Rachel is native to this place that doesn’t exist.
Let’s explore, she yells and bikes off, onto a street named Illusion.
The sun has disappeared behind the horizon, a dim moonless night above us.
Neon-coloured lasers lighten up the sky.
Maybe it is her job, in which she finds formulae, which don’t have any practical use, whose name sounds like a mathematical holiday: tropical geometry. Maybe it is also the fact that she has been here seven times. It is so cold at night, you don’t get far without big boots and woollen socks.
I pull my fur hat over my head and run after her.
On the promenade I catch up.
Rachel with her red curls, a true ginger, I met three months ago in the thick of the dance floor, in striped leggings and a riveted bra. She showed me that Falafel can raise your blood pressure but also your mood, at three in the morning.
She leans on her bike and sucks water out of a tube, embedded in a desert scenery, better than the one in Lawrence from Arabia: flat land for miles, sparked by neon lights, moving from right to left, approaching, encircling, an aimless riot.
The centre piece of this madness of speed and sound is a huge wooden matchstick man. A silvery house, high over head and shoulders, behind us. A meandering magician swirls past us. We dip our fingers in a crystal bag and I ask myself if a body is able to produce serotonin when it hasn’t slept for 48 hours, especially if it is located in a universe without top nor bottom, a rotating flickering, a fluttering glimmering sparkling something.
I want to hold on to something.
The speakers next to me blast gabber, trance and techno directly into my eardrum.
My gaze is glued to a pair of brown eyes, cheeks shining brighter than anything I’ve ever witnessed. I taste dust in my mouth and feel lead in my legs, a hamster called Ted grabs my hand and screams into my ear: You’re awesome, I love you.
I scream back and finally find Rachel’s hand in the crowd. Touching her is like tasting salty caramel chocolate ice cream.
We keep going, green bridges above us in the dark.
I am geared to these stable shiny scaffoldings with their curved parts and cross beams, which lead away in uniform patterns. Their construction reminds me of New York City’s bridges. I feel safe underneath these bridges. Nothing can harm me, they are attached to the ground and hold up the strongest movements. They are to be found across the whole site, from one street to the next, reaching far out into the deep playa.
I just have to follow them, even though – I am only imagining them.
How I find my way back to our tent, a bastion for eight people, mattresses and sleeping bags, coolers and cases, remains a miracle. I pull a blanket and two sleeping bags over my face, shut out the noise and the clattering of the generator with my earplugs. Softly the air mattress gives way underneath my weight. Until I fall asleep, day has dawned.
Our camp’s name is Clutch Tomato.
Sun-ripened Californian tomatoes, swimming in olive oil, preserved months before with herbs and chilli, served on organic rosemary and thyme crackers. A huge sign hints at it, a red coloured dome, red armchairs, camping chairs, hammocks between metal poles. A clutch is something you need and receive in just the right moment.
Like freshly brewed espresso, when you crawl out of your tent, after only a few hours of sleep, your tent, which is at nine o’clock so hot that sweat is dripping from your face before you reached out of it: For a bottle of cold water, that your tent neighbour gives to you, a banana which you find under your costumes, a fresh peach, rolled out of the cooler.
Clutch Tomato, that is dozens of jars with golden oil, in layers, crimson fruit pieces, stacked on the wall of the mobile kitchen. What is missing is real shade. A place where you can reduce your body temperature, cool down. A hole in the ground, a vacuum of silence.
Rachel is sitting in the kitchen’s shade, nibbling a granola bar.
I didn’t sleep, she says, rubbing her eyes, at all.
I won’t sleep either, in the next six hours.
Flakes of black make-up on her cheeks, smudged by sweat. What is left of her costume is a bra and panties. She opens another pack of granola bars, there’s a rustling, crumbly taste of hazelnuts and cranberries, washed down with bitter espresso, a piece of banana squish, threads of peach flesh sucked from the pit. In vain, I try to put on underpants without dusting them.
What have you been doing last night, I ask her and comb through sandy hair with my fingers. My old friend Laser Steve and I wandered the Deep Playa, she says chattily, and scratches her boob. We were waiting for sunrise at the temple. Laser Steve is part of the Temple crew. It was magical. The Guardians were singing mantras, you know, all that hippy shit, but my head was down the rabbit hole the whole time.
She snickers and sneers and her eyes glow bright, only now it is that I notice how big they are.
Rachel says Molly and Acid people don’t get along.
It is indispensable, she says, to be on the same wavelength as your friends. For that reason she gives me an identical sugar cube, just like the one she is eating.
It won’t change much, she says, we’re just keeping the colours bright here.
