisingly chilly, which didn't bode well for the evening's activities. After a brief stop at Fur Bar -- dancing girls and a duck on a pole, what more could you ask for? -- we whipped up a clams marinara dinner and got ready for the Temple Burn.
It was a long, long hike out there, as expected, and it was indeed bitchin' cold! Fortunately we were bolstered by Eileen's mostly-whiskey-with-a-splash-of-coke communal beverage. Somehow we managed to arrive at the Temple mostly together, despite a stop to see Ember's mushroom art burn and a visit to the porta-potties. About a dozen of us joined hands to form a human chain, and wandered into the crowd to find a spot. By the time we settled in, it was nearly time for the Temple to burn. There wasn't much pageantry, or at least we couldn't see much of anything going from where we were sitting. The crowd got silent and sat down, and a woman sang an Eastern-sounding chant over the loudspeakers. Very slowly, the Temple started to go up. It had a totally different feel from last night's burn, no hoopla, no fireworks, no techno music, just the sound of the fire crackling and the occasional sniffle from the crowd. Except for the howling, frigid wind -- and one asshat up front who just wouldn't sit down -- it was quite peaceful and contemplative.
I'm not sure how long it actually took for the Temple to fall, but the structure turned out to be pretty durable. First the top layer caved in, then eventually even the huge pillars at the corners toppled over, bringing the entire thing down in a slow-motion crash. A symbol of the boundless nature of the American Dream? Or a testament to the durability of the Basura Sagrada we all carry around with us? You decide...
By that time, the crowd was done, frozen and ready to head for home. Which was unfortunate because a gigantic dust storm chose that moment to kick into high gear. And thus commenced one of the most surreal moments in an already-surreal week. Imagine, if you will, trying to walk through a blinding snowstorm, people criss-crossing in front of you in random
patterns, no real sense of which direction is home, no streets or signs or landmarks to guide the way, visibility limited to about two feet. It was absolutely terrifying. Ahead, what seemed like miles away, a dim beacon shone weakly. I had no idea what or where it was, but it was at least some sign of civilization, better than wandering forever on the unforgiving open Playa. So we headed towards it. For what felt like hours. It was a cold, grueling, hellacious trek. Radical self-reliance, my ass! What kind of insane event organizers let a bunch of drunk/high/hippie-ravers wander the frozen wilderness in the middle of the night without so much as a directional sign? The outrage!
Well, obviously we made it back to camp without anyone having to gnaw off a leg or roast a campmate over an open flame for sustenance. But it was quite a frustrating end to the week. Irritated, and frozen to the bone, there was nothing left to do but burrow in and try to sleep.
Burn Day. The main event. Culmination of the yearlong burner countdown (any communication from the Burning Man team inevitably includes the line "the Man burns in [x] days"). The big day had finally arrived. Strap in kiddies!
We began the day with a ride out to the Temple of Basura Sagrada, an enormous structure meticulously constructed from burnable trash, recycled materials, and "the tossed-off detritus of American society." On the way, we passed by the Man, a flurry of pre-burn activity cordoned off by Rangers guarding the perimeter. The wind was starting to kick up, and it was getting hard to see. On the path between the Man and the Temple, we had to stop a few times until we could see more than two feet in front of our bikes.
At the Temple, the first thing I noticed was the din of myriad cans and metal sheets and hanging wooden pieces clanging together. Very different from last year's model, which was only appropriate because this year signified a new group of Temple designers and builders. It had a groovy double-helix spiral staircase in the middle, allowing visitors to climb up to the second level for a phenomenal view of the Man and the city. The ever-present tribal drums and chanting were taking place on the ground level. Palpable emotion filled the air as people brought items of tribute and catharsis, wrote messages on the Temple walls with markers, or just sat in silent contemplation. It's a deeply personal experience to contribute to this project, whether in celebration or sadness or a combination of both.
Plus the people-watching was stellar, as the dust storm continued to gather force. A woman with antlers strapped to her head. An entire family of bees -- mama bee and two little baby girl bees. All manner of bedouin sheiks and bellydancers and scarf-swathed travelers trying to shield against the elements. And more than a handful of brides and grooms in every variation of the traditional wedding garb. Apparently this was *the* day to get hitched at the Burn.
