Saturday, October 12, 2019

Kate Chopin and An Egyptian Cigarette

American author Kate Chopin (1850–1904) wrote two published novels and about a hundred short stories in the 1890s. Her stories were well received, and appeared in Vogue and The Atlantic Monthly, among others.

In 1897, Chopin wrote a story titled, "An Egyptian Cigarette," which was first published in Vogue on April 19, 1902.

The story begins:

My friend, the Architect, who is something of a traveller, was showing us various curios which he had gathered during a visit to the Orient. "Here is something for you," he said, picking up a small box and turning it over in his hand. "You are a cigarette-smoker; take this home with you. It was given to me in Cairo by a species of fakir, who fancied I had done him a good turn."...

The box contained six cigarettes, evidently hand-made. The wrappers were of pale-yellow paper, and the tobacco was almost the same colour. It was of finer cut than the Turkish or ordinary Egyptian, and threads of it stuck out at either end."

She asks if she can try one of the cigarettes later in his smoking den, because, "Some of the women here detest the odour of cigarettes." The story continues:

Vogue cover - Nov. 6, 1902
The smoking-room lay at the end of a short, curved passage. Its appointments were exclusively oriental....From the divan upon which I reclined, only the swaying treetops could be seen. The maple leaves glistened in the afternoon sun. Beside the divan was a low stand which contained the complete paraphernalia of a smoker. I was feeling quite comfortable, and congratulated myself upon having escaped for a while the incessant chatter of the women that reached me faintly. 

I took a cigarette and lit it, placing the box upon the stand just as the tiny clock, which was there, chimed in silvery strokes the hour of five. 

I took one long inspiration of the Egyptian cigarette. The grey-green smoke arose in a small puffy column that spread and broadened, that seemed to fill the room. I could see the maple leaves dimly, as if they were veiled in a shimmer of moonlight. A subtle, disturbing current passed through my whole body and went to my head like the fumes of disturbing wine. 

Perhaps she should have stopped there; instead she writes:

I took another deep inhalation of the cigarette. 

"Ah! the sand has blistered my cheek! I have lain here all day with my face in the sand. Tonight, when the everlasting stars are burning, I shall drag myself to the river."

Perhaps feeling abandoned by the architect friend who has left her alone, she fantasizes about a lover who has left her cruelly, telling her, "I am going to the great city where men swarm like bees. I am going beyond, where the monster stones are rising heavenward in a monument for the unborn ages." Left alone, she confronts her death and finds her way to peace:

I laughed at the oracles and scoffed at the stars when they told that after the rapture of life I would open my arms inviting death, and the waters would envelop me.

The Egyptian blue lily
I turned from the gods and said: "There is but one; Bardja is my god." That was when I decked myself with lilies and wove flowers into a garland and held him close in the frail, sweet fetters..... 

Oh! the sweet rapture of rest! There is music in the Temple. And here is fruit to taste. Bardja came with the music -- The moon shines and the breeze is soft -- A garland of flowers -- let us go into the King's garden and look at the blue lily, Bardja. 

The Egyptian blue lily Nymphaea caerulea, known primarily as blue lotus, contains the psychoactive alkaloid aporphine. Bardha are Albanian beings that live underground.

As the narrator comes out of her trip, she writes:

The maple leaves looked as if a silvery shimmer enveloped them. The grey-green smoke no longer filled the room. I could hardly lift the lids of my eyes. The weight of centuries seemed to suffocate my soul that struggled to escape, to free itself and breathe. 

I had tasted the depths of human despair. 

The little clock upon the stand pointed to a quarter past five. The cigarettes still reposed in the yellow box. Only the stub of the one I had smoked remained. I had laid it in the ash tray. 

After her brief (15 minute) experience, she ponders what to do with the remaining cigarettes:

As I looked at the cigarettes in their pale wrappers, I wondered what other visions they might hold for me; what might I not find in their mystic fumes? Perhaps a vision of celestial peace; a dream of hopes fulfilled; a taste of rapture, such as had not entered into my mind to conceive. 