In twilight we slip into our costumes, striped leggings, red velveteen blazers, plush squirrel hats, fur coats. At Center Camp we stop at a fire-spitting wheel, the heat of the flames glowing on my cheeks. Burning in my eyes. Hurting in my body: the cigarettes I smoked in my lungs, my knees from biking, the finger I jammed in the car door, the collarbone I broke as a kid. I am tired, all of a sudden, so tired, that I want to disappear into the sand.
You cannot be tired, Rachel says, and squeezes my shoulder. You will be awake for at least another twelve hours. Acid intensifies, what you focus on. So focus on good things.
Good things, that is: still air behind the Temple and the warmth of a duvet, which I find there. The taste of marshmallows, that someone hands us, passing by.
The Playa provides, Rachel says.
Rachel knows me, even though we only know each other for a few months. We met under Brandenburg’s July sun, sleeping on a camping blanket next to each other.
Rachel knows that I hold my breath when I am nervous, that I can’t eat when I don’t know what’s going on. She knows what is going on without me having to say anything. Then she invites me over, brews a cup of Tension Tamer, spreads her blue Mexican quilt and puts the tarot cards on the table. Also now she just says: Chill out, it’s all right, and links arms with me.
Later we dangle in a hammock of the size of a truck in the middle of the desert.
In a whirlwind of lights and shadows we sail through the night, back and forth, cannot leave this net and stop laughing, until I close my eyes and let it carry me. Dozing, in floating, until I hear a voice, wake up, and someone agitates me, and pulls me up.
Na, alles klar, Rachel says, her face above me, I nod and crawl back into the dust.
I don’t like beer.
I never liked beer, drinking it makes me hungry and tired.
But the beer they give out here is better than anything I ever ingested.
A tart, refreshing, cool liquid, I just have to queue and they give me another cup of fresh Belgium tap beer. Forty-five degrees Celsius in the shade plus a hundred half-naked bodies sum up deliriously. I find myself on a pink couch, next to a golden unicorn, a petite man with a Cockney accent and coal-black eyes. He rubs against me, I rub against him, and by my headache I notice how dehydrated I am.
He asks me if I want to go on an adventure, his voice moist and damp in my ear.
We splash about in the water, riding a rubber crocodile in a pool hidden in the camp labyrinth. Only a unicorn is able to find something that magical. We swim until I am cold and the sun is bearable, and I steal away, my clothes in hand, dressed only in sandals.
I made out with a unicorn, I report later.
Well done, says Rachel and gives me a pat on the back.
I find it even better that nobody chatted me up during my naked walk home, with the exception of a young and equally naked lad, who invited me politely to a tea and techno party. My comfort zone has shifted a bit outwards, is now hovering about one centimetre above my skin, refreshed and cooled and feeling splendid in the sun.
Come in, wraps and drinks, Superwoman shouts with a smoky voice, a golden diadem on her forehead, in limbo with Captain America on a wooden swing, tray with feta wraps and carrot sticks in her hand. Batgirl, Hulk and Magneto bring ice cold Mojitos. I am lounging on a couch between them, made fit into the furniture and the speakers, which emanate a soft deep bass, wearing a beautiful silken kimono that someone handed me when I walked in.
I sneaked into our neighbours’ camp, hours ago, chatting with passers-by, dozing every now and then, taking a casual look at Clutch Tomato’s bar every now and then, where Rachel is mixing cocktails, singing Space Oddity in full-throat.
Now the first fairy lights start appearing in the dusk, dipping the dome into a blue shimmer. The desert has cooled down, the temperature has sunk to a level that makes me freeze. All of a sudden I hear a familiar voice in the crowd.
You are the most beautiful woman on the Playa, bella, I’m serious.
A tall figure in a purple sequin tuxedo at the bar, fitting hat on the head, black and white dandy shoes on his feet. Facing the woman, who still dangles on the swing, schmoozing her solidly. It’s Sergio. Darling, I scream, forgetting about tiredness and heat, disappearing in his embrace. Where have you been?
Sergio from Bologna, more soul mate than lover, whom I met in other cities.
Sergio, who always brings what you need: Granola bars and bananas, cold coconut water, chewing gum and earplugs, a hug or a kiss.
Do you see how beautiful she is, he whispers and rolls his eyes.
In his hand a pack with brown round cookies, which you can buy as chocolate chip cookies in the supermarket. However, these cookies have never seen a supermarket, but were baked in someone’s kitchen with closed blinds. It’s chocolate nougat truffles. They have a long-term effect.