After about an hour of contemplation and people-watching, we descended the staircase and made our way back to camp. Taking a more direct route back, we passed right by the enormous "BUMMER" art installation, a supersized Humvee measuring 38 feet long x 18 feet wide x 16 feet high, painted khaki on one side and bright colors on the other. Well, you can't just pass by something like that without stopping to climb inside it! And while we were on the roof, an art car passed by blaring tunes. It deposited a few of its passengers onto the Bummer, which instantly became a Bummer Dance Party. What better way to epitomize the duality of the American Dream...
Another stop en route to home was Kaleidoscope Kamp, home of Alina and Elina who'd visited us yesterday. They beckoned us to come in and enjoy some fabulous Persian treats, including a stellar mint lemonade concoction that made me want to fall to the floor and weep with gratitude. (Did I mention it was hot out there??) Add a pair of accordion players, and you have yourself a party! They also had some kaleidoscope spinny thing out front, but I was far too overheated to consider such a thing.
Back at GBOF, Pringles fired up the Barefoot Bliss again, while I opted to chill out in the RV. I used cooking as an excuse to fire up the generator and wallow in the AC for a bit. There'd been some talk of a big communal dinner before the Man burned, complete with a birthday cake for Ember, so I decided to whip up a big batch of tuna pesto shells to contribute to the festivities.
And that's when all hell broke loose.
(In a good way.)
The dust storm cranked up into a total whiteout. Major. Freakadelic. A few people had already come into the RV, and bit by bit about two dozen more piled in before the end of the day. It was a full-on fest! We ate, we drank, we jaminated. We weren't sure the Man would burn that night. We didn't much care.
Highlights from that festive Burn Afternoon Whiteout: * Oktapodi gets violated by Bitchezz and Forward (hey, *that's* not my Happy Place!)
* filling out the census... all day long...
* weird Kegelcisor people
* Heather wants Beatles. Lee wants Metallica. Pringles delivers: Beatallica!
* Mama Love luvvvvvvs on some Malibu!
* cake for Ember (and *damn* was it sticky to clean up the next day!)
* group primal scream at the end of "Won't Get Fooled Again" (yowwwwwwwwwww!)
* Lee lays on the horn and Solveig is miffed (but who sleeps at Burning Man?!?)
After listening to the exceedingly unhelpful Burning Man Radio all afternoon, the group decided to head out to the Man and see if His Dudeship might not burn this evening after all. By about 9pm, it was finally starting to clear up, and it turned out to be a most excellent night. We all scrambled to get our costumes together. I gave Lee half my crin, which looked absolutely stellar on him, and we all trooped out towards the Esplanade. Of course the group got completely split up, and we wound up hanging with a bunch of firefighters. (Actual firefighters, from SF, with a big red truck and everything.) As expected, there was lots of commotion, lots of drunk/stoned/high/just plain out of it people wandering around. I was busy trying not to have my flounce go up like a Roman candle because of the ash from some idiot's cigarette when I had the following Mensan conversation:
Drunk/Stoned/High Dude: Oh, hey, did you get married today? Me: No, this is just a costume. D/S/H: That's so cool, it must've been a beautiful ceremony! I saw one or two on the Playa today! Me: No, it's not real, it's... D/S/H: Oh, hey, is this your husband? Me: No, we're not... D/S/H: Congratulations, you two!
Riiiiiiiight. Party on, Wayne.
With little warning -- and, surprisingly, no fire conclave -- it was time to burn the Man. First his arms raised. And the Rangers and other volunteers assumed their position around the perimeter. And then the fireworks. Lots and LOTS of fireworks. Then a gigantic fireball from somewhere within the tower holding the Man aloft, and he began to burn. The whole thing took a while to catch, and then another while for him to fall over. And at that point the crowd rushed in and started dancing/drumming/chanting around the enormous bonfire. I had no desire to get closer... Not only was I attired in a highly-flammable ensemble, but the smoke from all the burning wood was wreaking havoc on my contact lenses. Honestly, by that point I was a bit over it. I was just happy to find a spot to sit down and observe the chaos raging around us. Art cars blaring musical cacophany. People dancing around the remains of the man. Cranes and lasers and more musical mishmash off in the distance. A bit of impromptu fire-spinning from the disappointed conclave members who never got to perform, despite a whole year of practice.
