MA LOT OF time in the early 1980s, in the Parvati Valley at the foot of the Himalayas, a young man was slowly wandering through a thicket of wild cannabis plants. Over time, he removed the fan leaves from each plant and stroked the small green flowers, the resin glands. On his palm they left a thin layer, transparent at first, then thickening and darkening until he could press down on the sticky brown mass with his thumb and break it off. He didn’t hurry. It was a communion between man and plant, a divine thing. The terpenes released by the flowers were so intense that they almost overwhelmed him; his body seemed to float in the very essence of the valley. He could well believe that cannabis was born in a drop of the elixir of life, shaken as gods and demons struggled to create it.
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So the locals said. But one look at this young man – his gangrene, and especially the whiteness of his skin – showed that he was not one of them. He was a Frenchman, brought up in Nice, and destined for a life of nine to five before, on his 18th birthday, he fled. His head was full of Marco Polo, Lawrence of Arabia, and wild, wacky stories of survival in difficult places. Now it was he who wore native clothes and lived on the margins of society, in a hut at the entrance of a cave. He was looking for the best hashish ever made, and he had found it in this valley, where the cannabis plants were protected by the beautiful goddess Parvati: charas, or Indian hashish, harvested as man had probably done since the dawn of time.
What he absorbed in it, during the seven or eight seasons he spent caressing and smoking the resinous flowers, made him a master of hashish. It was not a skill that he could easily use in the so-called civilization. First in Japan, then in California, hashish was still a frightening and dangerous pleasure, which he hid from everyone except his dealer and his wife. It took the legalization of cannabis in California for medical use in 1996, and for recreational use in 2016, to bring his passion and expertise as a hashish in public view.
At first, he only sold his hashish to California dispensaries. Then in a looser era, in seminars, workshops and videos and in gritty French tones, he showed all “home gardeners” how to do it right. It was not by violent extraction but by gently sifting the dried flowers, squeezing them and rolling them with a bottle of boiling water to release their resin, then shaping it, like a pastry chef, into cannoli. Hence his the ganja Last name. With a lot of folding and pressing, he could also make giant hash balls that were smooth and brown like bread, to show the pride of the artist. In the video interviews, he writhed in delight as he described the tiny resin samples he had brought, before the two sides disappeared in clouds of ecstatic smoke. The interviewer could then get loud, panting “Holy Moly!” and need to take a break; but he would remain serious, almost impassive, letting his mouth fill with smoke, savoring every complexity and every moment.
Maybe he drank some wine. The comparison was new but, for a Frenchman, obvious. Like vines, cannabis plants reflected their terroir; the smallest variations in the soil and the climate conducive to life produced different terpenes, therefore different strains. (He once found a patch in a field of wild strawberries, with a unique berry aroma; another, under nut bushes, tasted like nuts; every cultivar he used for hashish has it. swept away into a new reality.) In America’s best cannabis country, the Emerald Triangle of northern California, the rolling hills have produced dozens of strains. Each had been nourished, like a vineyard, by the love and unhurried dedication of three generations of small farmers, often hippies. For him, the Triangle was ripe for the Appellation d’Origine ContrÃ´lÃ©e (AOC), which officially linked a wine in its place by its reputation, its genetics and its traditional working methods. There was no reason Purple Kush, Blackwater, Desert Diesel, and Trainwreck didn’t command the same reverence as a Montrachet or a ChÃ¢teauneuf du Pape.
He reinforced the thought in two ways. He first made sure that his own brand of hashish, marketed as Frenchy Cannoli 100% Ouh La La, looked as exclusive as fine wine. His best resin came in little black pots; his Royal Nepalese Temple Balls, a revival of a lost art, nestle there individually like shiny dark brown pearls. The lids were stamped, like Cognac, with VSOP, for Very Special Olde Press. His second tactic was to produce a scoring system by which strains could be ranked for, among other things, appearance, stability, smoothness, bouquet, intensity, and sheer pleasure, turning unruly aficionados into solemn connoisseurs. .
the AOC idea gained ground, but slowly and not officially. It was difficult to obtain a sufficiently precise classification. During Prohibition, for nearly 100 years, the farmers of the Triangle had learned to keep their methods secret, much like the Indian farmers he knew. They had no record to prove legacy or consistency, and didn’t like the sound of any regulation. Even legalization was a threat, as it could lower the price. He wanted to protect and promote them by making the Triangle the Bordeaux or the Champagne of hashish; but they were suspicious.
He was on safer ground when he compared hashish to wine as another gift from the gods. For it was so, and while he illuminated himself, he often dedicated the smoke and joy to Shiva. The cannabis plant, he claimed, could remove toxins, radioactivity, pesticides and solvents from the planet. It was also a powerful medicine, as governments understood it now and as he knew from experience. The hash had soothed the traumas of his childhood and filled him with immense positive energy, the energy to become his chief ambassador.
The long stigma of smoking it still stuck with him. But eventually, even that would heal. In the Parvati Valley, he had once cut his index finger to the bone, hampering his learning. But he had dressed it in the best balm he knew, and the only one he had: white hashish ash from a chillum pipe, wrapped around a rolling paper. And then he had left for his peregrinations, to caress the flowers that awaited him. â
This article appeared in the Obituary section of the print edition under the title “L’herbe du paradis”