Sunday, May 04, 2008

Bicycle day

Much coverage of the death of Albert Hofmann, discoverer and promoter of LSD. A gloomy piece by Benedict Carey in the New York Times. John Walsh's considerably more playful take in the Independent:
It was known as acid, blotter acid, window pane, dots, tickets and mellow yellow. It was sold on the street in capsules and tablets but most often in liquid form, usually absorbed on to a piece of blotting paper divided into several squares: one drop, or "dot", per square. Lysergic acid diethylamide, or C20H25N30 to give it its snappy chemical formula, derived from lysergic acid, and it introduced you to a world of cosmic harmony and all-embracing love, or a black schizoid hell of paranoia and screaming demons.

The letters LSD once denoted English money in pre-decimalisation days: librae, solidi, denarii, the Latin forms of pounds, shillings and pence. From the mid-1960s, however, the letters had only one meaning: they stood for the most powerful mood-altering drug in the world.
(NB: in my current world, LSD stands for Long Slow Distance! Posting here will likely continue fairly light over the next couple weeks--between end-of-semester obligations and the last bits of training for my first triathlon, it seems as though I have little attention right now for matters literary unless they are at least marginally bicycle-related...)

At the Guardian, Claire Armitstead on Graham Robb's prizewinning history of France, which owes both its research methods and its entire structure to Robb's fondness for cycling:
In 1869, a cycling magazine was launched in France. The masthead of Le Vélocipède Illustré featured a voluptuous Lady Progress astride a bicycle. In his manifesto, the editor intoned: "The velocipede is not a fad born yesterday, in vogue today, to be forgotten tomorrow. Along with its seductive qualities, it has an undeniably practical character. It supplants the raw and unintelligent speed of the masses with the speed of the individual. This horse of wood and iron fills a void in modern life; it responds not only to our needs but also to our aspirations."

Graham Robb echoes these sentiments in his introduction to The Discovery of France, which this week won the Ondaatje prize for the book published in the past year that best evokes the spirit of a place. "Ten years ago," he writes, "I began to explore the country on which I was supposed to be an authority. For some time it had been obvious that the France whose literature and history I taught and studied was just a fraction of the vast land I had seen on holidays ... There was the familiar France of monarchy and republic, pieced together from medieval provinces, reorganised by the revolution ... and modernised by railways, industry and war.

"But there was also a France in which just over 100 years ago, French was a foreign language to the majority of the population. I owe my first real inklings of this other France to a rediscovery of the miraculous machine that opened up the country to millions of people at the end of the 19th century."

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