The full-frontal 7-day weekend was starting to catch up with us, and sheer exhaustion set in. We did try to find the rest of our GBOFers, who were supposedly at 11:00. But it's surprising how disorienting everything gets once the Man is no longer there to indicate which way is 6:00. After wandering around a bit, we opted to go home, try to warm up, and catch a few hours of sleep.
In keeping with the "one day on, one day off" motif, today was a very chillaxed day. Pringles set up his "Barefoot Bliss" footcare station -- his gift, to anyone needing respite from Playa Foot or just wanting to kick back for a bit -- while I played hospitality manager. Together we fed & watered & pampered almost two dozen lovely ladies who wandered our way. It was a fun way to spend the day, and we met a wide variety of people, from Danish Julie to recent bride Elina. Lots of good conversation, good times!
The evening was just as mellow, with a few hours of hanging out on the "front stoop" with our campmates, and a phenomenal sunset that provided some stunning photo opps:
Whew, a busy day! In an attempt to make up for yesterday's sloth, I took a look through the "Where What When" guide to see what might be worth checking out. This extensive program guide lists all organized activities for the entire Burn... meaning anything anyone took the time to write up and send in ahead of time. It could be anything from sunrise yoga classes to Libertarian tea parties to tutu-making workshops. The first half of the guide lists one-off events by date and time, and the second half lists repeating events that happen at the same time each day. After spending about half an hour trying to process all this information and circling events that looked interesting, I got completely overwhelmed and blew a circuit in my brain and needed a time-out with a cold beverage.
I recovered enough to make a selection: hop on an art car and take a tour of some of the more far-flung Playa art. This seemed like a good choice for two reasons: (1) we'd been been trying to get a ride on an art car, and (2) a lot of the big art installations were pretty far away. Hey, we could kill two birds with one stone! One small catch: the departure point was on the other side of the city. But it was in the direction of another camp we'd wanted to visit anyway, so we decided to make it work.
We geared up with the appropriate accountrements -- goggles, sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, water, dust masks, bike locks, and a few sundry items -- hopped on our bikes, and pedaled off. About five bumpy, dusty, hot minutes into this little trek I had a small meltdown as I realized my bike was completely uncomfortable and there was no way I was gonna make it. But what other choice did I have? Walking there was simply not an option. So I gritted my teeth and got back on the horse, so to speak. Not every minute at Burning Man can be a barrel of monkeys. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, even if my ass is killing me I will MAKE IT to 4:30 Plaza!
As planned, we did stop on the way at Pee Funnel Camp, which, as the name would imply, was a camp giving out Pee Funnels. A wonderful public service to all those with two X chromosomes! En route to the art tour, we encountered Barbie Death Camp & Wine Bistro. Huzzah! I'd been looking forward to visiting this camp since I first heard about it. Where else could you revel in the destruction of The Blonde One and her various compatriots, while enjoying a festive glass of either red or white wine? Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, the French Maid Brigade came by and dusted everyone off. (And we were all sooooooo dirrrrrrrty.) A moment of sublime synchronicity, to be sure.
By that point, it was 2pm, the appointed time for the art car tour. We made it to what we thought was the correct location, but the guide and the map are two separate documents and of course we'd only brought the guide. (We found out later that we were at 4:30 Portal instead of 4:30 Plaza. Good grief.) But, once again, the Playa provides. What could have been a frustrating experience turned into one of the highpoints of the event, as we ran into a gentleman decked out entirely in purple and accessorized with not one but two gold bags. After discussing the finer points of travel in India, he reached into the depths of his gold suitcase and produced two George Bush voodoo dolls. Brilliant! After that we attempted to find a reflexology workshop, but it was already full, so we checked out the Topless Teeter Totter of Terror and had a glass of cold lemonade a nearby camp. At this point the heat was just past the point of ridiculosity, so we headed for home, stopping for a bit of shade at Bacon Camp. Like ya do.
Back at GBOF, all I wanted was some shade and massive amounts of hydration. But somehow I found myself caught up in a fire safety meeting, and since I was too hot & tired to move, I just sat through it. While many of the folks in our camp would be spinning fire at the conclave that performs just before the Man burns, several others would be volunteering as fire safeties. I have to admit I wasn't really listening to much of what was being said at this meeting, but it was good to know that *somebody* would be out there keeping an eye on the flaming stuff.
