March 9th, 2005

Lovely Dreams

I’m starting to more fully understand the fascination De La Concha holds for me. It’s not just an elegant, comfortable place where powerful men gather to do something that might soon be banned in all public places. There’s a lot more to it.

Sit for a while and watch. A man comes here to conduct a serious ritual. He takes great care in the selection, the trimming, and the lighting of a quality cigar. He sits quietly, and is fully attentive to what he’s doing. Often he’ll take sips from his strong double espresso, or large cup of French Roast drip.

But his primary focus is on the smoking and all that surrounds it. He feels comfortable in the company of other powerful men who fully approve of and embrace this practice. He examines and savors the veined texture of the leaf that binds the tobacco into a rigid phallus, the ultimate symbol of a man’s perception of himself as omnipotent.

It doesn’t take long for a look of utter rapture to appear on his face. Does it come from a narcissistic admiration of his own sexuality? No, I don’t think so. That look is not precisely one of lust or sexual release.

I recall a book I read a long time ago in college, in a course about Native American history. Tobacco was a key element in ritual, in religion. Yes, that’s exactly it. This man with a big cigar, his face lifted reverently to heaven, is having nothing less than a spiritual experience.

In “The Ghost Dance: The Origins of Religion,” professor Weston La Barre describes the use of tobacco in virtually all of the tribes of North America. To the people of these cultures “Not only men and animals contain ‘power,’” La Barre says, “but also plants, in particular those plants containing psychotropic substances.”

He goes on to say that the Native Americans believed such mind-altering substances obviously contained “spirit-stuff.” The mind, after all, is the spiritual, and the mental the sacred.

“…any visionary or psychotropic state—whether a sleeping or waking REM-state or dream, or a sensory-deprivation hallucination in the vision-quest isolate…—is in itself a manifest experience of the supernatural. Hence narcotic and other drugs are inextricably connected in Indian religion with dream visions and supernatural power.”

Now when I light up a Cohiba and sip a French Roast at De La Concha I feel much less guilty. It’s not entirely an idle pleasure, a waste of time. I am, after all, cultivating both my mind and my sprit. And re-experiencing the lovely dreams of this country’s first inhabitants.