Sunday, September 17, 2017

Queen Caroline Murat and the Treason of Images

Caroline Bonaparte was born in 1782, some 13 years after her brother Napoleon. At the age of 17, she married Napoleon's General Joachim Murat, a dashing, charismatic soldier.

Murat had commanded the cavalry during the French Egyptian expedition of 1798 under Napoleon. It was during the French occupation of Egypt that many of the soldiers—including, I contend, Alexandre Dumas's father—discovered hashish and brought it back to France.

In 1808, the Murats were made King and Queen of Naples and in 1814, Joachim signed a treaty with Austria in an attempt to save their throne, an act Napoleon regarded as treason.

This is the same year that Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres painted his very interesting portrait of Caroline Murat (above). Unlike earlier portraits that depict her as a dewey, maternal creature, Ingres dresses her in a serious black dress and hat, the plume of which mimics the smoke emitting from an image of Mt. Vesuvius(?) erupting in the background. Her gaze is forceful, knowing. She stands at a table, almost an altar, on which Egyptian imagery sits.

Also in 1814, Ingres scandalized the art world with his painting La Grande Odalisque, which was commissioned by Caroline. Nearly every art historian writes about how the painting broke with Ingres's formal realism by elongating the body of the nude. No one else seems to have noticed the striking resemblance of the model to Caroline: the same knowing eyes; the pert, upturned mouth; the glowing skin for which she was reputed.

If the painting was thought to be modeled on the Queen of Naples, painted the same year that she and her husband betrayed her brother, that would have been quite the scandal indeed. Adding to that are the hints in Caroline's portrait pointing to smoke and Egypt. Napoleon himself was an early prohibitionist about hashish; perhaps like the Vietnam war generals of late he discovered it made his men too peaceful.

Odalisques were harem girls, often depicted holding a hookah in the mid 1800s (e.g. Delacroix's Women of Algiers). Tucked away at the feet of the woman in Ingres's painting is a pipe holding what well may have been hashish, and what looks like an incense burner emitting smoke. She is holding a fan, the handle of which looks like the mouthpiece of a hookah. Indeed, her elongated body could be said to resemble a pipe, with emphasis on the bowl (buttocks).

It makes me wonder if Magritte's 1929 painting "La trahison des images" references Ingres's Odalisque when it declares, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe." Why, of all objects, did Magritte choose to paint a pipe? Of course, it works as a surrealistic statement ("This is not a pipe; it's a painting of a pipe"); but does the treason (trahison) in the image perhaps refer to Mme. Murat's treason? Une pipe is also slang for a prostitute; was Caroline being disparaged by either painting, or both? (Because as we know the surest and easiest way to disparage a woman is to call her a whore.) Or was the fact that Ingres painted a pipe at his model's feet scandalous?

Historically, French paintings often had political intent. I remember my high school French teacher impressing upon me what a sensation Jacques-Louis David's painting The Death of Marat caused in 1793. Ingres studied with David, and the model's pose in his Odialisque is similar to David's Portrait of Madame Récamier.

Caroline was related to Tokin' Woman Violette Murat; actor Rene Auberjonois (Father Mulcahy in M*A*S*H) is a direct descendant.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Nevada To Launch Campaign Against Pre-Natal Marijuana Use

The state of Nevada has decided, based on the news that 4% of pregnant women now admit to using marijuana, to launch a public-relations campaign to "highlight the potential harm the drug can do to a fetus."

Oddly, the Sheldon Adelson-owned Las Vegas Review Journal article announcing the campaign cites as its rationale a 17-year-old study, which found that "6-year-olds born to a mother who had smoked one joint or more daily in the first trimester displayed less ability to comprehend concepts in reading and listening — and by age 10 they had lower reading, math and spelling scores than their peers. It also found that children exposed to marijuana’s major psychoactive element — tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — in the womb were more impulsive and less able to focus their attention than other 10-year-olds."

The study they cite looked at women "of low socioeconomic status. At the first interview, the median family income was $350 per month...At 10 years postpartum [from 1994 through 1997], the median family income was $1245 per month. Sixty-two percent of the women worked and/or studied outside of the home and, on average, they had 12.2 years of education."

Researchers found that "women who used one or more joints of marijuana per day during the first trimester were significantly more likely to be single, African-American, more hostile, drink more alcohol, and use more illicit drugs (other than marijuana) than were women who did not use marijuana during the first trimester....These same factors characterized moderate to heavy marijuana users at the third trimester of pregnancy. In addition, third trimester moderate to heavy users had significantly less education and smoked more cigarettes than abstainers."

The study concluded that, "The correlations between prenatal marijuana use and the covariates included in the analytical models were low to moderate. At 10 years, the variables with the highest correlations with prenatal marijuana use were work/school status, maternal custody of the child, and current use [not use while pregnant] of marijuana and cocaine. ...Other variables that significantly predicted more problems on the SNAP subscales included male gender, African-American race, more child hospitalizations over the past year, more siblings, poorer environment as assessed by the HOME-SF, more maternal hostility and depression, less maternal coping ability, and current maternal cigarette smoking. In addition, children who were not in maternal custody and children exposed to alcohol during the first trimester of pregnancy had more peer problems."

So it seems this is one of the many studies that were found not to properly adjust for confounding factors, as described in an October 2016 study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, "Maternal Marijuana Use and Adverse Neonatal Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis," which found that the moderate use of cannabis during pregnancy is not an independent risk factor for adverse neonatal outcomes such as low birth weight.  Read more.

From: Katrina Mark, Mishka Terplan, Cannabis and pregnancy:
Maternal child health implications during a period of 
drug policy liberalization, Preventive Medicine (2016)
The Nevada article also claims, "Research on the effects of marijuana use during pregnancy is scant."   However, a May 2017 review of the literature—"Cannabis and pregnancy: Maternal child health implications during a period of drug policy liberalization"—published in the journal Preventive Medicine concluded, "There is ample evidence concerning the health effects of cannabis during pregnancy," noting that over 800 human studies have been performed yearly on the topic since 2000. Read more.

To its credit, the Review-Journal does mention Melanie Dreher's 1994 study on Jamaican mothers which concluded that marijuana-using mothers gave birth to developmentally superior babies. The article adds: "Dreher’s study made little impression on the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Both advise against marijuana use during pregnancy because of the studies linking it to cognitive impairment and academic underachievement. Both organizations also recommend that mothers with THC in their systems do not breastfeed."

Absent in all of these analyses is the conclusion Dreher made that the relative acceptance of marijuana in Jamaican society had much to do with her results. One can only hope that acceptance of cannabis in the US will ultimately lead to similar results.

But meanwhile, NIDA refused to fund a follow-up study on Dreher's results and Nevada's powerful alcohol distributors are battling to control the marijuana market. So don't expect a public awareness campaign on the dangers of using alcohol, or tobacco, while pregnant anytime soon, even though studies suggest those substances have a much greater effect on fetal health than cannabis.