After a quick dinner of Thai peanut chicken and salad, and an even quicker clean-up (there's only so clean you can ever really get, with all this dust around), it was time for an evening of cat-herding. The night's highlights:
* mysterious smoke rings appear in the sky
* The Wet Spots perform at Center Camp
* Spike's Vampire Bar... what the hell were they serving, anyway??
* Pringles wins an elephant g-string at the funk bar
* I Heart Unicorns
* Bollywood tunes at Ashram Galactica
* PEX's blacklight opera
* a visit to Porn & Eggs (the leopard bride performs!)
* DIY dance party at Duck Bar
* Tree of Knowledge
* nightcap of popcorn tasting (JiffyPop=scary!)
I gathered up a small posse around noon, and we tried to find the Prescription Burn pancake breakfast, really we did. We rode all up and down Hummer Street, asked around, showed off the temp tatoo, tried to find the good docs. But nobody seemed to know anything. It was a bit frustrating -- there was a pinky swear involved, people! -- but a good Burning Man lesson. Things don't necessarily play out as planned, but that doesn't mean you can't have fun along the way! En route back to camp, we were beckoned to come visit Juicy Moosey's and had a lovely shot of JD to start the day off right. Breakfast of champions!
For most of the rest of the day, I just hung around camp and let the circus come to me. I found this to be a nice perk of our camp location, just two blocks off the Esplanade: lots of traffic from interesting people and fabulous art cars. I didn't even have to venture outside GBOF camp to witness all sorts of innnnnnnnteresting stuff.
A few of today's highlights:
* Seattle Heather brings her 16-year-old daughter by for a foot massage, but instead winds up taking her next door to get teabagged for science. (Mother of The Year, I tells ya!)
* Snap into a Slim Jim!
* Codrin is soooooo drunk... and why are my hands green?
* Lee peruses the Constitution.
* Bitchezz gets a yoga adjustment (and an earful of yackety-yack) from a crazy random Aussie. Maybe that'll teach him to stop offering bike assistance to hot damsels in distress. Probably not.
* "T" from The Motel stops by to shock us with tales of debauchery, and we wind up warping his fragile little mind instead.
Evening. The air finally started to cool down a bit. Time to attend a wedding! I didn't know much more about this affair, other than it involved two DC-based friends of GBOF, and it was supposed to happen at sunset on the Esplanade. Ehm, OK, but what time is sunset? Nobody really knew. We aimed for about 7:30, and got cleaned up as best we could, and tried to herd the cats. Ah, another Burning Man lesson! It's only ever possible to get a maximum of three people coordinated at any one place at any one time. The corollary to this theory is that you'll always be missing *one* person, even if ten others seem to be ready to go. Accordingly, by the time we had a quorum, and rode down to where the nuptials were supposed to be, we'd missed it. Oh well. We did manage to enjoy some champagne and cake at the reception, so it's allllll good.
The main event for the night was a "white" party at the Opulent Temple, a large scale art & sound camp on the far reaches of the Esplanade. (Keep in mind that GBOF camp is at 8:00, and the Opulent Temple is at 2:00, so it's just about as far away as it could possibly be.) The Opulent Temple is a collaboration of some folks from the SF underground community, and consistently draws top DJs like Tiesto and Oakenfold. So we knew it'd be worth the trek, and we were right!
Despite losing Bitchezz at one point, and almost picking up some random whiskey-swigging aggro-girl, we all managed to make the journey across the open Playa, with Lunar leading the way. Taking a short cut across the Playa, rather than following the slightly smoother path around the Esplanade, was certainly the quickest way to get there. But it was definitely a challenge. Without warning, smooth patches of Playa yielded to huge sand dunes or deep ruts. It's hard enough to avoid these in the daytime, but at night it was near impossible. After skidding horizontally off my bike for the third time (you should see the lovely technicolor bruise on my right shin! now that's art) I decided it was time to walk the damn thing. Playa One, Sonia Zero.
Miraculously, we all managed to meet back up at the dance party, Bitchezz included. (How in the world did Mama Love find him? Must be some kind of homing beacon.) Even on the outskirts, it was a thunderously loud mass of about a thousand white-clad, glowstick-twirling ravers, with a DJ spinning tunes in a booth that periodically shot out huge flames from between enormous projection screens. A flimsy-looking platform rocked and thumped about 20 feet above it all, with more dancers and twirlers and bubble-blowers, and flames blasting from the corner pillars. One hell of a party!
