I imagined the Nowhere festival – an offshoot of the “Radical Alternative Intentional Community” better known as Burning Man – to be similar to the original event, a large grouping with clever theme camps and huge art installations and super-outgoing folks and a gift economy and great DJ sets. With my expectations so ramped up — Burning Man! Only in SPAIN!!! — it was bound to be a bit disappointing. Who knew there could be cultural differences in festivals?
People often refer to Burning Man as “That Thing in the Desert,” a bit of an understatement, considering there are upward of 40,000 participants and countless theme camps, DJs, stages, art exhibits, and events, including AA meetings and Shabat services.
Nowhere, in the end, though, was indeed pretty much just a big campout in the middle of the gorgeous Spanish desert.
There was a very small center pavilion, a few domes, one or two hut-like structures, and a bunch of British people wearing skimpy clothes trying to act unrepressed while the French ignored them and played Bacci. (Bacci is also known in French as the onomatopoeic “Pudunk” which is a much better name than Bacci. “Want to play Pudunk?” “Where is Pierre?” “He’s off playing Pudunk!”)
The Italians got it right, making spaghetti for the population of the entire event and refusing to turn down their sound system, but no one could understand what the fuck they were saying.
My ride from the city of Zaragosa was a Dutch guy named Mike, an extremely tall, hippie-ish dude in his late 40’s with clear blue eyes and an aura of kindliness. His other cargo, Josh, was a cute 20-something American from Austin with spiked hair, pumped arms, and indie-alt good looks. We bonded instantly in that “FUCK YEAH, WE’RE OBNOXIOUS AMERICANS!” way, while Mike smiled down at us quietly and curiously.
As soon as we arrived in Nowhere, Josh & I, the Americans, realized we were cultural misfits and quickly embodied the principal tenets of home-grown ‘Mericana, becoming even more animated and obnoxious than usual, on occasion swarming into unsuspecting camps and singing the Team America: World Police theme song.
We even got mentioned in the festival newspaper when we were discovered plotting to overthrow the organizers by bringing capitalism to the desert and installing chicken nugget joints on every corner of the hodgpodge intersections in their temporary communist outpost called Nowhere.
Thankfully, Josh and I soon discovered and were adopted by the friendly American-Couple-Living-In-Belgium, Marcus and Deborah, who had not only loaned me a tent and sleeping pad but ALSO ran the best (and only) theme camp there: COFFEE CAMP.
Coffee Camp was our savior, Nowhere’s saving grace, and essentially the best camp in the world in that they had coffee available for anyone who wanted it, 24×7. You read that right: COFFEE, TWENTY-FOUR HOURS A DAY.
Marcus embodied a true hippie/burner combo, wearing exclusively tie-dyes and a stack of Burning Man necklaces that he never took off. As usual, I had a lot of preconceived judgments about him, and as usual, I was wrong. Marcus was fantastically nice and friendly and above all, generous. Josh and I spent a considerable amount of time just hanging out there, extremely caffeinated.
I also spent a fair amount of time with a red-headed, gregarious, very friendly French clown (not kidding) named Clement (also not kidding) who took a bit of an interest in me, and his amazingly hot French doctor friend, who did not.
Having them as my buddies took an edge off the loneliness I tend to feel at festivals, but the dynamic was odd and I longed for the solitude and simpleness of the Camino. Clement was a performer and teacher, and, with his copious charm and excellent powers of persuasiveness, convinced me to participate in some sort of “Stand-Up-And-Sing!” theater workshop. I sang, par usual, “Copacabana,” and Clement told me it was OK but I need to be less self-conscious and make more eye contact.
Two more Camino life lessons to add to the list! I’ll get right on that. 😉
So that was my Nowhere, plus a little bit of dancing and a little bit of wandering and lots of sitting around and doing, well, Nothing.
Really, the most of what I remember from Nowhere aside from Josh, Marcus, Clement, Deborah, and the only other woman who was friendly to me (a Kiwi named Patty or Patty or possibly Paulina) is a strong sense of alienation, as opposed to the sense of community and connection and 71 straight hours of fun that most folks who go to these sorts of festivals say they have.
In fact, I wrote almost Nothing about Nowhere in my journal, save for the scraps about Mike and Josh and Marcus, and the following:
“Why the fuck do I keep coming to these,” she thought, scanning around the barren desert landscape. The beat of techno music coming from farther off competed with the New Age crap playing in the semi-covered dome in which she sat. The people of the Enchanted Forest Camp, as they called themselves, had done a nice job with their set up.
The dome – a “geodesic” dome, in fact – was of standard desert-festival fare: tubes of metal held together at spokes to form row upon row of lined up and inverted triangles, which slowly curved around to form the scaffolding of walls and a round roof. All but a few triangles on the very lowest level – each about 3’ high – were covered with mesh fabric and silk scarves, which did a surprisingly remarkable job of providing shade, a welcome respite from the blaring desert sun. That, and the Astroturf — they brought fucking Astroturf! — and the 6 or so hammocks explained all the people hanging out in the dome, every single one of them asleep.
She looked around, bored.
“I fucking hate these things.”