Also see: NORML's Fact Sheet on Maternal Marijuana Use

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Psychedelic Pioneers Peggy Hitchcock and Susi Ramstein

Peggy Hitchcock in Dying to Know
The new documentary Dying to Knownow on Netflix, interviews Margaret "Peggy" Mellon Hitchcock, heiress to the Gulf Oil fortune, about her involvement with LSD.

Hitchcock heard that Professors Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert were looking for research subjects while at Harvard, and she volunteered to try the then-legal experimental drug. "It really confirmed a lot of things that I had hoped were true, that I had sort of glimpsed at various times in my life, that there was a larger reality than what my everyday, humdrum experiences were," she says.

Along with her brothers Billy and Tommy, Peggy made their Millbrook estate in upper New York available to Leary and Alpert (aka Ram Dass) after Alpert was kicked out of Harvard for giving psilocybin to an undergraduate student.

"As an intimate friend to both Leary and Alpert, Peggy was instrumental in establishing a communal living and research community in Millbrook, NY once Leary and Alpert left Harvard. Peggy convinced her brothers to allow the two professors to live and conduct their unfettered and continued research into the effect of psychedelic substances on the personalities of willing participants," reads her bio on the movie's website.

It's especially interesting because Peggy is the great grandniece of former US Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, and her mother Margaret's first husband may be at the source of the persistent and unverified rumor that a niece of Mellon's married Harry Anslinger, the first US drug czar.

Anslinger was married to the former Martha Denniston (1886-1961). There are no Dennistons in the Mellon family tree, but Harry Alexander Laughlin (1838-1922), son of James Laughlin of Jones & Laughlin Steel Co., married an Alice B. Denniston on 9/10/1860. (A later relative was James Laughlin IV, publisher of New Directions who was influenced by Gertrude Stein.)

Peggy's mother Margaret Mellon (1901–1998) was married to an Alexander Laughlin Jr. on 6/21/1924. Attending the wedding were both sitting Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon and Miss Alice Denniston Laughlin, "wearing a frock of gold crepe and a hat of brown straw," along with her grandmother Mrs. James B. Laughlin (the former Alice B. Denniston), "in white crepe with satin thread embroidery and a hat of orchid straw," according to the Pittsburgh Daily Post. So Anslinger apparently married into Pittsburgh society, if not directly into the Mellon family.*

Margaret was widowed and subsequently married polo player Tommy Hitchcock (the model for Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby) on 12/15/1928, and Andrew was at that wedding too. Whether or not she was a model for Daisy Buchanan, thought to be based on Fitzgerald's wife Zelda, is unknown. It must have been quite the family scandal when the Hitchcock kids sided against the drug war.

Narrated by Robert Redford, Dying to Know is produced and directed by Gay Dillingham, and also interviews researcher Joan Halifax, who along with Stan Grof pioneered psychedelic therapy for terminal cancer patients in 1967. Andrew Weil is interviewed in the film saying of those studies, "A guided psychedelic experience in a dying person often enabled that person to drastically cut doses of opiates for pain relief, which kept consciousness clear, and often greatly facilitated communication with family and friends and made the dying process easier."

This is the second psychedelic documentary produced by a woman of late: Connie Littlefield wrote and co-directed The Sunshine Makers about LSD chemists Nicholas Sand and Tim Scully, also viewable on Netflix.

And finally, it turns out Albert Hofmann wasn't alone on the bicycle ride that marked the first LSD trip on April 19, 1943: he was accompanied by his lab assistant, 21-year-old Susi Ramstein, who on June 12 of that year became the first woman to take LSD. According to Erowid.org, "She initially took a 100 mics—a higher dose than either Albert's co-worker Ernst Rothlin or his supervisor Arthur Stoll had tried—and she had a good experience. And although everyone working with Albert took acid at least once, Susi tried it two more times in order to help out with establishing some standards for the medical use of LSD."

Hats off to these female psychedelic pioneers, and the women who document their contributions.

*Researcher and activist Doug McVay has another connection: Thomas Mellon, Andrew's father, married Sarah Jane Negley (b. 1817) in 1843. Union Trust was established by Thomas's son Andrew W. Mellon in 1889. Samuel Philip Gerst was an assistant treasurer at Union Trust, worked there 43 years. Gerst's sister Sarah Margaret (b. 1874) married Edward C. Negley. Martha Kind Denniston Leet Anslinger's mother was Florence Gerst (b. 1861).

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Nellie Bly and Marijuana in Mexico

Stories have been circulating of late on social media about Nellie Bly, the intrepid reporter who went around the world in only 72 days, and also posed as a mental patient to report on conditions in women's asylums at a time when most female journalists were writing society columns or arts reviews.

Around 1885, at the age of 21, Bly traveled from her hometown of Pittsburgh to Mexico as a foreign correspondent. Her dispatches were gathered in a book, Six Months in Mexico, in which she describes courtship, wedding ceremonies, the popularity of tobacco smoking, the legend of the maguey plant (from which pulque and mezcal were made), and the habits of the soldiers, including an early description of their marijuana use:

"The soldiers have an herb named marijuana, which they roll into small cigaros and smoke. It produces intoxication which lasts for five days, and for that period they are in paradise. It has no ill after-effects, yet the use is forbidden by law. It is commonly used among prisoners. One cigaro is made, and the prisoners all sitting in a ring partake of it. The smoker takes a draw and blows the smoke into the mouth of the nearest man, he likewise gives it to another, and so on around the circle. One cigaro will intoxicate the whole lot for the length of five days.”

The only earlier mention of marijuana in English that my research fellows and I can come up with—courtesy of Isaac Campos, author of Home Grown: Marijuana and the Origin of Mexico's War on Drugs—is this description of the Chichimec people's customs, from the 1874 volume by Hubert Howe Bancroft, "The Native Races of the Pacific States of North America":

"When a young man desires to marry, his parents make a visit to those of the intended bride, and leave with them a bouquet of flowers bound with red wool; the bride's parents then send round to the houses of their friends a bunch of mariguana, a narcotic herb, which signifies that all are to meet together at the bride's father's on the next night. The meeting is inaugurated by smoking; then they chew mariguana, during which time all preliminaries of the marriage are settled. The following day the resolutions of the conclave are made known to the young man and woman, and if the decision is favorable, the latter sends her husband a few presents, and from that time the parties consider themselves married, and the friends give themselves up to feasting and dancing."

For five days, it would seem.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Olivia Newton-John Opens Up About Cannabis

In news that went 'round the world in places as far-flung as the Kansas City Star, singer Olivia Newton-John told Australia's The Sunday Telegraph that she is using "legal and easily obtained" medical marijuana in her home state of California to treat cancer.

“I use medicinal cannabis, which is really important for pain and healing,” she says. “It’s a plant that has been maligned for so long, and has so many abilities to heal."

“I will do what I can to encourage it,” she added. “It’s an important part of treatment, and it should be available. I use it for the pain and it’s also a medicinal thing to do — the research shows it’s really helpful.”