Pringles and I climbed up the rickety platform and sat on the edge, taking in the view for a good while. It was a great vantage point to people-watch, and the fear of imminent doom only heightened the experience. Fire-spinners and twirlers of various glowy items did their thing off to one side while the crowd danced before the DJ and projection screens. Just beyond the perimeter of the party, enormous art cars rolled by blasting their own tunes. And beyond that, stood the Man, hundreds of flickering theme camps behind him. It was a pretty amazing sight. And another "life doesn't suck" moment!
We awoke in the morning to find a very different scene. The sun had come out, the wind and dust had stopped, and while it was still a little chilly, it was warming up nicely. Thaaaaat's better! Apparently we missed most of the debilitating 12-hour Dust Storm From Hell yesterday, but today was shaping up to be a marvelous sunny day. Timing is everything.
We took most of the morning to chat with our campmates, set stuff up, and get our bearings. Since we'd decided to conserve space in the RV's black water tank and use the public facilities during the day, it was nice to discover that our camp was located just around the corner from the porta-potties... close enough to get there quite easily, but not close enough to smell it! Across from the pots was a two-story club camp called Raise The Bar that pumped out music all day and night. Fortunately it was pretty decent music, for the most part, including a good bit of Thievery Corporation. Sweet!
Part of the setup, besides re-arranging items in the RV and some of its many storage spaces, was getting the bikes Playa-ready. Having a bike at Burning Man is essential, because of the long distances between points in Black Rock City. However, this is one of the few cases in life where having MORE pieces of flair is actually a good thing. Because we bought our bikes used in Sacramento, we didn't have as much opportunity to sass 'em up as others in our camp, but we did try to deck them out with a few fun accessories from home. Mark found a great horn for his bike. I attached a few flowers that had previously been used as napkin rings at my Aunt Barbara's Easter table, plus some pink duct tape that went smashingly with the bike's pink & purple paint job. We affixed the headlamps -- critically important for both lighting the way and helping prevent people from smashing into you, nothing worse than being a darkwad! -- and planned to add a few glowsticks after dark. They weren't nearly as stylin' as Bitchezz's Teenage Mutant Turtlemobile, or Cookie's Bugs Bunny bike with its own portable shade structure, but our bikes were ready for action.
A word about Playa nicknames. In keeping with the "radical self-expression" tenant of The Burn, lots of veterans adopt a Burner name. This is meant to reflect a key aspect of your inner self, one you often have to keep hidden while in polite society. Or sometimes it's a funny name that describes a situation you found yourself in once, or a personality quirk, or something that just tickles your fancy. One of our campmates is known as Ember, short for Nuclear Ember, which is an anagram of her full name. (Geeks rule!) Our dear friends Tony & Christina become Bitchezz & Mama Love in Burner circles. Mark is known on the Playa as Pringles. I, having already had many aliases in my checkered past, decided not to adopt a Playa name, unless a good one presented itself during the course of the week.
Bikes decked out, costumes unpacked, Playa names dusted off, we were ready to go out exploring. By this point, the heat of the afternoon had set in. Plus, we realized about a block into our little jaunt, all those warnings about the Playa being soft and unpredictable weren't just hype! See, the Black Rock Desert is what's left of a prehistoric lakebed that has dried up and turned to a fine sandy powder. Hence the name "Playa," which means "beach" in Spanish. Consider riding a bicycle on the wet hard-packed sand near the oceanfront... challenging, but not impossible. Then imagine a big dry sand dune popping up in the middle of that wet sand. Ay-yeeeeee! Add to that a bunch of ruts and bumps and potholes, akin to the finest DC streets, and you have yourself quite a sand trap. Water trucks went by from time to time, spraying down water in an attempt to flatten and smooth out the "streets," but this didn't help. (Except that it was always amusing to see a bunch of dirty ragged Burners scampering behind the trucks, looking for a free shower.) It was tough going, to say the least.