We are lying on a couch. Hand on hip, strands of hair stroked away like sentiments. We eat a cookie. It’s Sergio’s fault that I don’t ponder if I should eat this cookie. With him I can loose my senses, because I know he catches me.
When we met, I was lying in a tent with a heat stroke and couldn’t move.
Are you ok?, he asked and when I answered in the negative, he crawled in, fanning cool air into my face, feeding me with melons.
Now we are staring into the sky, watching golden dragons merging with each another, in circles and ellipsis. I cannot move, can only lie here, Sergio’s warmth underneath me. I try to get up, and immediately fall forward, losing my feet in the quicksand. We hear warped sitar sounds and the soft beat of a drum. I sense bridges in the dark.
Later this night we bike into the break of dawn, where we find individuals together in the sand, under fur blankets, and their lost bikes long forgotten, find pyramids of glass and a field of glowing circles. In the silence I can perceive the contours of far-away mountains, and the last stars on the firmament. We follow the streams in a trash fence direction, gliding like swarms of fish through the desert, towards the light, dusty, but the eyes are gleaming like our hearts. The night is disappearing, cold and creaky, underneath our tires.
The cream of the crop, Rachel says, is Robot Heart. A mirage in forlorn places, a riddle to be solved in early mornings.
A man in a predator’s fur standing sentinel over it, he listens to all the sounds with his silvery ears, an entourage of delicately limbed white furry, black leather cats gathered around him. This electronic heart glows in a metal cage, is anchored in the pulse of the terpsichorean. There, up front, on its ground, I find Rachel, an otter, my twin of tender-most creatures.
On the Playa you find, whom you are supposed to find, and others are lost.
Day is dawning on us, in its glaring, glittering, shattering glory.
White dust, no clear views, but a blaze.
Two massive wooden heads, united in kiss, are burning in black smoke.
Fine sand, dust raised, creating a wall, tearing at our clothing, sweeping over us, taking everything with it that isn’t stitched to something, or put into something, it creeps into sleeves and ears and noses. Somewhere in this dust we find flowers of life, growing on an art car, and honeycombs, and luminescent honey in our ears.
I’m so hungry, Rachel whispers exhaustedly.
On the Playa you find, whom you are supposed to find, and suddenly Sergio is lost, gone, including his bike and his sequins disappeared into the white. I don’t worry about him. Sergio is a lucky dragon, these sleep while they’re flying.
Rachel and I, we find slices of fresh bread, warm and soft out of the oven, buttered and brushed with honey, a slice of fried bacon, steaming coffee with milk froth, fresh orange juice and cold, clear water.
Until we reach camp, we are saturated from everything that we are given, and this light, impregnated with gold and abundance, as we sink onto a sky blue couch, protected by superheroes and villains, on the brink of Illusion.
Drenched in sweat we fall asleep on dusty drapery.
My comfort zone has shifted outwards a little further, now offering space for the tender-most creatures.
Virgins are first time burners: They don’t know what they are doing, and they don’t have a name. I have to choose between the red pill and the blue pill, before following Rachel into the open desert. Freshly showered and covered in fairy lights I am a virgin towards the profane rite of a cult of costume bearers. The priests, fire jugglers, are moving around the wooden god. It is a procession, Uroboros biting itself in its tail. The self-creating snake, a collective of burning whirling fire wands.
We sit in an art car, garnished with white rabbits, staring into space, while the colours get brighter and denser, the music gets better and all the light is zooming in on the matchstick man. We drink whiskey and nibble wasabi nuts. Rachel’s face is a vibrating pattern of blue strokes and golden dots.
You know what, she says, I hereby call you sparkle pony.
And the rabbits, with their hats and magic wands, clap enthusiastically and the striped Cheshire Cat on its pink plush sofa throws confetti on us.
And in exactly that moment, there’s a snapping and creaking, and the light explodes with an ear-battering bang. The matchstick man catches fire and a cheering erupts from thousands of mouths, and all the colors around us sing and hum in a tender glint.
Later I find little lasers in the dust, which I attach to my coat.
Panning out from my heart they form luminous connections to everything they touch. I find gates with streaming fabrics, meditating monks, hovering fire pits and flowers of life. The dance is a humming bass, a melody, which only us creatures can hear. I then dig a hole into my tummy, down to the core of the earth.
A cloud of smoke above us, drifting across the city.
The green bridges dissolve and become, what they are: lights illumining the night.
© and translation Marianne Jungmaier
The German version of “Green Bridges” was published as “Grüne Brücken” in “Sommernomaden” (Stories) by Kremayr & Scheriau, Vienna, 2016.