I took the cigarettes and crumpled them between my hands. I walked to the window and spread my palms wide. The light breeze caught up the golden threads and bore them writhing and dancing far out among the maple leaves.

Thus she chooses not to explore any future visions the cigarettes might bring, even those of "celestial peace" and "a taste of rapture, such as had not entered into my mind to conceive."

The story ends with her architect friend returning to offer her a cup of coffee, and asking how she was. "A little worse for the dream," she tells him.

Chopin's 1899 novel, The Awakening, "generated a significant amount of negative press because its characters, especially the women, behaved in ways that conflicted with current standards of acceptable ladylike behavior. People considered offensive Chopin's treatment of female sexuality, her questions about the virtues of motherhood, and showing occasions of marital infidelity." She is now considered by some scholars "to have been a forerunner of American 20th-century feminist authors of Southern or Catholic background, such as Zelda Fitzgerald, and is one of the most frequently read and recognized writers of Louisiana Creole heritage." (Wikipedia)

I rather wonder if Chopin's awakening came with the Egyptian cigarette she smoked.

Retired doctor and conservative commentator Theodore Dalrymple wrote about "An Egyptian Cigarette" in the British Medical Journal in 2008, under the title “Just Saying No,” wherein he applauds her (or her narrator) for doing so (after her first experiment): "In the end, ordinary, unhallucinated reality is rewarding enough for her. If only it were so for the great numbers of people who resort to drugs in the hope of making the world and their lives within it seem tolerable, interesting or exciting.”

Dalrymple also speculates, "It seems that the increase in the tetrahydrocannibol content of cannabis plants is not quite as recent as we might have supposed” due to the intensity of the 15-minute trip the narrator takes in the story.

Hear "An Egyptian Cigarette" as a Morning Short. 

Friday, August 16, 2019

So Long, Peter. Ride Easy.

Peter Fonda, who taught Jack Nicholson how to smoke pot (and smoked it himself) onscreen in Easy Riderhas passed away at the age of 79.

Fonda shared a screenwriting Oscar with Dennis Hopper and Terry Southern for the breakthrough 1969 film, which is listed on the American Film Institute’s ranking of the top 100 American films, and included in the US National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Fonda was the only son of cinematic icon Henry Fonda, who was the American everyman standing up for justice in films like The Grapes of Wrath and 12 Angry Men. That someone with such a pedigree would embrace marijuana on film at a time when smoking a joint could land you in prison was no less than spectacular.

In their tweets, Hollywood Reporter called Fonda a "counter-cultural icon" and Rolling Stone "a counter-culture hero." That Fonda died 50 years after Easy Rider was released, during the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, will surely cement his counter-culture status.

Fonda was interviewed sitting on his motorcycle for HempTimes in 1997, and spoke to CannabisNow last year about his film Boundaries, in which Christopher Plummer sells him pot.  He reportedly once said, "I don't trust anyone who didn't inhale" and inspired the Beatles song "She Said, She Said" during an acid trip with members of the Beatles and the Byrds. 

His sister Jane didn't puff on film until 1980 (in 9 to 5). His daughter Bridget toked from a bong wearing a bikini in Jackie Brown (1997), the same year Peter made a comeback with Ulee's Gold, which won him an Oscar nomination and shot Jessica Biel into the stratosphere. Nicholson beat him out for the Oscar, and acknowledged "my old biking buddy Peter."

Smelling marijuana (apparently being smoked by his sister standing nearby) at a 2011 post-Oscar party, Catherine O'Hara joked, "Do you smell the weed? We’re blaming it on Peter Fonda.”

“He has a strange, complex mind that grasps and hangs on to details ranging from the minutiae of his childhood to cosmic matters, with a staggering amount in between," Jane wrote of her brother. In a statement upon his death she called him "the talker of the family" and wrote,"He went out laughing.” Sounds like a stoner to me.

Fonda's family put out a statement that concluded, "And, while we mourn the loss of this sweet and gracious man, we also wish for all to celebrate his indomitable spirit and love of life. In honor of Peter, please raise a glass to freedom." I think they must have meant a joint.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Rip Torn and His Hashish Connection

This week we lost Rip Torn, the versatile actor who during his career played three roles in "Sweet Bird of Youth," including (pictured) the role of Chance, the young gigiolo who tries to blackmail aging actress Alexandra del Lago over her hashish habit in one of the earliest mentions of marijuana on film. 

