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George Orwell tried marijuana, didn't like it

October 10, 2008 |  5:32 pm

Georgeorwell_1010 The Orwell Prize is posting, to the day, diary entries by George Orwell from 1938. Some days, like today, Oct. 10,  are as pithy and uninteresting as a status update on Facebook: "Midday temperature (indoors) today 26°, ie. about 78°F. This is much cooler than the last few days. This evening cool enough to wear a coat." Whoopee.

But other days are much more fun. Writing in Morocco, he observes children at work, the attitude of veiled women ("anything but shy"), the foods available for sale in a market; he draws pictures of stirrups and bows and drills and other unfamiliar mechanisms. He's curious about everything:

Arab drug kiff, said to have some kind of intoxicating effect, smoked in long bamboo pipes with earthenware head about the size of a cigarette holder. The drug resembles chopped grass. Unpleasant taste & -- so far as I am concerned -– no effect. Sale said to be illegal, though it can be acquired everywhere for 1 Fr. For about a tablespoonful.

Kiff is marijuana, of course. The blog includes this editor's note: "Kiff (or kef, keef, kif ) in Indian hemp, marijuana, marihuana, cannabis sativa (or indica), from Arabic ‘kaif,’ meaning enjoyment, well-being, state of dreamy intoxication."

Despite this slightly naughty news, the Orwell diaries are generally thoughtful and engaged and have been shepherded to the Web by a series of scholars. The Orwell Prize, which will continue to post his diaries until 2012, notes that they have previously been split into "domestic" and "political" diaries, but in this format, they'll be mingled as his experience was. We can look forward, according to what they tell us, to several entries about how many eggs his chickens laid.

And then, there will be more like this from Gibraltar, which mix observation and politics with domestic concerns, like the cost of English cigarettes.

Impossible to discover sentiments of local Spanish population. Only signs on walls are Viva Franco and Phalangist symbol, but very few of these....

Population of town about 20,000, largely Italian origin but nearly all bilingual English-Spanish. Many Spaniards work here and return into Spain every night. At least 3000 refugees from Franco territory. Authorities now trying to get rid of these on pretext of overcrowding. Impossible to discover wages and food prices. Standard of living apparently not very low, no barefooted adults and few children. Fruit and vegetables cheap, wine and tobacco evidently untaxed or taxed very little (English cigarettes 3/- a hundred, Spanish 10d. a hundred), silk very cheap. No English sugar or matches, all Belgian. Cows’ milk 6d. a pint. Some of the shopkeepers are Indians and Parsees.

Spanish destroyer Jose Luis Diez lying in harbour. A huge shell-hole, probably four or five feet across, in her side, just above water-level, on port side about fifteen to twenty feet behind bow. Flying Spanish Republican flag....

Overheard local English resident: “It’s coming right enough. Hitler’s going to have Czecho-Slovakia all right. If he doesn’t get it now he’ll go on and on till he does. Better let him have it at once. We shall be ready by 1941.”

--Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: George Orwell writing in Morocco / Orwell Prize