At the Oakland Museum, a show explores attitudes toward a plant that has been a fixture in the human experience for thousands of years as we know from the father of history, Herodotus, who reported on pot smoking parties among the less refined elements then inhabiting the world; men, horse warriors on the frontier of the civilized world, would seal themselves inside their tents and burn cannabis on a pyre until baked, he told his aristocratic readership.
Film, the juxtaposition of vintage news clips, is ingenuously used to probe the cultural shift from when Ronald Reagan called pot the most dangerous drug ever to today when attitudes are changing due to the claim pot is a powerful medicine with therapeutical applications.
In a brilliant move, the show’s authors created a confessional booth, a curtain and chair as if in a secret place, which invites participants to write anonymously on a card and drop in a box what they would say about pot if no one was listening. They then posted many of these cards outside the booth. I wish my seven year old autistic son would consider pot to alleviate his migraines and anxiety, so he would leave the house, one father wrote in perhaps the most powerful testimony in the exhibit.
Videotaped statements explore claims pot contains spiritual properties, that the THC from the plant represents in concentrated form the glory of the cosmos, that when smoking the plant one becomes more connected to nature and people, happier. A sisterhood of nuns in Merced, California, their heads wrapped in white turbans, speak with clarity and conviction about how pot alleviates the symptoms of their patients, some of whom are desperately ill. While across the room, a teacher says he detests pot because it makes his students lazy, indifferent to learning.
Laws, the effort of activists, Harvey Milk in San Francisco and many others, are charted to demonstrate the erosion of criminal penalties whose impact have fallen disproportionately on the most vulnerable members of American society – black men with no chance. It’s hard to believe the ones financing medical dispensaries and the growing pot tourist industry in Colorado, privileged white men, are getting rich for selling the same thing that put so many poor black men in jail, a voice complains among the many quotations displayed throughout the show on hanging posters.
A dispensary is set up with jars containing various strains of marijuana, with index cards making flowery claims of medicinal qualities. One is reminded of the frequently absurd attempts of wine merchants and restaurant staff to wrap a technology that arose from the Babylonians and that was perfected by the Greeks, language, around an experience which resist attempts to pin it down perhaps because it is among the outstanding joys of being human. Nevertheless, the last word comes from a predictable source, Alan Ginsburg, who is shown in a photograph holding a sign that says pot is fun.
All this begs the question. Does the subject of cannabis belong in a museum? The answer comes at the end of the show and it is this. Pot, the plant itself, stands alone as a work of art, equaling if not surpassing the ravishment of paint. Four cannabis plants, the source of all the fuss displayed in glorious profusion under light, anchor the show. The jagged leaves, their edges precise as a line by Agnes Martin, the bursting buds, the glistening green, are irrefutable proof of the miracle of life, its robustness, it’s utter strangeness in the blackness of space; all those trillions of miles without flowers.
Whatever one thinks of cannabis, the attitudes for good and bad which the show provides in equal measure, never taking sides, the plant stands alone. It does not care what people think, or what arises from it. It does its job as an ornament of Earth.
Once on land she found austerely beautiful, she settled in a town, Newburyport, Massachusetts, over run by people consumed with contemporary ideas of God and the Devil.
Berkeley is a two hour walk. In this enclave of happy street trees, one can be entertained at the public library designed in 1930, magnificent, as the brass plaque declares, in zigzag moderne style, graze among the periodicals, the latest gossip, trash talk of intellectuals, in the New York Review of Books. Continue reading
To many, Walnut Creek is paradise. Continue reading
Each day, while the sun ascends and the stars and moon retreat, and countless people go about their business heedless to the razzle dazzle, the fireworks, the drama, that surrounds them, a man, a frail mortal nearing ninety, comes crawling on a motorized go cart down the long avenues, like a caterpillar belligerent with determination.
Sometimes, the man is stopped by a California Black Oak, a tree most marvelous, which appears like spreading punctuation marks on the landscape, digging holes with a stick.
There’s something heroic about the man’s unrelenting interest in the world, the fact he’s not in a warehouse for those who have stayed too long, the drool running down his chin as a bored attendant fusses over word puzzles.
Beneath the bridge at 35th and Peralta, there sits a brave outpost, a homeless encampment of tents. The bridge, a structure that keeps out the wind of the Northern California winter, the sometimes driving rain, serves as the camp’s roof. At nightly gatherings to socialize, the problems of Hillary Clinton, her inability to connect with voters after taking $675,000 from Wall Street types because that is what they offered, are not discussed. Instead, more important topics are bandied about, how fresh the oranges someone picked from a tree and dropped in a paper bag at the edge of camp tasted that morning, how the days are never dull.
In Greek and Roman times, each city had a God or Gods that were considered guardians, or patrons. Without the protection of these friendly spirits, urban places were considered vulnerable to invasion, pestilence, a decline in fortune.
The tutelary deities of West Oakland, the figures below, appeared recently and seem to presage a new optimism, a growing faith in the future of the neighborhood. In a world with so much violence and disorder, they keep the bad guys from getting you down.