I found online this screen test of Torn, who portrayed the evil Tom Finley Jr. in the 1962 movie, playing Chance against Geraldine Page, the lead actress to whom Torn was married.

Tennessee Williams wrote the play for actress Tallulah Bankhead, and she performed readings of it before its production. Bankhead was the subject of scandal in 1951 when her former personal secretary claimed his job included procuring pot and rolling joints for her.

Page (Mrs. Rip Torn) played the role on Broadway, giving her opportunity to develop a series of beautiful gestures around the package of hashish unearthed in the movie by Paul Newman as Chance, and the subsequent smoking of the joint he rolls and lights from it.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Women's Visionary Congress 2019

After a three-year hiatus, the Women's Visionary Congress held a gathering in Oakland, CA over the weekend, hostessing 23 activists, researchers, healers and artists as presenters. The eye-opening event was held just after the city of Oakland passed an ordinance decriminalizing "nature," and speakers from across the county and Canada addressed various aspects of psychedelic and cannabis law, research, and more.

Christie Stenquist of Truce Utah at the WVC
Christie Stenquist of TRUCE in Utah gave a powerful presentation that earned a standing ovation, and a few tears, from the audience.  She began with her own journey of how, as a 24-year-old mother, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor that left her bedridden for 16 years.

In desperation she tried Marinol, then whole-plant cannabis, after her 19-year-old daughter steered her away from "Spice," a dangerous substance then advertised as legal marijuana, and her narcotics officer-father advised her she could probably find a stray bag of the still-illegal weed. Within moments free of her nausea, within weeks she was walking again, and soon driving to Capital Hill "because I would be damned if any other patient in my state would suffer like I did."

Stenquist formed a broad, nonpartisan coalition of MS patients, pain management groups, and cannabis activists called TRUCE (Together for Responsible Use & Cannabis Education). She gave members reading lists on the history, policy, and science of cannabis which propped up TRUCE's 4th pillar: patients. In 2014 the group ran into opposition from epilepsy moms who were lobbying for a CBD-only bill. "But that was fracturing a movement by demonizing part of the plant," Stenquist countered. Silenced and told to wait their turn, the group saw Utah pass the first CBD-only law in the country, which protects patients with only two types of epilepsy, and allows for no procurement of cannabis.

So TRUCE went to the ballot, gathering the needed 113K signatures to put Prop. 2 to the voters. After the LDS (not LSD) church came out against the measure, the group lost half of its executive board, but the measure still carried with 53% of the vote. Immediately, the state legislature passed an LDS-backed measure severely limiting the law, allowing only seven dispensaries in the most populated regions of the state, and requiring others to mail order their medicine from health departments, stripping away their right to grow for themselves. TRUCE has engaged former Salt Lake City Mayor and drug reformer Rocky Anderson to file a lawsuit "to win our vote back." Read more about TRUCE and support the lawsuit. 

Eleonora Molnar, a Canadian psychotherapist, gave a strong presentation on the ethical and legally defensible way to conduct psychedelic-assisted therapy in Canada.

She identified patients for whom therapy can be done: those in dire need, due to chronic, serious & debilitating diseases and for whom traditional therapy has proved unhelpful; and those at the end of their lives, for whom possible long-term risks are irrelevant.

Therapists may not procure psychedelic substances for their patients, or administer them, but can attend and provide psychotherapy during and after a psychedelic session, provided the proper messaging is given and attested to beforehand regarding the benefits and risks of the therapy and the legalities of the therapeutic situation.

Molnar recommended therapists get training, through places like MAPS and CIIS, and recommended Stanislav Grof's book LSD Psychotherapy and Janice Phelps’ paper, “Developing Guidelines and Competencies for the Training of Psychedelic Therapists" (2017).

The legal footing for assisting a patient doing an illegal drug starts in the emergency room, where physicians may treat a patient who is under the influence, and the rights to personal freedom, autonomy, and health contained in the Canadian Charter.