It's hard to think of a more wholesome international star than Newton-John. So fresh-faced she played a high school girl in the 1979 movie Grease at the age of 29, the Aussie beauty's first hit was Bob Dylan's "If Not For You" (which I contend may have been written about marijuana). Along with singing sentimental songs like "I Honestly Love You," she asked her audience, "Have You Never Been Mellow?" and tried to break out of her good-girl image with "Let's Get Physical" (which was more about exercising than sex).

It was during a tennis game at the home of the songwriter for "Physical" that Newton-John first noticed back pain, which turned out to be her cancer metastasized to the sacrum of her back, 25 years after she underwent treatment for breast cancer.

"As far as I am concerned, my pain level is gone,” she says following her treatment. “I had terrible pain — I was limping and walking like a duck and a penguin for a while, [but] that part of it is gone."  

Newton-John in front of the ONJ Cancer Wellness and Research Centre
Newton-John's daughter Chloe Lattanzi owns a cannabis farm in Oregon, and her husband Joe Easterling is the founder and president of Amazon Herb Company, which sells botanical supplements from the rainforest. After marrying in 2008, the bride and groom attended a private Incan spiritual ceremony on a mountaintop in Peru, according to Biography.com.

“I don’t want to scare women that it [cancer] could happen again, but it can, you don’t know why,” says Newton-John. Indeed, some chemotherapy drugs can cause leukemia years later, but breast cancer survivors are seldom screened for it.

"Cancer survivors are as common as Grease fans at her concerts," noted the Daily Telegraph. She has founded the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre in Melbourne and will host the ONJ Gala on September 8 and a fundraising walk on the 17th.

UPDATE: Olivia has revealed that her husband grows medical cannabis for her.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Kathy Bates Stars As a Dispensary Owner in New Netflix Series

Actress Kathy Bates, who recently said she shared "some good sh##" with Susan Sarandon and Melissa McCarthy, is starring as a lawyer-turned-dispensary-owner and advocate in the new Netflix series "Disjointed," set to premiere on August 25.

I caught a taping of the show's pilot last year, and found it witty, charming and quite funny. Bates's character Ruth and her son, an MBA, do battle over the future of the business, with her wanting to keep it focused on healing and her son focused on profits. It’s a somewhat accurate depiction of what’s taking place in the cannabis industry today.

You can see for yourself in the trailer below:



Bates also played a marijuana-smoking lawyer in the 2011-12 series "Harry's Law," and portrayed Alice B. Toklas's lover Gertrude Stein on film in Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris." She told AARP Magazine—which dubbed her "Smokin'"—that she's enjoying playing a sexier role for a change, and that marijuana "helped tremendously" to ease nausea and chronic pain from her cancer treatments.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Amazon's "The Last Tycoon" Misses the Marijuana

Kathleen and Siva in the 1976 film The Last Tycoon
The makers of the Amazon Prime series "The Last Tycoon" say they seek to make it an authentic representation of F. Scott's Fitzgerald's last, unfinished Hollywood novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon, set and written in the 1930's. But right out of the gate the series demotes its female love interest from a goddess to a waitress. And it erases Fitzgerald's intriguing, possible references to marijuana and the drug experience.

One of the characters in Fitzgerald’s book calls Hollywood “a mining town in lotus land,” a reference to the Land of the Lotus Eaters from Homer’s The Odyssey, where explorers get lost in a drug-induced stupor to forget the horrors of war.

In the novel, Tycoon’s main character, producer Monroe Stahr, first sees his love interest Kathleen Moore floating on a studio-made head of Siva that had become dislodged from a set in an earthquake. To this day, worshippers in India drink bhang (a drink made with cannabis) to celebrate Siva’s the marriage of Siva to the goddess Parvati.

That night, cameraman Pete Zavras attempts suicide by diving off an office building on the studio lot. “I knew he’d gone to pot,” says Stahr. When asked why he’d done it on the lot, Zavras replies, “Before the oracle. The solver of the Eleusinian mysteries.” Those were the Greek rites whose attendees worshipped the grain goddess Demeter and took the mind-altering drug kykeon, thought to be related to LSD (derived from ergot, a mold that grows on grain crops).

In the novel, when Stahr goes to Kathleen’s door, she says, “I’m sorry I can’t ask you in. Shall I get my reefer and sit outside?” (A reefer is also the name of a sailor’s coat.) Kathleen is next described sitting at a long white table that “became an altar where the priestess sat alone.” Like the similarly blonde Faye Greener in Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust (also written in 1937), Kathleen personified the mysterious, sacramental and unattainable love object and Stahr worshipped at her altar.

Monroe first sees Kathleen in Amazon's Tycoon
Stahr—who takes Benzedrine, alcohol, and an unnamed medicine from a bottle in the book—meets Kathleen at his house, where he has had a strip of grass brought in from the prop department. Kathleen laughs and asks, “Isn’t that real grass?” Stahr replies, “Oh yes—it’s grass.” The scene is reminiscent of one in Fitzgerald’s 1925 book The Great Gatsby, the first novel about a drug dealer. After Gatsby sends a servant to mow his neighbor Nick’s lawn, Nick tells him, “The grass is fine.” “What grass?” asks Gatsby, before saying, “Oh, the grass in the yard.”

In the made-for-Amazon version there's a head of Siva, but Kathleen doesn't get near it. Instead she meets Stahr as a waitress fetching a sandwich.

In one upside to the series, a woman is revealed to be a better scriptwriter than her husband. Of a scriptwriter on the movie lot, Fitzgerald wrote:

Out the window Rose Meloney watched the trickle streaming toward the commissary. She would have her lunch in her office and knit a few rows while it came. The man was coming at one-fifteen with the French perfume smuggled over the Mexican border. That was no sin—it was like a prohibition. 

Who smuggles French perfume over the Mexican border, and calls it a prohibition? Rose is a flower like marijuana, which was called Santa Rosa or Santa Maria in Mexico. Her surname that starts with an “M,” like marijuana.

Jeanne Moreau in The Last Tycoon (1976).
The reference to knitting may have come from Fitz Hugh Ludlow’s 1857 book The Hasheesh Eater, wherein he describes a hashish-induced vision of a crone knit of purple yarn. In Food of the Gods, Terrence McKenna connects the expression “spinning a yarn” to hemp’s dual purpose as a fiber and an intoxicant leading to flights of fancy.

The character called Rose in the Amazon series is no writer, but rather a cheating wife (played by Rosemarie DeWitt, who was a lot better as a pot smoker in Mad Men — until those writers turned her into a hard drug addict). Lily Collins tries as the ambitious Celia, but Theresa Russell was much more interesting in the 1976 movie version of Tycoon that cast Very Important Pothead Robert Mitchum as the studio chief and VIP Jack Nicholson as the labor leader. The best thing about the movie version wasn't De Niro as Monroe but rather Jeanne Moreau as the diva Didi opposite VIP Tony Curtis. Moreau just died at age 89, probably so she could roll in her grave over Jennifer Beals trying to play her role.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Top 24 Greatest Albums Made by Tokin' Women

NPR has released a list of The Top 150 Greatest Albums Made by Women, and the righteous group includes many Tokin' Women.

Missy Elliott came in at #5. The rapper reportedly told reporters at a 2005 press conference in Jamaica, "What's up everyone? Sorry if I sound kind of weird, but I just had a Jamaican brownie - some of you might know what I'm talking 'bout."

Also in the top 10 are the Tokin' Trio Patti Smith (#7), Janis Joplin (#8), and Amy Winehouse (#9). (Click on their names to get their connections to cannabis.)

Madonna had two albums on the list, at #13 & #63. The World's Most Successful Female Musician Ever (if you count money as the measure), Madonna grabbed headlines away from her fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees in 2008 by using her acceptance speech to reveal she took ecstasy and smoked grass on her way to the top.

High Times cover girl Ani DiFranco comes in at #25, and Alanis Morisette, who's #29, told the magazine in 2010, "As an artist, there's a sweet jump-starting quality to [marijuana] for me." Queen Latifah, whose new movie Girl's Trip includes pot smoking, is at #33 and at #44 are the Wilson Sisters of Heart. Finishing the top 50 is Hole, featuring Courtney Love.
 
Jazz great Sarah Vaughan, at #51, was still enjoying marijuana in 1989, when a Jazz Fest organizer in Cleveland followed the scent of marijuana smoke to Vaughan's dressing room, where the star was also enjoying a glass of brandy.  She then walked onstage and gave a magnificent performance.

At #53 is Linda Ronstadt; #60 is Chrissie Hynde and at #67 is Sinead O'Connor.

These follow, Tokin' Women all:

#82 Laura Nyro
#90 Barbra Streisand
#94 Sheryl Crow
#116 Macy Gray
#117 Joan Jett
#125 Fiona Apple
#130 Teena Marie

Finally, of #140 NPR writes, "Norah Jones's distinctive voice, laced with a mellow smoke that might have originated at either the cabaret or honky-tonk, was immediately a force to contend with." When Blender magazine asked her in 2007 if she smoked pot, Jones's answer was, "Of course." Asked, "Ever get high with your buddy Willie Nelson?" she responded, "I'm not going near Willie's weed!" 

Coming in at a well deserved #1 is Joni Mitchell's Blue. Mitchell famously said, "Grass, it sits you on your ass." That may be true (at times) but it seems the women on this list didn't let that stop them.

Probably there are more women on the list who toke. I mean, Beyoncé and Jay-Z's first child had a marijuana strain named after her in LA dispensaries on the day she was born. Gwen Stefani's lyrics and videos are pretty trippy. Carly Simon's been implicated in a recent biography of she, Mitchell and Carole King—who hasn't admitted but when Stephen Colbert interviewed her, he brought out his Tapestry album (#10 on the list), and demonstrated how people in the 70s used to clean pot on the double cover. And I don't know about Alicia Keys but it was at one of her concerts where the fictional character Steve Carell played on "The Office" got stoned.


Monday, July 17, 2017

Jessica Mitford: An Appreciation

As I write this I hear that Mitford's grandson James Forman Jr. will appear on NPR's Fresh Air today to talk about his book, "Locking Up Our Own," examining the role played by African-American leaders in creating the era of mass incarceration. And the beat goes on. 

I've long called Jessica Mitford, the muckraking journalist and activist, my heroine for her quote, "Objective? I always have an objective."*

Picking up Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford (Knopf, 2006), a 744-page collection of Mitford's letters edited by former SF Chronicle staffer Peter Y. Sussman, I've gained even more respect for her.

Mitford was one of five well-known daughters born to Lord and Lady Redesdale in Oxfordshire, England who took wildly different paths. Two of her sisters became Nazi sympathizers; Jessica ran off at the age of 19 with her second cousin Esmond Romilly, whom she married and joined chronicling the Spanish Civil War. Romilly died in WWII while flying for the Royal Canadian Air Force, and Jessica married labor lawyer Robert Truehaft and lived in Oakland, CA until her death in 1996.

The couple was eavesdropped on by the same FBI agents who later targeted Mario Savio and student activists in Berkeley; Ronald Reagan got reports on her and Mitford later joked when she donated eyeglasses to a museum not to put them near Reagan’s for fear of explosion. She was good friends with Tokin' Woman Maya Angelou, and helped her husband Bob defend “Negroes” falsely accused of murder and rape, explaining to her mother (“Muv" = Lady Redesdale) in a letter what a “frame up” was and how it was applied to Negroes especially. She also testified at a hearing in front of Sen. Edward Kennedy in DC about drug experiments taking place on California prisoners (“Cheaper than Chimpanzees” was her headline).

As well as exposing the funeral industry in her famous book The American Way of Death, she wrote an exposé of the US prison system (Kind and Usual Punishment: The Prison Business (1973), in which she reported on the 1967 President's Crime Commission that abolished public drunkenness as a crime and deemed alcoholism a disease. Mitford asked, "While they were at it, why did not  the commissioners take the further steep of proposing repeal of the laws against such victimless crimes as homosexuality, prostitution, adultery, gambling, narcotics, and a host of other forms of behavior now legally proscribed thanks to the baleful influence of latter-day Puritans?" In answer, she quotes Pater Barton Hutt, consultant to the commission, who wrote, "It is likely that almost every member of the commission consumes alcohol. It is virtually certain that they have friends and relatives who have drinking problems and may even be alcoholics...I think it is fair to assume that something less than a majority of the commission members smoke marijuana...."

Long before it was fashionable to do so, Mitford documented the racial disparity in prison time for crimes between whites and people of color, noting that in drug cases, the average sentence for whites was 61.1 months, and for nonwhites 81.1 months. She also calls out New York's Governor Rockefeller on his absurd "solution" to the drug problem: locking up for life the dealers of all drugs, including hashish but excluding marijuana. She quotes Pennsylvania inmate Samuel Jordan, who wondered, "Could this be because he does not want to see his pot-smoking young relatives behind bars?"

A member of the Communist party from 1943 until she and Treuhaft renounced it due to Stalinism, Mitford was made to sign a loyalty oath in order to teach at San Jose State University, and won a court case against submitting to fingerprinting. In 1953, she wrote a letter to President Harry Truman urging him to refuse to testify before the HUAC committee. "True patriots must challenge the authority of this committee," she wrote. "I pledge to do my part by refusing to cooperate. You have an opportunity to set an example for loyal Americans by defying this committee and doing all in your power to expose its real aim—fascism in America."

On May 4, 1967 Decca wrote to her sister Nancy Mitford from Oakland—in a letter describing having Arnold Toynbee over to dinner and Bob’s “re-torturing” of the CIA over their involvement in the Berkeley Co-op movement—about what her "Muv" called "Marriage Uana":


Hillary Clinton interned with Mitford's husband in the 60s while she was a Yale law student, but here's what Mitford had to say about Bill Clinton in 1992: 


I'm not the only one who admires Mitford: J.K. Rowling named her daughter after Jessica. 

