Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Three Favorite Cities

As I plan my pilgrimage to my most favorite city, I started to think about my other favorite places. But first, a brief preface. I’m not what one would call exceptionally well traveled. I’ve been places, St. Louis, Seattle, San Antonio, Indianapolis, Vancouver, Las Vegas, Vienna, Venezia, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Garmish, and Fulda to name a few. These are places in which I’ve actually spent some measure of time. I don’t include lay over cities like London, Salt Lake, Phoenix or Chicago. The list of places I haven’t been is by far much longer. I’ve never been to Boston for instance, nor Miami, Honolulu, or any major cities in Central or South America. I’ve also never been to any city in Africa, Australia or Asia. One of these will be remedied however in the year to come. More on that later. So, with all that said, here are my current favorite cities.

Number 3 – San Francisco, California

It never occurred to me how much I love this city until I left it for a time. I didn’t grow up in the City but in the outer Bay Area. But, we frequented it often. I had an uncle who lived on the pan-handle of Golden Gate Park. My older sister attended modeling school there. At the end of summer we use to hit the factory stores in the warehouse district, (now called SOMA) And sometimes, we would just go on a Friday night to explore China Town, and eat fried rice in a dinky restaurant in which you enter through the kitchen by way of an alley. In those days, San Francisco was still full of animated neon. The Hills Brother’s Coffee Man would great us from the Bay Bridge, bright red nipples flashed on Broadway, and Coca Cola simply just dazzled. It was an odd mix of glam and hippy art and love.

I work there now, so I still enjoy San Francisco, but not in quite the same way. Now I see it as a world class city, with diversity, and food, innovation and entertainment. Hippies are largely replaced with Hipsters, CocaCola still dazzles but little else does at night. SOMA is a district of tall shiny condos with shiny people to match. And there is a palatable level of smug largely possessed by those who did not grow up here. Despite all this, I still love San Francisco, it’s charm, it’s character and it’s people. I like seeing flash mobs, naked people running in the Bay to Breakers and other outward signs of expression that probably just wouldn’t fly anywhere else. I like eating crab with friends at Fisherman’s Warf on Sunday mornings. I like watching what looks like insane piles of houses on hills with intermittent towers that jut out like outcrops as I approach on the ferry in the mornings. It’s a great place to go 5 days a week, and I wouldn’t even mind living there.

Number 2 – Verona, Italy

I lived in Italy for three years between Verona and Venezia (Venice). Now, some might be surprised to hear that between those two cities, I would pick Verona over Venezia. I’ll admit, that it’s a beautiful place. The canals are enchanting, the food amazing, and the architecture breathtaking. But Verona is a city that is a little more my speed. It’s an old Roman City, the city of Romeo and Juliet, and an amazing cultural center.
Because it’s a Roman City, it has it’s own coliseum that is still in use. When I was there I went to the Ballet and rock concerts in the coliseum. The city center (Centro) is also laid out in concentric circles which can be a little disorienting when walking around drunk at night in the rain (another story entirely). Verona boasts one of the oldest market places in Europe, as well as a McDonalds. It has towers, city walls, ruins, Juliet’s balcony and her tomb. But all these reasons combined aren’t why I love this city so much. Beginning with my very first visit, I felt a connection with this city. It’s the kind of city that is automatically familiar. I think it’s because it’s both provincial and urban at the same time. It’s a place I dream about often, and hope to return to some day.

Number 1 – Black Rock City, Nevada

Black Rock City is the temporary establishment built on the Black Rock Dessert during the Burning Man Festival. If I’m lucky, once a year I get to call this place home for a week. Although temporary, BRC has a culture, an infrastructure, and even street names. We have DPW, Department of Public Works who create our perimeter, build our streets, build Center Camp, and many other places that support our citizens. We have DMV, Department of Mutant Vehicles who license art cars which act as our public transportation on the Playa. We have ESD, Emergency Services Department that includes doctors, nurses, EMT’s, and other Emergency personnel. And, we have our own intervention/resolution force (as opposed to police) called the Black Rock Rangers.

Black Rock City is a place to play, but also to appreciate. We believe in Radical Self Reliance, which means we don’t look to others to meet our needs, but at the same time we look out for each other. The absurd is encouraged, as is kindness, generosity and love. My love for Black Rock City is not based on the locale, although I’ve grown to love the vastness of the Playa. It’s not based on the architecture either, because save the Man, the architecture changes every year. I love Black Rock City for both the culture and the possibilities. Surprises are everywhere. Most are good, some are bad, (i.e. “Who left crap on the PortaJon seat?”)

In a little more than 24 hours I will depart for this place as I have done 5 times before. I must admit, that this year’s excursion is made with some apprehension, but the one thing I know is once I’m there, I can expect an amazing hug, new friends, and surprises around every corner.

Hasta la Playa!


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Preparation Boiling Point - Burning Man 2010

Every year I go to Burning Man, at some point it reaches a boiling point, and the reality of it all begins to overwhelm. I start second guessing myself. Am I forgetting something? Do I have enough food, water, equipment, booze?

Black Rock City is an amazing place, but it's also a dangerous place. The conditions are extremely harsh, and those of us that take the Radical Self Reliance Principle seriously, don't want to be caught unprepared. In years past I have always been over prepared, but that was when I went with my kids in tow. When going alone, I find myself in an odd middle ground between wanting to be prepared and wanting to stick to the KISS method. You know, Keep It Simple Stupid.

The thing is, it takes a lot of planning to go to the desert for spontaneous expression. You have to plan for water (one and a half gallons a day), food and the storage of perishables (there's a dry ice strategy to be employed), wardrobe (that is equal in both form and function), gifts (preferably hand made and/or pragmatic), health care (sun screen, baby wipes, hand sanitizer) and equipment (including a bike, tools, illumination, zip ties, and Gorilla tape). Getting ready for a full week of Radical Self Reliance, where you are completely responsible for your own well being, requires forethought and imagination. But that's OK, because that's a lot of what Burning Man is about: forethought and imagination.

The Playa is a place where one can be at the whim of imagination. Creativity is encouraged. Realization of vision is admired. As a community we dare to do brave things that we wouldn't do in the Default World. We hug like we mean it, all the time. We practice generosity. And although one of our principles is Radical Self Reliance, we look out for each other. Art and expression are the foundations of our culture, as is acceptance and participation. It's no wonder that when we get there, the greeters always say, "Welcome Home."