We did manage to visit Center Camp, which, as the name would imply, is at the center of things and provides a space to display medium-sized art installations, perform on one of several stages, practice hooping or yoga or any other movement that strikes your fancy, or purchase coffee. Ice and coffee are the only two things you can buy at Black Rock City. Everything else, from snacks to mixed drinks to handmade crafts, is gifted. It's quite a different modality from the "default" world. Trying to explain this to people who have never been to a Burn is a bit challenging. It's not really a barter system, as you're not expecting to get anything in return when you give someone a gift. Some gifts are quite elaborate. Many big theme camps have fully-stocked bars, lead workshops, or provide gourmet meals. A lot of people bring necklaces or tshirts or stickers or other handmade items to give out. Gifting can be as simple as passing out donuts (which I helped do at one point, and it was amazing how grateful people were for a donut hole at 2am) or it can be as elaborate as setting up the Playa's only four-star luxury resort (such as the Ashram Galactica, conveniently situated right on our block). It's a truly astonishing system.
Some other highlights from that afternoon's jaunt: * visiting and then returning to the Golden Cafe, a delicious bar with a live music stage next door where Pringles plugged in his guitar and jaminated (plus he struck up a fortuitous conversation with Heather and Gregarious, who turned out to be excellent companions the rest of the week)
* a stroll down Bonneville Street to the Lazy-A** F**kers Camp, where we were greeted with the Breast Analysis Wheel (stolen from the camp across the street) and a man with a cardboard box on his head, doling out Free Breast Examinations
After a quick dinner, we headed out with Forward & Crystal to check out the Man. This year's theme was The American Dream, so the tower holding up His Dudeship was decked out with international flags. Someone pointed out that there was no American flag on the tower. Oooooooo, deep! This was another chance to check out the Esplanade (not in an RV this time!), the innermost concentric circle closest to the Man where most of the big party camps are located. Techno music thumped and bumped from every corner. Crazily lit up art cars, bikes, and people streamed by. Fire spinners did their thing at Fire Conclave in the middle of it all. It was nuts! From the top of the Man's tower, the view was unbelievable, like being in the middle of the world's biggest rave, on the moon. Not bad for the first day!
I´ve decided to spend a few extra days in Nebaj, where they are celebrating the Feast of the Assumption with a gigantic street fair. I´m pretty sure this is how Jesus (and Mary) would´ve wanted the day to be commemorated, with cacophanous marimba bands, bad town hall speeches, lots of drinking and hideously loud firecrackers, cotton candy and bad plastic trinkets for sale, games of chance under fluorescent lights, and rickety-ass carnival rides. Seriously, if Winger had been headlining that night, I would have thought I was back at the Great Allentown Fair. The only thing missing was funnel cake stands.
Dude, this place is weird.
After a horrible false start at a dump called the Hospedaje Nebajense -- I´ve written to the good folks at Rough Guides to request they remove this filth pit from their recommendations -- I found another room at a nice place a block from the plaza. An American I´d met on the bus ride out here said that Wednesday was the big fiesta day, so I hung around the main square, peoplewatching and waiting and wondering what to do. There are only four or five of us gringos in town, so I was as much of a curiosity to them as they were to me. Every time I sat on a park bench, someone struck up a conversation wondering where I was from and what I was doing there. The pastor of the local church even proudly introduced himself in English.
Throughout the next few days there were a few parades, musical acts, and some goings-on in the church. (For those of you keeping score at home, please note that I was at Mass on the Feast of the Assumption! Maybe Santa Claus will get me that iPhone for Christmas this year after all.) There is a very distinct traditional uniform for the folks of Nebaj, and they were all decked out in their finest for the fiesta. The women wear dark red skirts and blouses with geometric designs in green and purple and sometimes maroon. They wear headclothes woven around their finely-coiffed hair that end in brightly-colored pom-pom tassles that they pile high on their heads. And even some of the men were dressed, in dark red cotton jackets with black embroidery. It was really interesting to see so many people dressed exactly the same.
The only other thing of note was a strange procession in front of the church, with men wearing gold-spangled costumes and masks and pirate hats. They were accompanied by the everpresent marimba band. The men lined up and did this strange marching two-step dance, over and over again for like an hour, and then they packed up and walked away. I have no idea what that was supposed to be about, but it provided a bit of entertainment in the middle of the day.
Well, I managed to make it through a busy morning at the Chichi market, and even escaped with my dignity mostly intact! Huzzah! Quite the cavalcade of peoplewatching, both locals and gringos! I grabbed an early breakfast and was pleased to sit and watch the world go by for a bit. Men and women with huge bundles balanced on their heads, merchants setting up for the day, many women in indigenous dress with children strapped to their backs and in tow... and the gringos started trickling in...
