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Book Review July 25, 2002
 
Skunk Prose: This Is Your Book On Pot
By John Dolan Browse author Email
 
Page 2 of 4
 

Pot Planet is suffused with the bizarre snobbery of the pot-head. In some weird way, it's mixed up with another odd snobbery: Canadian nationalism. I'm serious -- Preston really is a Canadian nationalist. This Canuck/stoner sensibility sees him through a pot-head world tour, with stops in Amsterdam, Morocco, Laos, Australia, England, Cambodia, California, and Nepal.

Many of Preston's stops are places only a pot-head could love: Kathmandu -- what kind of throwback would visit that grimy cliche? and Morocco -- who would go to Morocco voluntarily? But others, like Vancouver Island and Laos, are so precious to me that it drove me crazy reading Preston's pot-addled accounts of them. To think that on Vancouver Island, the most beautiful place on the planet, rich old hippies have a marijuana festival out in the open every year! The finest landscape on Earth, wasted on its least interesting nation consuming its least interesting drug!

And Laos...I could barely read Preston's chapter on Laos, because Laos is my last hope, the one place in this DEA-raped world where maybe, maybe, just for a little while longer, one could go to smoke opium in peace among beautiful, courteous people who do everything well and quietly.

Preston didn't even like Laos, and barely noticed the Laotians, the finest people I've ever met. That's when I realized that the sensibility gap between pot-heads and my kind is unbridgeable. If you don't fall in love with Laos, and don't enjoy smoking opium there....well, you're some kind of lunatic, that's all.

And Preston is indeed quite mad, in a smug, dull way. Like most serious pot-heads and virtually all Anglo-Canadians, he's a Christian at heart, morally bound to love all that is unlovely and to condemn all that is noble. And like all Christians, he's willing to lie -- in fact, eager to lie -- on behalf of his "beliefs."

So naturally, the lie-addict loves the loathsome Moroccans as much as he despised the noble Laotians. Preston's account of Morocco is a grotesque illustration of the Christian's habit of foregrounding his most grandiose lies. Everyone who's been to Morocco knows goddamn well that it's Hell on earth. The lying, grasping, stinking little hustlers hit you the moment you get off the ferry ("Wait! I am bes' guide! Why dees paranoia?"), and don't leave you until driven off with violence. Every shopkeeper wants to cheat you; every hotel lies to you as a matter of course; everyone who speaks to you in the street wants to pick your pocket or sell you his sister. That's just the flat, dirty fact of the matter.

So Preston has to lie about it in the disingenuous Christian manner, first showing how vile every Moroccan he encounters really is, and then making a display of his love of them. And to top it off, he contrasts his own stoner cant with the more honest perspective of an earlier druggie pilgrim to Tangier, William Burroughs.

Preston hates Burroughs for many reasons, most of which rebound to Burroughs's credit: because Preston hates opiates and their adherents; because Burroughs is American; because Burroughs, whatever his flaws, was not given to pious lies.

The first sentence of Preston's Morocco chapter attempts to demonstrate his sensitivity to issues of culture: "Morocco is part of the Arab world." That oughta clear things up, eh? Preston then quotes disapprovingly Burroughs's dismissal of such Muslim-sucking: "What's all this old Moslem culture shit?" Burroughs' view of the Moroccans, as quoted by Preston, is shockingly disrespectful:

"One thing I have learned [from living in Tangier]. I know what Arabs do all day and night. They sit around smoking cut weed and playing some silly card game. And don't ever fall for this inscrutable oriental shit like Bowles puts down (that shameless faker). They are just a gabby, gossipy, simple-minded, lazy crew of citizens."

Every word of that paragraph rings true -- above all Burroughs's sneer at that no-talent poser Bowles. So of course, Preston is honor-bound to deny every word of it. Preston (who spent all of a week in Tangier) refutes Burroughs's view of the Moroccans with grand simpicity, in a two-word paragraph:


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