Melbourne. Monday, 2.05pm.
When you go to Melbourne the most pleasant thing you can do, I reckon, is have a cold beer with a mate and a naked woman. That’s what I’m doing now.
I pull my eyes away from the woman – to the pints of beer on the table. My mate and I lift the pints and knock them together.
‘Cheers,’ we say, and take a deep slug. I raise my glass to the woman but she looks away.
We’ve had a satisfying weekend. Being the only certified Hemp Olympix officials in Australia, my mate and I were flown to Melbourne for the Hemp, Health and Innovation Expo. Our job was to oversee the Saturday night sporting event (joint roll). It went well; Melbourne is a sport-loving town.
The woman with us is French. Her name is Chloe. She’s famous in Melbourne – an icon, they say. I can see why. She wears une expression mystérieuse, and no clothes.
The hemp expo was huge. There were all sorts of people there: doctors, scientists, psychologists, horticulturalists, stallholders, shoppers and stoners. And the Hemp Embassy mob from Nimbin too. The re-respecting of cannabis is long overdue. You can feel the momentum gaining.
The second floor of Young and Jackson Hotel, an old Melbourne pub, is where we’re saying goodbye to Melbourne – and to Chloe. But Chloe isn’t drinking. A sadness hangs about her like smoke. I think she’s waiting for someone. She’s been waiting for 140 years.
Through the window I can look down on busy Flinders Street. So I do. Dark tides of people surge and ebb through the street, shoaling at pedestrian crossings, drifting in and out of cafes, scattering in rain squalls.
Sartorially, Melbourne people are not colourful; black dominates the fabric palette in this town. (Probably to soak up whatever sun there is.) Melbournians are not polychromatic – stylish yes, colourful no – but their town is: a dazzle of graffitti in the lanes, glittering red Xmas balls in the streets, rainbows shouting ‘yes’ from cafe windows.
Chloe was painted in 1875 by Frenchman Jules Lefebvre, on hemp canvas. The painting was a big hit in Europe, but when it came to Australia, a few years later, the Ladies Branch of the Anglican Social Purity movement got quite upset. So the painting left the gallery and ended up in this pub in 1908. And Chloe has been here ever since, her beauty and mysterious melancholy attracting generations of admirers.
In 1875 Chloe was born from paint and hemp in France, and Levi Strauss’s first jeans hit the stores in America. They were made from hemp. In Chloe’s and Levi’s world, cannabis was the most important plant on Earth. Clothes, paper, sails, varnish, food, music, medicine…
But, as we know, governments are as thick as a banker’s wallet, and understand only the importance of their own interests, so, for the profit of a few and the detriment of the many, hemp was made illegal. The world became a poorer planet.
The beer is called Chloe’s Pale. Tasty. I look to her again. She’s relaxed but poised, like a lioness, waiting.. waiting… I raise my glass to her again and say, ‘I hope he or she comes soon, Marie.’
Her real name was Marie, not Chloe. She was 19 when she posed for the painting. One year later she killed herself with poison. Whoever she was waiting for never came. Marie is dead, but Chloe lives on and on, because hemp lasts.
The cannabis/hemp revival will roll on – like renewable energy – despite our governments, not because of them. Cannabis is not a poison; using it is not immoral. People have a right to it. It’s a gift; a botanical masterpiece, the burning bush.
I’ll be back, Chloe. Will you wait?