I did a few laps around the marketplace, and stood on the second floor of the Centro Commercial to watch the vegetable market in full swing. Interesting stuff. I have never seen such huge piles of carrots, onions, tomatoes, and other unrecognizable vegetation. Some vendors had actual scales but most used a system of stones in a hand scale to weigh the purchases. Then I sat on the steps of the church for a while, watching men and women swing cannisters of estoraque incense and chant prayers, while more urchins selling magnets and wooden necklaces made urgent pitches. And the gringos kept flooding in.
Wisely having taken stock the night before, I realized I had enough tchotchkes and mementos to satisfy my needs. (And anyone wishing to make a contribution to the Sonia World Tour Fund, just lemme know and I can arrange to send you a lovely fridge magnet! I knew a girl who funded most of her RTW trip that way, sharp cookie.) I popped in the church, carefully going in through the side entrance as the book recommended, and sat for a while to watch the festivities. Inside was an interesting mix of Mayan and Christian traditions. Old women lit candles and sprinkled rose petals in offerings on low stone tablets in the aisles. A priest was leading a prayer chant in the back. People lined up to make additional offerings in front. Gringos streamed by, ignoring the many posted requests to not take pictures and generally making asses of themselves by disturbing the proceedings. Just another market day in Chichi.
After spending a bit more time on the stairs outside the church, watching the world go by, I decided to try to find some lunch. The market is sprawling, but there is some method to the madness and the food stalls were lined up on the very inside of the plaza. Fortunately they were covered, too, because as I sat down the heavens opened and it began to pour in Biblical proportions. I enjoyed my chicken, rice, and papas fritas (happily, another bargain meal) and listened to the rain beat down on the tin rooftops. It stopped within an hour or so, but left behind muddy swirling motes and lakes on the cobblestone streets. Muck! Slurm!
Fed up with the teeming masses, I headed out to an internet cafe to catch up on email and plan my next day´s journey to Nebaj. As it´s a bit off the beaten Gringo Trail, it should provide a slightly different picture of Guatemalteco life.
Another travel day, and also an uprooting from the Black Cat Xela, my home away from home for nearly the past week. Surprisingly, I will miss this offbeat place... my odd chats with Joanne, the bizarre Claire (whom I have forgiven for her past transgressions), and most especially the breakfasts! Mmmmm, desayuno típico, with your eggs, beans, friend plantains, tomato, avocado, toast, and weird crumbly tasteless cheese, I shall miss you the most!
Anyway, I grabbed the now-familiar micro/camioneta combo and headed to Chichicastenango, which on Thursdays and Sundays hosts the most famous market in all of Guatemala. Found a nice room with a spectacular view of the town and the church, and set off to see about getting a guided tour to the Pascual Abaj shrine, a Mayan altar perched high in the hills above town.
I wandered down the street, and sure enough one of the "licensed" guides approached me. Not learning from my Santiago Atitlán experience, I failed to pre-negotiate a price, but decided that 20Q should be adequate. We headed up a really steep hill -- curse this frickin country where everything is up-frickin-hill -- and had a pleasant enough conversation in Spanish. And when we reached the top of the hill he had lots of good information about the various Mayan altars and rituals. We´d obviously just missed seeing an actual ceremony, though. But he went through a litany of info about what each altar is for (requests for a good marriage, healthy pregnancy, end to vices, peace in the country, good harvests, etc) and some information about Mayan shamans (there are equal numberes of men and women in each village, as guys have to go to a male shaman and women to a female. And then he offered to take me to the local weaving cooperative where I could buy a mask or a hand-made blanket, and everything was authentic, and he´d make sure I got a good price, yada yada yada. I tried getting him to tell me what a decent price might be, as it´s hard to haggle when you´re not sure what your goal is, but he deflected with the old "don´t worry, I´m your guide, I´m here to guide you!" Right.
