Early on in Steven Martin's prodigiously researched and at times painfully honest memoir Opium Fiend: 21st Century Slave to a 19th Century Addiction, he explains his nostalgia for opium's past. The way he sees it, the historic substance _ a 2000 Vanity Fair article by Nick Tosches referred to it as a "medicine and holy panacea older than any known god" _ suffered an ignoble decline in the face of post-colonial globalisation.
BOWLED OVER : From top left to right, bowls from Steven Martin’s collection.
Describing a visit to a clandestine opium den in Vientiane _ one of the last of its kind, and now closed _ a decade ago, he laments the prosaic ambience, the poor condition of the antique smoking paraphernalia and the sullen, elderly clients. He also notes the low quality of the drug, which is mixed with dross scraped from opium pipes, increasing the dark brown paste's morphine content, and thus amplifying the potential for abuse and addiction.
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