Molnar cited three cannabis court cases that pertain, if one takes the stance that psychedelics are also medicine necessary for some patients: R v. Parker (Ontario Court of Appeal 2000), a medical necessity case; R v. Smith (Supreme Court Canada 2015), which ruled that prohibition “limits the liberty of medical users by foreclosing reasonable medical choices through the threat of criminal prosecution," and Allard v. Canada (Canada Federal Court 2016), upholding a patient’s right to produce their own medicine.

Attorney and activist Madalyn McElwain of DanceSafe also gave a powerful presentation entitled, "From Underground to Mainstream: How Drug Checking has Become a Vital Tool to Combat the Consequences of the War on Drugs."

Her group, whose motto is "Test It Before You Ingest It" provides onsite education and testing of party drugs at events.  McElwain had only to remind the crowd of the Fentanyl overdose crisis to give her talk gravitas. DanceSafe has Fentanyl test strips available by mail-order. On psychedelics, McElwain reminded us, "As we open up access, we need to provide safety."

She also discussed the legal aspects of her organization's work in a world where under most states' paraphernalia laws, testing kits are illegal. The states of CO, MD, MN, IL, and RI have passed laws to reform this sad and dangerous situation, as has Washington, DC. DanceSafe is also working to amend the federal "RAVE Act" to make harm reduction services more available to nightlife participants including distribution of free water, cool down spaces, peer education, and drug checking. And they're conducting a fundraising campaign to upgrade their onsite testing to a portable infrared spectroscopy machine, while keeping their library up-to-date so that they can identify all the substances out there. They've raised $15K of the $50K needed; interested donors can write here

A special treat was the appearance of Ann Shulgin, the 88-year-old widow of MDMA chemist Alexander Shulgin, who co-wrote PIKHAL and TIKHAL with him. Shulgin spoke about "The Shadow," the "dark side" of ourselves that often must be confronted during psychedelic experiences. Shulgin stressed that we must come to terms with the feelings & impulses that we have denied and repressed in our shadow selves in order to become whole. A skilled therapist can use psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy and hypnosis to "take a person to step inside their monster and see out its eyes," enabling a person to transform. She stressed that the therapist who attempts this practice must have completed it themselves first.

Raquel Bennett, a Berkeley-based psychologist, spoke about her work with Ketamine therapy, which she said "helps people open up to a window of relational re-learning." Working with patients with severe depression, there are several alternative dosages and modes of treatment which must be "spiritually and psychologically safe," including follow-up treatment.

On March 5, the FDA approved Spratavo, a pharmaceutical preparation of S-Ketamine for use under strict regulations. FDA approved ketamine (Ketalar) in 1970. Pharmaceutical S-Ketamine costs upwards of $850 per dose, but is available in generic form for $1.59.

Bennett will give a talk on Ketamine therapy as part of the UC Berkeley "Pleasure, Poison, Prescription, Prayer" exhibit, and also mentioned the coming KRIYA Conference this November in SF.

On the movement fractionating subject, Elise Szabo of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) had an interesting point: She noted that the Alameda County sheriff testified that only 15 people had been arrested in the previous year for psychedelics, but significantly more were arrested for more stigmatized drugs like heroin, and many of those were people of color. Lanese Martin of The Hood Incubator pointed out that 25% of deportations are drug related, and insightfully noted that, "The discipline of self-empowerment is harder than following a sociopathic leader."

All this and much more highlighted an enlightening weekend, full of wonderful food and fellowship. The all-woman Brazilian dance and drumming troupe Mulhercatu was a special treat.

Conference organizer Annie Oak spoke about forming the Women's Visionary Council (WVC) after attending a 2017 GAIA conference in Switzerland where 80 of the speakers were male and only 4 were female. Following the logic, "If you want to change the world, make a better party," she started inviting women to speak at events and now has seen women's voices amplified at other conferences as well.

OG WVC Board President Carolyn "Mountain Girl" Garcia wrapped things up saying of the event, "It makes my heart sing...there are a thousand strategies to make a better society, to be a different kind of light, to continue to become better people." She encouraged everyone to "connect, connect, connect."

