Thursday, May 29, 2014

RIP Tokin Woman Maya Angelou

Artwork: BreezyKiefAir
Photo: G. Paul Bishop

Monday, May 12, 2014

Russian Hemp Honored in Statues and Stories (Yet, Still Repressed)

I've been informed that in between sheaves of wheat depicted on the Peoples Friendship Fountain in Moscow are sunflowers and cannabis leaves (shown). (Read more in Russian). The fountain was built between 1951 and '54 and features 16 golden women representing Republics of the Soviet Union, as well as the three plants chosen to represent Russia's agricultural bounty.

Nonetheless, when activists chose the fountain as a meeting place for a pro-pot rally in May 2008, they found the site barricaded and one peaceful protestor was beaten by police.

Russian hemp is historically important, according to Jack Herer's The Emperor Wears No Clothes, in which he theorizes that the War of 1812 was fought because Napoleon was trying to blockade the country's hemp crop before it reached Britian's navy.

Russian writer Leon Tolstoy mentions a "high-growing, fragrant hemp-patch" in Anna Karenina (1873), and Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883) writes of hemp fields, seeds and oils in his stories. Hashish makes a surprising appearance in a dinner party conversation in playwright Anton Chekhov's “A Woman's Kingdom” (1895).

Hemp is still being grown in Russia but a Siberian experiment to grow "drug free" hemp has failed. Meanwhile, Canadian hempseed food producer Naturally Splendid has just signed a distribution agreement with Sonray Sales to distribute their products in the US. Sonray also has customers in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Russia and Switzerland.

And yes, in case you're wondering, there's a statute for Ukraine at the fountain. I'm guessing the Ukranians aren't exactly feeling the friendship right now. It's a shame we're always waging wars on people, and plants.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Cole Porter, Bruce Villanch, Elsa Maxwell, Betty Grable and Marijuana

"Come and see my collection of Turkish hookahs."

So states a female character in Cole Porter's play "Du Barry Was a Lady," now on stage in San Francisco in a delightful adaptation starring Bruce Vilanch.

Packed with Porter's witty lyrics and beautiful melodies, the play was first produced on Broadway in 1939 starring Bert Lahr, Ethel Merman, and WWII pin-up girl Betty Grable as the character who uttered the hookah line. Lucille Ball starred with Red Skelton, Gene Kelly and Zero Mostel in the 1943 movie version.

Vilanch—who's written comedy bits for Bette MidlerWhoopi GoldbergRobin WilliamsBilly CrystalRoseanne Barr and Lily Tomlin, among many others—is something of a modern wit and bon vivant in the tradition of Porter and Coward. "He's given more great lines to celebrities than a Hollywood coke dealer," quipped Nathan Lane in Get Bruce, a 1999 documentary on Vilanch now playing on Netflix.

Graduating from Ohio State with degrees in theatre and journalism during the turbulent 60s, Vilanch was brought out to Hollywood by studio executives looking to shape the new direction of film during the Easy Rider daze. "Everyone was wearing beads and paisley shirts," Vilanch recalls in the documentary, adding, "We were all sitting in a room together smoking dope and talking about the movies and I thought, 'This is a business I really want to be in.'"

Cole Porter and Elsa Maxwell
Likewise, Porter and his set were no strangers to various delights. Starting in 1923, Cole and his wife Linda rented palazzos in Venice, including the Palazzo Rezzonico once inhabited by Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

Joining them there was the famed hostess Elsa Maxwell, who invented the scavenger hunt and other enticements that brought the rich and famous together. With Maxwell spreading the word, prominent figures like Tallulah Bankhead, Noel Coward and Fanny Brice came to Venice's Lido shoreline to enjoy its daytime amenities and nightly parties.

"Hard drinking was commonplace at these festivities, as was the use of drugs of all kinds, including opium, cocaine, and hashish," wrote Porter's biographer Charles Schwartz, who added, "A greater sensualist than most of his friends...Cole never hesitated trying drugs or practically anything else for kicks while socializing." Indeed, Porter's song, "I Get a Kick Out of You" has the lyric "I get no kick from cocaine" (sometimes sung as "champagne").

The Palazzo Rezzonico in Venice
The party was over in 1927 when police raided the Palazzo and found several local young men, including the son of the police chief, parading about in Linda Porter's dresses. Later, the principality of Monaco employed Maxwell's services to put it on the map as a tourist destination as she had done for the Lido. "Her imprimatur of social acceptability carried so much weight that the Waldorf Astoria gave her a suite rent-free when it opened in New York in 1931 at the height of the depression, hoping to attract rich clients because of her." (Schwartz)

While living in Los Angeles in 1944, Porter dated Bob Bray, a Marine from Montana who was friendly with Porter's longtime amour, choreographer Nelson Barclift. Porter's biographer William McBrien wrote that Bray and Barclift "were always high on marijuana" and that both came often to Porter's Brentwood home for lunch. According to McBrien, Porter's song "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To" was written for Barclift.

In 1956, Porter contributed music and lyrics to "High Society," the musical version of "The Philadelphia Story" that opened with VIP Louis Armstrong and starred his pot-smoking buddy Bing Crosby.

Betty Grable in Three for the Show (1955)
As for Grable, her last musical was Three for the Show (1955) about a woman who must choose between two husbands, played by Jack Lemmon and Gower Champion. It featured a production number starting with Grable dressed in an Arabic costume smoking a hookah and dreaming of having a harem of husbands.  

For Nymph Errant, a 1933 musical about a young English lady intent upon losing her virginity that received its US premiere in 1982, Porter penned "Experiment," sung by Man We Love Kevin Kline as Porter in De-Lovely:

Before you leave these portals 
To meet less fortunate mortals 
There's just one final message 
I would give to you 
You all have learned reliance 
On the sacred teachings of science 
So I hope, through life you never will decline 
In spite of philistine Defiance 
To do what all good scientists do 

Make it your motto day and night 
And it will lead you to the light 
The apple on the top of the tree 
Is never too high to achieve 
So take an example from Eve 

Be curious 
Though interfering friends may frown, 
Get furious 
At each attempt to hold you down 
If this advice you'll only employ 
The future can offer you infinite joy 
And merriment 
And you'll see

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Seshat – Goddess of Knowledge and Cannabis

UPDATE 10/15: Seshat is included in the new book Tokin' Women: A 4000-Year Herstory.

Seshat (also spelled Safkhet, Sesat, Seshet, Sesheta, and Seshata) was the ancient Egyptian goddess of mathematics, creative thought, knowledge, books and writing (her name means "she who is the scribe"). Sister to Bast and daughter/sister/wife to Thoth or the moon god Djehuti, the Egyptians believed that she invented writing, while Thoth or Djehuti taught writing to mankind.

Often depicted in coronation ceremonies wearing a leopard-skin garment, Seshat's emblem is a seven-pointed hemp leaf in her headdress. Pharaoh Tuthmosis III (1479-1425 BCE) called her Sefket-Abwy (She of Seven Points). See more pictoral evidence.

In this relief (below), she wore her Seven Pointed Leaf to perform the equivalent of laying the cornerstone of the Great Pyramids – "stretching the cord" to mark the direction of true north, calculated by the stars, with a rope made from hemp. It is perhaps hemp's psychoactive effect that is acknowledged in the saying that, "Seshat opens the door of heaven for you."

Ancient Egypt is considered to be an advanced civilization in medicine and many other realms. As far back as 2350 BCE, the stone tablets known as the Pyramid Texts used the hieroglyphic symbol smsm.t—or “shemshemet”—referencing “a plant from which ropes are made,” thought by Archeologist W.R. Dawson to be hemp. The Ebery Papyrus from 1550 BCE, and likely copied from earlier manuscripts, mentions introducing shemshemet ground in honey into the uterus, possibly as an obstetric aid. "It has parallels to therapeutic applications of cannabis as a vaginal suppository in the 19th century to treat gynecological disorders and migraine," writes Ethan Russo in a 2007 paper

Seshat and the Pharaoh "Stretch the Cord"
Seshat was associated with Isis in the Late period, and was scribe to Hatshepsut, the female Pharoh of the 18th dynasty (c. 1479-1458 BCE). The Greeks demoted the Goddess to a muse, and in Phaedrus, Plato gives over to Thoth the invention of arithmetic and letters.

Seshat's name has been given to the Global History Databank at the Evolution Institute and is the name of the African Women's Autobiography project.