On we go — standing out in the garden in a yellow-eyed dawn, watering drifts of pink flax, apple mint, a tough little Greek origanum bush, thinking about families suffering unspeakable loss. And wondering too about the differences between forums that allow posters to have conversations about access to mental health care, differing gun cultures, different responses to violence and possible ways to end shooting sprees, and forums that shut down all kinds of conversation and silence dissent. We live in an international climate of fear in so many respects. To listen to differing views takes so much courage and good will, faith in the other’s integrity, an assumption of mutuality.
In the meantime the summer heat soars – veld fires will race through these mountains like an express train.
Lewis Lapham has an essay looking at the ubiquity of intoxication, how and why and when we drink:
During what were known as the Gay Nineties, at the zenith of the country’s Gilded Age, Manhattan between the Battery and Forty-second Street glittered in the lights of 10,000 saloons issuing passports to the islands of the blessed and the rivers of forgetfulness. No travel plan or destination that couldn’t be accommodated, prices available on request. French champagne at Sherry’s Restaurant for the top-hatted Wall Street speculators celebrating the discoveries of El Dorado; shots of five-cent whiskey (said to taste “like a combination of kerosene oil, soft soap, alcohol, and the chemicals used in fire extinguishers”) for the unemployed foreign laborer sleeping in the gutters south of Canal Street. Who could say who was hoping to trade places with whom, the uptown swell intent upon becoming a noble savage, the downtown immigrant imagining himself dressed in fur and diamonds?
What wouldn’t I give for that shot of cheap whisky tasting like a combination of kerosene oil, soft soap, alcohol, and the chemicals used in fire extinguishers? Well, maybe not. But a magnificent description all the same.
And of course the darker side to the pleasures of intoxication, that short-lived whoopee blast of euphoria from an endorphin high:
Alcohol serves at the pleasure of the players on both sides of the game, its virtues those indicated by Seneca and Martin Luther, its vices those that the novelist Marguerite Duras likens, as did Hamlet, to the sleep of death: “Drinking isn’t necessarily the same as wanting to die. But you can’t drink without thinking you’re killing yourself.” Alcohol’s job is to replace creation with an illusion that is barren. “The words a man speaks in the night of drunkenness fade like the darkness itself at the coming of day.”
The observation is in the same despairing minor key as Billie Holiday’s riff on heroin: “If you think dope is for kicks and thrills you’re out of your mind. There are more kicks to be had in a good case of paralytic polio and living in an iron lung. If you think you need stuff to play music or sing, you’re crazy. It can fix you so you can’t play nothing or sing nothing.” She goes on to say that in Britain the authorities at least have the decency to treat addiction as a public-health problem, but in America, “if you go to the doctor, he’s liable to slam the door in your face and call the cops.”
And Billie Holiday would know; she was to die of cirrhosis of the liver complicated by drug addiction.
Billie Holiday died in the Metropolitan Hospital, New York, on Friday, July 17, 1959, in the bed in which she had been arrested for illegal possession of narcotics a little more than a month before, as she lay mortally ill; in the room from which a police guard had been removed – by court order – only a few hours before her death, which, like her life, was disorderly and pitiful. She had been strikingly beautiful, but she was wasted physically to a small, grotesque caricature of herself. The worms of every kind of excess – drugs were only one – had eaten her … The likelihood exists that among the last thoughts of this cynical, sentimental, profane, generous and greatly talented woman of 44 was the belief that she was to be arraigned the following morning. She would have been, eventually, although possibly not that quickly. In any case, she removed herself finally from the jurisdiction of any court here below.
One of my favourite songs before that golden voice was silenced, a poignant song at this time: