May 5, 2003

from America day by day, written about Simone de Beauvior's 1947 jaunt across America. The book was published in France in 1948. An English language version was translated by Carol Cosman, and published by the University of California press in 1999:

from the May 3, 1947 entry:

"As in all big cities, people use a lot of drugs in New York. Cocaine, opium, and heroin have a specialized clientele, but there's a mild stimulant that's commonly used, even though it's illegal -- marijuana. Almost everywhere, especially in Harlem, marijuana cigarettes are sold under the counter. Jazz musicians who need to maintain a high level of intensity for nights at a time use it readily. It hasn't been found to cause any physiological problems; the effect is almost like that of Benzedrine, and this substance seems to be less harmful than alcohol.

"I am less interested in tasting marijuana itself than in being at one of the gatherings where its smoked. No sooner have I stated my wish than it is granted; American willingness to oblige is truly inexhaustible. Z. is going to join some friends who are 'vipers,' that is, habitual smokers; they are going to a party today. When he comes to pick me up this evening, he tells me that the gathering began in the middle of the afternoon: these sessions last a long time because marijuana seems to make time speed up. He himself has already smoked one cigarette, though nothing in his demeanor gives any hint of this.

"I'm astonished that Z. is taking me to one of the largest hotels in New York...The elevator takes up up to the fifth floor; we knock on the door. A circumspect voice asks, 'who's there?' We give our names; the door is quickly opened and shut again....

from the May 8, 1947 entry:

"Whatever the deeper reason for the situation of American intellectuals, many of them certainly suffer as a result. L.W. told me spitefully the other day that French, Italian, and English writers are jealous because each resents the success of the other, but American writers detest one another because each sees in the other the image of his own failure and wretchedness. In part it's this bitterness, which turns into an inferiority complex, that prevents them from having bold aims and showing themselves worthy of a greater influence. Here, again, one finds the same vicious circle as among university professors. I've heard them deplore the fact that the League of Writers has so persistently shown itself to be beneath its task. Its meetings are confined to questions of money and interest: How can we improve the distribution of books? How should the publisher advertise the publication of a book in a magazine? Discussions of ideas, if they ever occur, rarely rise above such themes as 'Is writing fun?' or 'Is writing pleasure?'

from the May 19, 1947 entry:

"And inherent in what I like and what I loathe about [America] is something fascinating: the enormous opportunities and risks America runs today and the world along with it. All human problems are posed here on a gigantic scale; and to a great degree, the solutions they find here will illuminate these problems, retrospectively, in a moving way or swallow them up in the night of indifference. yes, I believe that this is what moves me so strongly at the moment of my departure: America is one of the pivotal points of the world, where the future of man is being played out. To 'like' America, to 'dislike' it -- these words have no meaning. It is a battlefield, and you can only become passionate about the battle it is waging with itself, in which the stakes are beyond measure."


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