Sunday, September 03, 2006
Hotel de Lauzun
In the 1840's, the Hotel de Lauzun, on the Ile de St Louis in the heart of Paris, rented out rooms to the Club De Hashiscins. The Hashischins counted among their members some the most respected novelists, painters and poets of Paris of the time.
Theophile Gautier, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Gerard de Nerval, Eugene Delacroix were regulars but Gustave Flaubert and Balzac dropped by.
Charles Baudelaire was the most notorious member, although he was not a frequent "paricipant" he rented an apartment in the building and worked on his famous "Artificial Paradises" book which described (more from observation and conversations with the "Club" members than his own experience) the effects of hashish intoxication.
Gautier recounts his initial experience at the Hotel:
"One December evening..I arrived in a remote quarter in the middle of Paris, a kind of solitary oasis which the river encircles in its arms on both sides as though to defend it against the encroachments of civilisation. It was an old house on the Isle the Ile De St.Louis the Pimodan hotel built by Lauzun..."
Gautier comes to room where, "several human shapes were stirring about a table, and as soon as the light reached me and I was recognised, a vigorous shout shook the sonorous depths of the ancient edifice. 'It's he! It's he!' cried some voices together; 'let's give him his due!' "
In their rooms at the hotel, the "Club" would don Arab clothing. Before dinner they would drink a strong coffee laced with hashish. Called 'dawamesk" by the Arabs, this concoction, featured a mixture of hashish, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, pistachio, sugar, orange juice, butter and cantharides. Hash smokers must take note that in this "paste" form the drug was far more potent.
"The doctor (Jean-Jacques Moreau, a founding member)stood by a buffet on which lay a platter filled with small Japanese saucers. He spooned a morsel of paste or greenish jam about as large as a thumb from a crystal vase, and placed it next to the silver spoon on each saucer. The doctor's face radiated enthusiasm; his eyes glittered, his purple cheeks were aglow, the veins in his temples stood out strongly, and he breathed heavily through dilated nostrils. 'This will be deducted from your share in Paradise,' he said as he handed me my portion..."
Dinner follows and then the hashish begins to take effect. Gautier notices the others appear "somewhat strange. Their pupils became big as a screech owl's; their noses stretched into elongated probosces; their mouths expanded like bell bottoms. Faces were shaded in supernatural light....a deadening warmth pervaded my limbs, and dementia, like a wave which breaks foaming on to a rock, then withdraws to break again, invaded and left my brain, finally enveloping it altogether. That strange visitor, hallucination, had come to dwell within me."
What then transpires in each of the participant would depend on whom one asks...
Baudelaire introduces his comments in Les Paradises Artificiel by what now appears to be common knowledge, that the hasheesh eater "
will find in hashish nothing miraculous, absolutely nothing but an exaggeration of the natural. The brain and organism on which hashish operates will produce only the normal phenomena peculiar to that individual - increased, admittedly, in number and force, but always faithful to the original."
Baudelaire's personal experience was fascinating and otherworldly but ultimately nightmarish, as if he had been reading nothing but Poe for a decade.
Balzac, who claimed to have heard celestial voices and beheld divine paintings remained a loyal unadulterated coffee-fiend: he was known to drink 20 or more cups a day.
Gautier's love affair with the drug was short-lived, and he quit "after trying it some ten times or so,... not that it hurt me physically, but because a real writer needs no other than his own natural dreams, and does not care to have his thought controlled by the influence of any agency whatever."
Amen to that!
..and yet, wouldn't I like to venture down to the local time-travel rental on a foggy evening, tear out of the 21st century lot, and make my way (my vehicle now transformed to a horse and carriage), down the avenue Quai d'Anjou to number 7, the Hotel de Lauzun, adjusting my fez as I wend up the staircase and take a corner chair in the dark? Sipping on strong coffee, of course...
* thanks to the ever-eloquent persephone2u for reacqainting me with Baudelaire and De Quincey.