*I can't however find the source of that quote, although she did say, "If to be objective means having no point of view, or giving equal weight to all information that comes one's way, I plead guilty—although accuracy is essential...

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Real Wonder Woman: Meryl Streep in "Ricki and the Flash" (and everything)


So bored was I trying to watch Wonder Woman in the theatre that I came home and instead rented Ricki and the Flash (2015) starring a true Wonder Woman: Meryl Streep. Who else could, at the age of 65, play the sh@# out of a raunchy rock-and-roll mama so well. She even learned to play guitar for the role, and did all the singing.

The film teams Streep with Kevin Kline as her ex-husband Pete, in their first screen pairing since Sophie's Choice for which he, too, should have won the Oscar. Her other love interest is the impossibly cute and talented Rick Springfield, who everyone my age (including me) has been in love with since "Jesse's Girl" and Dr. Noah Drake. What inspired casting.

Unlike Wonder Woman, this movie is written by a woman, Diablo Cody (Juno) and it shows. It's got heart, and soul, and yes, a revelatory marijuana scene.

Streep's daughter Julie, played by her spittin' image Mamie Gummer, is undergoing a crisis that calls Ricki back to the family she left in the dust of her dreams. Julie bites her absentee mom's head off when she arrives, and tellingly tells her the next morning, "My therapist has had me on Effexor, and I think we need to titrate down a little bit. It's made me volatile." She also says she has, "Ambien shits from my suicide attempt. I had them on hand because I'm an insomniac."

Similar to Jane Fonda's character Grace in Peace, 
Love and Misunderstanding, Ricki asks about the marijuana she found in the fridge just at the moment when the family is about to turn in at 9 PM rather than face each other. Next thing you know, everyone's chill and listening to music, after which Streep and Kline laugh their faces off, munch out, and actually have a conversation about their troubled children. Meanwhile, insomniac Julie snoozes to an old movie on TV with Judy Holliday saying, "you know, it just smells nice." 

The bummer boom comes down the next morning in the form of the stepmom, who wants Ricki and her marijuana out of the house so that they can go back to prescription-medicating her daughter. "It's a plant," Streep scoffs. In the end, she's there when her daughter needs her, like a true shero.

Springfield, who as Greg the Guitarist is sweetly supportive in the film, wrote about getting stoned and listening to Hendrix, or spending all his money on weed and girls, in his memoir Late, Late at Night (which in 2012 was named No. 23 of "The 25 Great Rock Memoirs of All Time" by Rolling Stone). 

But back to Meryl. With the possible exception of Susan Sarandon, Streep has now played more female stoners on screen than any other actress. She portrayed Isak Dinesen in Out of Africa, passed a joint to Cher in Silkwood, sniffed some exotic plant material in Adaptation (pictured) and "poked smot" with Steve Martin in It's Complicated. Reportedly she smoked medicinal pot as a cancer patient in One True Thing.

Streep has the stones (i.e. ovaries) to stand up to the current administration, causing Tweety D. to single her out as an "overrated actress." Which may be the biggest lie he ever told.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Anita Pallenberg: "She was the catalyst"


Actress, artist and muse Anita Pallenberg has died. Pallenberg had a 12-year relationship and two children with Keith Richards, but first she dated Rolling Stone Brian Jones, after famously bringing him hashish backstage after a concert in Munich.

In her memoir Faithfull, Marianne Faithfull wrote,  "How Anita came to be with Brian is really the story of how the Stones became the Stones. She almost single-handedly engineered a cultural revolution in London by bringing together the Stones and the jeunesse dorée."

Jones reportedly mistreated her, and she and Richards were drawn to each other. They hooked up while traveling and checked into a hotel as the Count and Countess of Zigenpuss. "By the time we got to Valencia, it was summer," Richards wrote in his autobiography Life. "I still remember the smell of the orange trees in Valencia. When you get laid by Anita Pallenberg for the first time, you remember things." The next stop was Marrakesh, where band members were hanging out with Very Important Pothead Paul Bowles and Brion Gysin, who contributed the hashish fudge recipe to the Alice B. Toklas cookbook.

Faithfull with Pallenberg in London
Anita ended up in prison overnight a drugs charge in Rome while filming Barbarella. While filming Candy based on the Terry Southern novel, co-star Marlon Brando "kidnapped her one night and read her poetry and, when that failed, tried to seduce Anita and me together," Richards wrote, adding "Later, pal."

As so often happens with power couples, forces conspired to pull them apart. When Anita was cast opposite Mick Jagger in Performance, the tongues wagged about a possible affair with a third Rolling Stone. It was during this time that she says she started using heroin. 

In 1972, Anita was arrested for marijuana in Jamaica, and the Rastas took care of her children while she was in jail. In 1977, she and Richards were arrested and charged with hashish and heroin possession in Toronto. After undergoing a painful withdrawal and facing a long sentence, Richards repented and went into rehab, including electroshock therapy, according to The Sun & The Moon & The Rolling Stones by Rich Cohen.

In his memoir Life, Richards wrote: "Anita came out of an artistic world, and she had quite a bit of talent herself—she was certainly a lover of art and pally with its contemporary practitioners and wrapped up in the pop art world." Her ancestors were painters, and she hung out with "Fellini and all those people" at the age of 16 while on scholarship to a graphic school in Rome. "Anita had a lot of style. She also had an amazing ability to put things together, to connect with people...in New York she'd connected with Warhol, the pop art world and the beat poets....She was the catalyst of so many goings-on in those days."

At one point Anita introduced the band to filmmaker Kennith Anger, who took them down the road to Aleister Crowley and satanic stuff, culminating in "Sympathy for the Devil," and forever attaching the word "witch" to Anita (who did backup vocals on the track). She also inspired the song Angie, among others, and was a fan of Timothy Leary, who visited them in France. 

Apparently Anita left behind no writings of her own. She made a memorable appearance in 2001 on the British series “Absolutely Fabulous,” playing the Devil in a fantasy sequence, alongside Marianne Faithfull, who played God. In her later years, she retired to "an allotment in Chiswick where she grew strawberries, artichokes, leeks, broad beans and enrolled in botanical drawing classes" according to The Telegraph. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

What's Wrong with "Wonder Woman"

There can be no doubt that in the very earliest ages of human history the magical force and wonder of the female was no less a marvel than the universe itself; and this gave to woman a prodigious power, which it has been one of the chief concerns of the masculine part of the population to break, control, and employ to its own ends. —Joseph Campbell, 1964

I really wanted to like the new Wonder Woman movie, but I couldn't even sit through half of the 2 1/2 hour epic, driven away by drippy dialogue and lame characterizations.

The film is directed by a woman (Patty Jenkins), but the screenplay is by Allan Heinberg, with a story by Heinberg, Zack Snyder, and Jason Fuchs (three nonwomen). It shows. Men seldom look earlier than the Greek times, and this is in fact when "history" began. But "herstory" started long before that.

Wonder Woman first appeared in comic form in January 1942. She was said to be sculpted from clay by her mother the Amazon Queen Hippolyta, and given life by the Aphrodite, goddess of love. Later comics, and the movie, instead have the male god Zeus giving life to Diana/Wonder Woman and indeed, all of humankind.

This has significance because in the first written story of mankind, The Epic of Gilgamesh (circa 2500 BCE), it is the goddess Belet-ili (also called Aruru) who sculpts men from clay. The men then team up to chop down the cedar forest and denigrate the goddess Ishtar (who opens my book, Tokin' Women). Flash forward to the Greek play The Eumenides, wherein a man is found not guilty of matricide on the grounds that people are not related to their mothers, who merely carry men’s seed. The goddess Athena, who testifies in the play that she sprung whole from the head of Zeus and was not borne by a mother, seals the move from the old god/goddess pantheon to the new, patriarchal one.

Myth matters. As Joseph Campbell said to Bill Moyers, "If you want to change the world, you have to change the metaphor."

As revealed in Jill Lepore's book The Secret History of Wonder Woman, the character was created by the American psychologist and writer William Marston, who was inspired by early feminists, especially his psychologist wife Sadie Holloway and the birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger. Sadie, who attended Mount Hollyoke at a time when women were called Amazons for going to college, once wrote DC comics suggesting instead of "Vulcan's hammer," Wonder Woman should exclaim, "Suffering Sappho!"

In the movie, Wonder Woman sets out to destroy Ares, the god of war, and thereby end WWI. Ending war was a goal of Sanger's as well. She argued in Woman and the New Race that overpopulation is the cause of all human misery, including poverty and war. Birth control, she said, is "the real cure for war" and "love is the greatest force of the universe." Lepore writes, "Women should rule the world, Sanger and Marston and Holloway thought, because love is stronger than force."

After making an appearance as cover girl on the first edition of Ms. Magazine, Wonder Woman was objected to last year when she was named an ambassador to the United Nations. The announcement, which was attended by TV's Wonder Woman Lynda Carter and Gal Gadot of the big screen, came weeks after seven real-life women were rejected as UN Secretary General. Some men objected to a women-only screening of the film, to which New Yorker fact checker Talia Lavin tweeted about the all-male panel that's working to remove birth control options for women in the US healthcare plan.

In the movie, there's a witchy female character who concocts deadly poisons for the modern Ares, who's seen inhaling poppers in much the same way as Hitler took methamphetamine. I'm guessing, after many special effects and pyrotechnics, Wonder Woman kicks his butt (but leaves something open for a sequel).

I will say I had a little more spring in my step as I left the theatre, walking tall like a woman. It was nice that Connie Nielsen got to be a gladiator (Hippolyta) this time, and to see Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright) playing a strong character (Diana's warrior woman aunt Antiope) who isn't underhanded like Claire Underwood. I liked some of the lines like, "How do women fight in these clothes?" and "This is what passes for armor in your country?" when Diana is considering corsets and frills. But on the warrior costumes, why the codpieces?

I see on her Twitter feed that Nielsen is founder of Human Needs Project, and Road To Freedom Scholarships. Those are the kinds of battles where we need our warrior women.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Cannabis and Pregnancy During Legalization

A new review of the literature—Cannabis and pregnancy: Maternal child health implications during a period of drug policy liberalization by Katrina Mark, MD of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the University of Maryland and Mishka Terplan, MD MPH from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University—has been published in the journal Preventive Medicine.

The researchers state, "There is a theoretical potential for cannabis to interfere with neurodevelopment, however human data have not identified any long-term or long lasting meaningful differences between children exposed in utero to cannabis and those not....Risks should be neither overstated nor minimized....Above all, care for pregnant women who use cannabis should be non-punitive and grounded in respect for patient autonomy."

The researchers note that "the medicinal use of cannabis for ailments of the female reproductive tract has been recorded as early as 2737 BCE and has been used for treatment of migraines, menstrual cramps, labor pains and even induction of labor."

Despite this long herstory, they cite a 2016 study by Julie Holland which found that of the 52% of healthcare providers that provided any medically related counseling to marijuana-using pregnant women, only 26% of the time was the counseling clear and evidence based, and 70% of the time was spent on punitive content such as legal implications and investigations by child protective services. Notably, African American patients were nearly 10 times more likely to receive punitive counseling.

From: Katrina Mark, Mishka Terplan, Cannabis and pregnancy:
Maternal child health implications during a period of
drug policy liberalization, Preventive Medicine (2016)
"There is ample evidence concerning the health effects of cannabis during pregnancy," the authors state, noting that over 800 human studies have been performed yearly on the topic since 2000. Also, four systematic reviews and meta-analyses (English, 1997; Metz, 2015; Gunn, 2016; Jacques, 2014) and four prospective cohorts evaluating the long term outcomes including into young adulthood (Goldschmidt, 2008; Fried, 2003; Marroun, 2016; Dreher, 1994) have been published.

"Taken together, the literature supports at best subtle and likely confounded effects," they conclude. "The evidence supports slightly lower birth weight (of unclear clinical significance), increase NICU admissions (may be biased by provider knowledge of maternal behavior), and slight effects on executive function (a finding strongly moderated by the caregiving environment)."

"It is possible if not likely that, as with alcohol, there are trimester dependent and dose dependent differences in perinatal outcomes. Additionally, different routes of consumption may have different fetal effects. With legalization of cannabis, these subtle differences may be able to be more accurately defined....it is possible that while liberalization of cannabis policy may lead to an increase in use during pregnancy, pregnant women may also be more forthcoming thereby improving dialogue and the possibility of counseling during prenatal care."

And finally, someone said it: "Many women who continue to use marijuana throughout pregnancy report that they do so because of nausea (Westfall, 2006) and perhaps this potential benefit can be further explored if its illicit status is reversed. Future research should therefore include investigation of potential benefits of cannabinoids and not simply focus on potential harms."

Sadly though, the authors state, "Although the landscape of cannabis law and policy is changing, that of child welfare has not. The Child Abuse Prevention Treatment Act directs states to assess substance-exposure at birth and provide a “plan of safe care” for infants identified (DHHS, 2010 & 2011). However states differ greatly in terms of policy."

The article cites a 2016 Guttmacher report that says 18 states define substance use, including cannabis, as child abuse. An update from Guttmacher published May 1, 2017  says that 24 states and the District of Columbia consider substance use during pregnancy to be child abuse under civil child-welfare statutes, and 3 (Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin) consider it grounds for civil commitment. Also, 23 states and the District of Columbia require health care professionals to report suspected prenatal drug use, and 7 states (Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, North Dakota and Rhode Island) require them to test for prenatal drug exposure if they suspect drug use.

On April 28, 2017, a federal court in Wisconsin struck down a state law authorizing the detention, forced treatment, and incarceration of pregnant women as unconstitutional. Wisconsin’s Attorney General Brad Schimel disagrees with the court’s decision and plans to pursue an appeal.

"Above all, care for pregnant women who use cannabis should be non-punitive and grounded in respect for patient autonomy," Drs. Mark and Terplan correctly conclude.

Also see: NIDA on Pregnancy: The Whole Truth? 
Please Let Princess Kate Smoke Pot
NIDA Kills Pregnancy and Pot Follow Up Study

Monday, April 17, 2017

Four and Twenty Tokin' Women for 4/20

In honor of the upcoming' holiday 4/20—and for all of those blackbirds who got "baked" in a pie—here are four and twenty newly discovered Tokin' Women.

Google "marijuana + women" and you'll get a lot of photos of scantily-clad gals hitting the bong. But our true Herstory is much more interesting.

In literature, we claim the Beat poetesses Anne Waldman and Joanne Kyger. Waldman has written eloquently about the drug experience, and Kyger mentioned it in oblique and amusing ways.

Truman Capote's character Holly Golightly tries pot in the 1958 novella "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (although this aspect of her character wasn't depicted in the 1971 movie). Joyce Carol Oates's heroine in her short story "High" feels "expansive? elated? excited?" after toking.

From academia, there is Harriet Martineau, the first female sociologist and ancestor to Princess Kate Middleton, who took to the nargileh during her Middle Eastern travels. French author Simone de Beauvoir tried marijuana in 1947 during a trip to the US, just before she wrote her seminal work "The Second Sex."

"We marched, wrote polemics, started magazines, took over universities. And in between, we smoked a little pot, made a little love, and changed the world forever," wrote Janis Ian about coming of age in the 1970s. Rita Coolidge wrote of her college years, "We always had a lot of weed, which we’d decided was vital to the creative process," and recounted eating pot brownies with Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and his wife before going to Disneyland.

Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart came out in favor of marijuana legalization. Halsey sang, "We are the new Americana / high on legal marijuana." Jazz singer June Eckstine was smeared over marijuana in 1947, and again in 1954.

Movies and TV take the most mentions, without even getting the Netflix series "Grace and Frankie." Recently uncovered depictions of cannabis-consuming women on film include Harley Wood as Burma in "Marihuana" (1936), a Reefer Madness-style film with a more poetic ending. Leigh French of the Smothers Brothers' "Share a Little Tea with Goldie" segment shows up in the prophetic "WUSA" (1970) as a hippie pot smoker.

Helen Hunt played a woman who learns to surf and smoke pot in "Ride,"  Elizabeth Moss turned on her boyfriend with trippy consequences in "The One I Love," and Jennifer Aniston's character enlightened up in "Life of Crime." Queen Latifah played blues singer and Tokin' Woman Bessie Smith in an HBO biopic, and Kate Winslet's character in  "The Dressmaker" supplied pot brownies to a neighbor in pain. Tina Fey took her turn at the hookah in "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" and Pauline Collins (Shirley Valentine) got baked in "Dough."

And finally, a Viking ship dating back to 820 AD was discovered with the remains of two women, aged 50 and 70. The pair, who may have been priestesses, were carrying a leather pouch containing cannabis seeds.

Read more in Tokin' Women: A 4000-Year Herstory.



Monday, April 10, 2017

Joanne Kyger Wakes Up From The Dream

Poet Joanne Kyger, who according to her New York Times obituary, was "one of the few women embraced by the Beat Generation writers’ fraternity," died on March 22 at her home in Bolinas, California.

Her contemporary Anne Waldman wrote to the Times: “She lived within the most interesting alternative communities of our time. She was Buddhist; she was an environmentalist. She lived her ethos daily, modestly, below the radar, and with great attention to the natural world and the magic of the cosmos.” 

Kyger was married to fellow poet Gary Snyder and wrote about traveling with him in Japan and India in Strange Big Moon: Japan and India Journals, 1960-1964. The couple divorced in 1965, "after she had tired of playing wife and hostess to other Beat guests." She taught at Mills College in and the New School in California, the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Colorado, and in the hippie haven of Bolinas. 

There she met her friend and admirer Steve Heilig, who once asked her during an interview about the women Beats. She told a story about a woman writer  who would burst into tears when criticized. "I wasn't about to let that happen to me," she said. I asked Heilig if Kyger was a "Tokin' Woman," and he replied that although "she certainly wouldn't define herself in that manner," one could find references in her work.

She read this one aloud to the great amusement of the audience:

When I came back from a trip to Europe and New York in the late ‘60s 
I found the Summer of Love 
and the Bay Area awash with psychedelic participants 

I went to visit Albert who was living in Mill Valley…. 

And then I asked him, How can I understand this new hippie culture? 
Albert said, Well, when you wake up in the morning, get stoned. 
And I mean really really stoned. 
If you do this every day 
you can eventually change your consciousness. 

About 15 years later when I saw him next 
I asked, Did you ever say 
when we were supposed to stop?

Yet she published nearly 30 collections of her poetry in her lifetime. Her poem Destruction was another crowd favorite and demonstrates her unique way of breaking a line:

First of all do you remember the way a bear goes through
a cabin when nobody is home? He goes through
the front door. I mean he really goes through it. Then
he takes the cupboard off the wall and eats a can of lard.

He eats all the apples, limes, dates, bottled decaffeinated
coffee, and 35 pounds of granola. The asparagus soup cans
fall to the floor. Yum! He chomps up Norwegian crackers
stashed for the winter. And the bouillon, salt, pepper,
paprika, garlic, onions, potatoes....

He goes down stairs and out the back wall. He keeps on going
for a long way and finds a good cave to sleep it all off.
Luckily he ate the whole medicine cabinet, including stash
of LSD, Peyote, Psilocybin, Amanita, Benzedrine, Valium
and aspirin.

“Joanne Kyger was a trailblazer, fearless and full of insight,” City Lights Publisher Elaine Katzenberger told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Her poetry has influenced generations of younger poets, and there are many in the Bay Area and beyond who will be missing her fierce humor and generous mentorship.”

“When you die,” Kyger wrote in the poem “Night Palace,” “you wake up from the dream.”

Saturday, April 1, 2017

What "The Dressmaker" Made in the Kitchen

I was so engrossed with the tale of
"The Dressmaker," a "black comedy of revenge and haute couture" now on Amazon Prime that
I nearly missed the pot plot.

Based on the book by Australian actress and author Rosalie Ham, the movie stars Kate Winslet as Tillie Dunnage, a young woman who comes home to her outback Australian hometown and transforms the place with her tenacity, courage and dressmaking skills.

One of the many colorful characters in the town is the druggist Mr. Almanac (Barry Otto of Strictly Ballroom), who refuses to treat his wife Irma's painful arthritis with drugs. "Addictive," he says. "All that's needed is God's forgiveness, a clean mind and a wholesome diet." So Tilly brings Irma some special cakes she's baked with herbs from her garden. "Unusual aroma," says Irma, who is astonished to find her pain is gone after eating them. The secret herb is later revealed in the book when Tilly adds hemp to hot honey to treat her mother Molly, played by Judy Davis in the movie.