Long story short, I wound up spending more than I´d intended, albeit on a very nice piece of tapestry that may make a lovely wedding present for a certain brother and future sister-in-law. Once again I felt somewhat used and abused, but I guess that´s what we gringo tourists are here for. To make matters worse, I had trouble finding the right change, and had to stop at like three stores before I found a shopkeeper who would break a 100Q bill. (It started to feel ridiculously like that South Park episode where zombies wander around asking for chaaaaaaaaange, doesn´t anybody have any chaaaaaaange?) And then the coup-de-grace, when I offered the guide his 20Q he was incredbily offended and demanded 50. No way, man, not after you just helped fleece me outta my hard-earned cash for that weaving! I reminded him that it was supposed to be a voluntary thing, and he snarled and wished me Bad Luck and stalked off. Great, that was a stellar start to my Chichi visit.
After cooling down a bit (literally and figuratively) I wandered around the plaza area and watched the vendors set up for the next day´s event. I also took a look at the church, which is on one side of the plaza, and the smaller Calvario Chapel, which is on the other side. The chapel was pretty interesting, with Mayan copal offerings out front, and dark spooky saints on the inside. The attendant suggested I contribute some "alms" and then seemed disappointed when I only tossed in a few coins. Cram it, sister, I´m not in the mood.
Outside, I sat on the steps and watched as the setup continued. I was relentlessly pestered by some persistent urchins trying to sell fridge magnets. A foreshadowing of Sunday´s activities! The second one actually gave me some rap about Baby Needs a New Pair of Shoes, waggling his dirty sandals in my face. And when I declined he was like "How ´bout you just give me a Quetzal, then?" How ´bout you give me a frickin break?? I know I look like a walking dollar sign to you, but for just five minutes can I sit here in peace? Clearly not.
I did manage to get a good deal on dinner at a local comedor, and was amused at the WWF entertainment on TV. They love the fake wrestling in this country! Wandered back to my hotel, and decided to get a good night´s sleep in preparation for the assault tomorrow.
Another great day of adventures! I decided to visit the Friday market in San Francisco el Alto, supposedly the largest in the country and not as touristy as the one in Chichi. The book made it sound like it would be tricky to find a bus there, but I had no trouble whatsoever and hopped aboard one that left a few minutes later. Good timing! Sometimes you wind up sitting and waiting a while until the bus fills up. I was so inspired by this triumph that I wrote a double-haiku in honor of chickenbuses. (OK, so it´s not completely thematically correct, but bear with me...)
Four to a seat, minimum
Vendors come with snacks.
¡Dios nos bendiga!
Driver´s a mental patient
Vamos a morir.
::: gonnnnnnng :::
Right then, on to the day´s journeys! The market was indeed massive, and wound up a huge hill for more blocks than I could count. And it did seem to be geared more towards locals, with imported American clothing, cheap hair trinkets, plastic buckets, and cell phones on display for sale. I did manage to practice my haggling skills a bit for some traditional wares, and was rather pleased to be one of the few gringos around. At the very top of the hill was the animal market. What a show! All manner of pigs, cows, sheep, cats, dogs, rabbits, turkeys, chickens, goats, and god knows what else were on sale. Locals were haggling madly. The animals seemed a bit disenchanted by the whole affair.
Next stop, Momostenango, aka Momo or Momos for short. This required finding the correct bus and squishing into a seat with an entire Guatemalan family, hanging on for dear life as we rocked through the pine forests, and watching with amusement as the driver got into a fistfight with his ayudante. Never a dull moment.
When we got to Momo, there seemed to be some big gathering in the main square. Turned out to be a rally for Mario Estrada, the UCN candidate for president. (The one I thought looked like JR Ewing on his campaign posters, with a big cowboy hat and everything.) He schmoozed the crowd with ease, saying the usual "I´m one of you" and "Together we can make the world a better place" kinda things you hear politicians everywhere spouting off about. The crowd was enthusiastic and everyone from small children to elderlies waved banners and clapped loudly.
I headed off to find Los Riscos, mentioned in my guidebook as a set of bizarre sandstone pillars on the north edge of town. Well, they turned out to be more east than north, and after several wrong turns I just stopped and asked a random local for directions. To my surprise, he escorted me all the way there! (Which was great because I never would have found it on my own.) And he didn´t even ask for money or try to sell me anything! Way to restore my faith in humanity. Los Riscos were indeed a bizarre set of Grand Canyon-looking pillars, made of crumbly sand and just sorta plunked by the side of the road. Something interesting to see, especially when you have a new friend to chat with along the way.