Since 2008, the Women's Visionary Council has been sustained by supporters and members. All donations to the WVC are tax-deductible. A donation of $75 makes you a member of the WVC, eligible for discounts on WVC events, the WVC newsletter, and the ability to nominate people for WVC grants. Donations of any size can be made via PayPal, or by mailing a check to POB 5305 Berkeley CA 94705.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Pleasure, Poison, Prescription, Prayer: The Worlds of Mind-Altering Substances Exhibit in Berkeley

I stopped to see the Pleasure, Poison, Prescription, Prayer: The Worlds of Mind-Altering Substances exhibit at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology on UC Berkeley Campus. The introduction states, "The objects in this exhibit illustrate just a few of the changing meanings of substances and the people who use them. With the legal and cultural landscape of mind-altering drugs rapidly changing here in California and around the world, the Hearst Museum invites you to question your assumptions and alter your perspective on the origins and contents of these diverse substances.” 

The exhibition is nicely mounted, with brief descriptive sections, along with art and artifacts for peyote, kava, coca, opium, coffee, sugar, tobacco etc., pinning each substance to a part of the world where it has been used. Cannabis rates only a small section with a description tracing it back only 6000 years (in Western use) and displaying a few nice hookahs from India. It concludes, “Across ten of the United States, cannabis is now regulated as a controlled substance like alcohol and tobacco.”

It’s a bit Western and male dominated, with no mention in the extensive alcohol section of the possibility that ancient wines contained other substances, and nothing about psychedelic compounds in native tobacco (harmalines in Nicotiana rusticum). Women are depicted only in photos of the well-known Minoan Poppy Goddess found in Crete, and “L’Exalation de la Fleur” stone fragment from Greece, plus a description of a drunken ritual to the Hathor, the Egyptian goddess of "joy, celebration, kindness, and love, who people associated with drunkenness and music.” (They skipped the myrrh and incense, also associated with Hathor, who was later conflated with Isis and Asherah/Ishtar.) Also pictured in the exhibit is a red-toothed areca-chewing woman from Papua New Guinea, accompanied by an interesting story of “political suicide” committed in 2015 when the governor of the capital at Port Moresby tried to ban the popular plant, which is important in commerce for the area.

The exhibit is interactive in the way the recent Oakland Museum exhibit on cannabis was: viewers can leave a record of their experiences with the various drugs depicted, starting with “This is a story of…” for which most circled “pleasure” rather than the other three options. One wrote about a psilocybin experience, “The colors of the trees and all surroundings were enhanced so that I felt like I had been seeing the world through dirty glasses before.” Another wrote of the same substance, “I had a profound experience of complete contentment, like everything in life was as it should be.” Strangely, though, there were no mushrooms of any kind in the exhibit. One person circled both “pleasure” and “prayer” for their cannabis experience, “I had lost my inner voice….the first time I smoked I was able to hear her again.” Another who’d overdosed on an edible called weed “poison.”

It's easy to get to at the corner of Bancroft and College, the entry fee is only $6 (less for students and seniors) and the exhibit is on view during various hours, Weds.-Sun. through December 15. It's being held in conjunction with several events around the topic, including intoxicating plant garden tours, an Ethiopian coffee ceremony, a talk on Ketamine from Berkeley psychotherapist Raquel Bennett, a lecture on Maria Sabina, and family-friendly events exploring how to fashion medicine pouches, Maya medicine cups, and hemp bracelets.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Marilyn Monroe and Marijuana

Monroe in River of No Return. The green dress
she wore sold for $500K at auction in 2011. 
It's no surprise that modern screen Goddess Marilyn Monroe was born in June 1, the first day of the month named for the goddess Hera/Juno.

A talented singer and dancer, Monroe exuded sex as no one before, or since. Just see her cameo in the Marx BrothersLove Happy, or her opening number in There's No Business Like Show Business. Or her songs in River of No Return with Robert Mitchum. Or her powerhouse performance in a movie she produced, The Prince and the Showgirl. And yes, that was her playing ukulele in Some Like It Hot. 