Molly gets into the act when she brings some extra-strength cakes to Irma. "Go easy on them cakes, I made them a bit stronger than she [Tilly] would have," Molly warns her. "She's young; she doesn't understand pain like we do."

Elsewhere in town, Marigold Pettyman is drugged by her husband Evan with something called Browne's Elixir. Marigold escapes from her domestic nightmare when she puts down the elixir and instead visits Tillie to order a really great dress.

The film, which features the splendid Liam Hemsworth as Tillie's love interest Teddy, adds a delightful ending to the cannabis cake episode involving the local police Sergeant, played by Hugo Weaving.

It's almost a modern The Count of Monte Cristo,  another tale of revenge that includes a stylish stranger, and hashish. As in the Spanish TV series The Time Between Seams (aka The Time In Between, now on Netflix), it's nice to watch women reclaiming their power using their traditional skills of sewing – and cooking.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Else Lasker-Schüler: Orientalist Poet

Lasker-Schüler in 1875
Once called “a bohemian princess who lived in the belief that she was the prince of Thebes [Egypt],” the German-Jewish author Else Lasker-Schüler was dubbed “The Black Swan of Israel,” by the poet Hille, who nurtured her career. Widely regarded as one of the most important German lyric poets, one rhapsodic fan proclaimed, “To know Else Lasker-Schüler was the nearest to God that a mortal can hope to reach” (quoted in Else Lasker-Schüler: Inside this Deathly Solitude, by Ruth Schwertfeger).

As a child Else was diagnosed with either epilepsy or St. Vitus dance, “for which there is no factual record, but which played a central role in the feeling life and imagination of the poet—one that was undiminished over the years" (Else Lasker-Schüler: A Life by Betty Falkenberg).*

Believing that she was “a misunderstood, mystical visionary,” (Jewish-German Identity in the Orientalist Literature of Else Lasker-Schüler, Friedrich Wolf, and Franz Werfel, by Donna K. Heizer), she left her first husband, a bourgeois doctor, and had a child out of wedlock to an unknown father.

In 1903, at the age of 34, she took up with 25-year-old George Levin, who she renamed Herwarth Walden. In 1910 the pair, already foundering as a couple but remaining devoted to each others’ work, co-founded the influential literary magazine Der Sturn (The Storm) in Berlin. Lasker-Schuler meanwhile was having success as a poetess, both in ink and in performance.

One of her expressive poems reads:


BUT YOUR EYEBROWS ARE STORMS 

At night I hover restlessly in the sky, 
undarkened by sleep. 

Around my heart dreams buzz, 
searching for sweetness. 

But my edges are spiked— 
only you drink gold unharmed. 

I am a star 
in the blue cloud of your face. 

When my rays shine in your eyes 
we are one world. 

And would fall blissfully asleep— 
but your eyebrows are storms. 


Readers of this blog know I've connected Europeans' fascination with the Orient in the 1800s with their discovery and use of cannabis, and that I've reported that some think the incense of biblical times, caneh bosom, was cannabis.

In 1906, Ruth St. Denis, who had not yet been to India, created her famous solo dance “The Incense.” Coaching a dancer for this role, Martha Graham told her, “Your arms become the smoke, which is your prayer.”

Else too was an Orientalist, traveling east and penning The Nights of Tino of Baghdad, (1907) and The Prince of Thebes (1912) in the style of the Arabian Nights.  Even her style of dress was avant garde for the time: she chose Oriental-style trousers over dresses. "Lasker-Schüler was fascinated with what she saw as the exotic, the mythical and the mystical in Oriental culture," wrote Heizer. "It was a culture filled, she thought, with visionary artists like herself.

Heizer argues that for Jewish-Germans, whom Germans often saw as Orientals, "writing about what they considered to be Oriental culture enabled them to examine not only the exotic Other but also themselves. Through their Orientalist works they could thus explore their own cultural identities. Coming to terms with their own identities became a pressing concern for Jewish-Germans at this time because of the rise of volkisch ideology, which, with its stress on national uniqueness, asserted that they did not belong in German society."

Lasker-Schüler in Oriental garb
I haven’t yet found a reference to Lasker-Schüler taking hashish, only opium once during an illness. But it's recorded that her crowd indulged. One friend, Hanns Heinz Ewers, took haschich starting in 1895, adding opium and mescaline by 1903.

In 1914, a young Walter Benjamin was drawn over to Lasker-Schüler’s table at Berlin’s Café des Westens, which he called “the headquarters of Bohemia.” Benjamin called Else's poem “David and Jonathan” one of his all-time favorites. He wrote, “the true, creative overcoming of religious illumination does not lie in narcotics. It resides in a profane illumination, a materialistic, anthropological inspiration, to which hashish, opium, or whatever else can give an introductory lesson.” (quoted in Primitive Renaissance: Rethinking German Expressionism by David Pan).

Modigliani (a hasheesh user) was one artist who was shown at Der Sturm Gallery, owned by Walden, who is credited with introducing the term "Expressionism." One of Walden’s “circle of expressionists” was Harald Kreutzberg, who in 1920, while attending art school in Dresden, performed a "hashish dance" at a student carnival party. The dance was so well-received that Kreutzberg enrolled in a dance class and later paired with the exotic-looking dancer Yvonne Georgi for and act that “enjoyed enormous and unprecedented international appeal” from 1928 to 1930. (Empire of Ecstasy: Nudity and Movement in German Body Culture, 1910–1935, Karl Toepfer).

Lasker-Schüler’s lover Ernest Junger, a prolific German novelist and essayist who is “considered among the forerunners of Magic Realism,” used ether, cocaine, and hashish in the early 1920s; thirty years later he turned to mescaline, ololuqui, and LSD. His experiments were recorded comprehensively in Annaherungen (1970)

Else was reportedly abused by the right-wing press and beaten unconscious by Nazi thugs when she won the German Kleist Prize for her body of work in 1932. She fled to Switzerland and then Israel. "She often gave money to people in need, leaving herself in poverty, and she spent her last years that way, dying in Jerusalem." (Notable Women in World History, Lydia G. Adamson.)

*St. Vitus dance, or chorea is an involuntary movement disorder that can have several causes, including drug intoxication (commonly levodopa, anti-convulsants and anti-psychotics). Sources of L-DOPA include Mucuna pruriens (velvet bean), and Vicia faba (broad bean or fava bean). “Like all priests of the Orphic and Eleusinian mysteries who were forbidden from ever touching, mentioning, or looking at Fava beans, Pythagoras forbade his followers from doing the same and some claimed that it was due to his belief that fava beans contained the souls of the dead. …Initiates of the Eleusinian mysteries where studies were done on a ritual that transmogrified participants were said to have a deathlike experience after ingesting the kykeon and would then pass by the home of Kyamites, the Greek demigod of Fava beans." (Wikipedia)