A foster child quite probably abused by both men and women in her youth, Norma Jeane Mortenson worked her way to the top of the entertainment business, no easy feat. She was the first actress since Mary Pickford to form her own production company and (literally) call her own shots.

Having married the top athlete perhaps ever (Joe DiMaggio), she surprised everyone by next marrying playwright Arthur Miller, who soon was called before the HUAC committee during the shameful Red Scare of the 1950s. Monroe stood by her man, drawing cameras to her as she bravely appeared with her husband.

Around this time, in a home movie released in 2009, Marilyn apparently smoked marijuana at a party in New Jersey. According to Keya Morgan, who purchased the film for $275,000, the filmmaker (named Gretchen), told him she "rolled up the joint and handed it over to Marilyn."

Morgan says it was the FBI who tipped off Morgan to the film's existence. "They felt that Marilyn Monroe posed a security threat to the presidency because she was under the influence of marijuana and under the influence of alcohol, and could be a danger not only to herself but also to the presidency," he said. The plot sickens. 

Tony Curtis, Monroe's co-star in Some Like It Hot, was brilliant as a swarmy PR flack who tries to smear a jazz guitarist as a pot-smoking commie in Sweet Smell of Success (1957). Curtis was caught with marijuana at London's Heathrow Airport in 1971, when he flew to London for an anti-tobacco appearance.

Monroe's friend Jeanne Carmen's son and biographer confirmed to me that both she and Monroe smoked pot. An actress, pin-up girl, and trick-shot golfer, Carmen lived next door to Monroe in the years before she died in 1962. The apartments were owned by Frank Sinatra, as described in valet George Jacobs' book Mr. S.: My Life with Frank Sinatra.

Carmen died in 2007, but her son Brandon James writes, "My mom was not a 'pot smoker' but she did smoke pot on occasion. Marilyn was the same way." James traveled with his mother to events in the 1990s, and gathered her experiences in Jeanne Carmen: My Wild Wild Life (2006).

One of tales told in the book happened in 1961 or 1962 when Marilyn and Jeanne were invited to a "boat party" with B-movie actor/ladies' man Steve Cochran, who fancied himself a new Errol Flynn. Cochran pulled out some weed but when he tried to turn the party into an orgy, Marilyn and Jeanne jumped ship. (Alchibiades lives, but it's the Goddesses we still worship.)

Blonde pot-puffing love interests appear in two seminal Hollywood novels, The Day of the Locust and The Last Tycoon, see Can L.A. Solve Its Mexican Marijuana Problem? Not Until It Confronts Its Past.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice Turn 50

Alice (Dyan Cannon) & Ted (Elliott Gould) & Bob
(Robert Culp) & Carol (Natalie Wood) have a pot party. 
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, the first modern movie that depicted women smoking pot.

The film was written and directed by Paul Mazursky (who also wrote 1968's I Love You Alice B. Toklas, in which pot brownies are imbibed). It begins with married couple Bob (Robert Stack) and Carol (Natalie Wood) participating in an encounter group, based on Mazursky's experiences at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA.

Having opened up to new experiences, Bob has a fling with a colleague on a business trip, and confesses his infidelity to Carol. She is surprisingly accepting of Bob's experimentation, and soon tries some of her own.

Child star/actress Natalie Wood (Miracle on 34th Street,
Rebel Without a Cause, West Side Story
) puffs pot.
The couple's experiments include smoking pot with their friends, another married couple Ted (Elliot Gould) and Alice (Dyan Cannon). Wood as Carol daintily takes a few little hits, after filling the pipe and lighting it for her husband.

She then pronounces herself "totally and completely zonked out of my skull" but doesn't really act like it, except for amusing herself by talking about doing things "groovily and peacefully."

Cannon, despite her character's name being Alice (as in Wonderland or B. Toklas), insists that she "never gets high," while puffing and coughing away. Her revelation is that she's too fearful of "getting into a potful of trouble," especially because Bob & Ted are lawyers. Ted tells her he loves her anyway, calling her "my sweet unstoned mother of my only son."