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Category: france

Grothendieck’s gribouillis (6)

After the death of Grothendieck in November 2014, about 30.000 pages of his writings were found in Lasserre.



Since then I’ve been trying to follow what happened to them:

So, what’s new?

Well, finally we have closure!

Last Friday, Grothendieck’s children donated the 30.000 Laserre pages to the Bibliotheque Nationale de France.

Via Des manuscrits inédits du génie des maths Grothendieck entrent à la BnF (and Google-translate):

“The singularity of these manuscripts is that they “cover many areas at the same time” to form “a whole, a + cathedral work +, with undeniable literary qualities”, analyzes Jocelyn Monchamp, curator in the manuscripts department of the BnF.

More than in “Récoltes et semailles”, very autobiographical, the author is “in a metaphysical retreat”, explains the curator, who has been going through the texts with passion for a month. A long-term task as the writing, in fountain pen, is dense and difficult to decipher. “I got used to it… And the advantage for us was that the author had methodically paginated and dated the texts.” One of the parts, entitled “Structures of the psyche”, a book of enigmatic diagrams translating psychology into algebraic language. In another, “The Problem of Evil”, he unfolds over 15,000 pages metaphysical meditations and thoughts on Satan. We sense a man “caught up by the ghosts of his past”, with an adolescence marked by the Shoah, underlines Johanna Grothendieck whose grandfather, a Russian Jew who fled Germany during the war, died at Auschwitz.

The deciphering work will take a long time to understand everything this genius wanted to say.

On Friday, the collection joined the manuscripts department of the Richelieu site, the historic cradle of the BnF, alongside the writings of Pierre and Marie Curie and Louis Pasteur. It will only be viewable by researchers.“This is a unique testimony in the history of science in the 20th century, of major importance for research,” believes Jocelyn Monchamp.

During the ceremony, one of the volumes was placed in a glass case next to a manuscript by the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid.”

Probably, the recent publication of Récoltes et Semailles clinched the deal.

Also, it is unclear at this moment whether the Istituto Grothendieck, which harbours The centre for Grothendieck studies coordinated by Mateo Carmona (see this post) played a role in the decision making, nor what role the Centre will play in the further studies of Grothendieck’s gribouillis.

For other coverage on this, see Hermit ‘scribblings’ of eccentric French math genius unveiled.

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Weil photos used in Dema-lore

On April 20th of 2018, twenty one pilots updated their store page to include a video with a hidden message at the end of it.

and with a bit of sleuthing it led to a page on the dmaorg.info site containing:



This was immediately identified as part of the photo on the right, which is on the French Wikipedia page for Andre Weil.

The photo is clipped in such a way one cannot be certain whether the child is a boy or girl, so a logical explanation is that this is supposed to be the nine year old Clancy, shielding his eyes from the violence (vialism) he just discovered in Dema.

The full picture suggests that Clancy’s struggles might mirror some in Andre Weil’s life.

Andre Weil was born May 6th, 1906, so ‘in his ninth year’ World War 1 breaks out in 1914.

Last time we’ve seen that Bourbaki’s Dema = Ecole Normal Superieure in Paris during WW1, Vialism = militant patriotism sending ENS-graduates as trained reserve second lieutenants in the infantry to the trenches, and there getting killed ‘pour la patrie’ and the glory of the ENS and its director Ernest Lavisse, “L’instituteur national”.

Here’s a G-translation of his letter to the young French, published September 23rd 1914:

Dear children of France, You will be old one day, and, like the old, you will like to remember times past. There will come evenings when your little children, seeing you dreaming, will say to you: Tell us, grandfather. And you will tell. It will be a few episodes of the war, a long march, an alert, a bayonet assault, a cavalry charge, the feat of a battery of 75, the strewn enemy dead on the plain, or else, in the streets of a city, the serried ranks of corpses left standing for lack of room to fall; and then the death of comrades, the terrible losses of your company and your regiment, your wounds received in Belgium, in Champagne, on the banks of the Rhine, beyond the Rhine; but the joy of victories, the poles knocked down on too narrow frontiers, triumphal entries.

On those evenings, after the amazed children have gone to sleep, you will open a drawer where you will have collected precious objects, a bullet extracted from a wound, a piece of shell, a cloth where your blood will have turned pale, a cross of honour, I hope, or a military medal, at the very least a medal from the 1914 war, on the ribbon of which the silver clasps will bear the names of immortal battles. And whatever your life, happy or unhappy, you will be able to say: I lived great days such as the history of men had not yet seen. And you will be right to be proud of your youth, because you are sublime young people!

I have read your letters; I have spoken with the wounded. Through you, I know what heroism is. I had heard a lot about it, being a historian by profession, but now I see it, I touch it, and how beautiful your heroism is, embellished with grace and smiling in the French way! Young soldiers if you were given one chevron per battle, your march would not be enough to accommodate them, because at the end of the war you would count more chevrons than years;

Young soldiers you are glorious old warriors.

Oh! Thanks thanks! Thank you for the beautiful end of life that you give to the elderly who, for forty-four years have suffered so much from the abasement of the fatherland.

The 44 years refers to the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 in which Bourbaki (the general) played a dramatic role.

The next cycle of militant patriotism occurred in the years leading up to the second world war. Here, Andre Weil’s experiences mirror those of Clancy. He tried several times to escape, first from military action (although he too was a reserve officer in the French army), then from France itself. He was captured in Finland, brought back to France to face trial and imprisonment, was released on the condition that he did active military duty, escaped with the French army to England, there demobilised he refused to join de Gaulle’s troops, left England on a boat to Marseille, from where he escaped to the US.

All this, and much more, you can read in his autobiography The Apprenticeship of a Mathematician, especially Chapter VI, The War and I: A Comic Opera in Six Acts.



(for TØP-ers, note the Bishop-red cover…)

Comic or not, the book tries to ‘explain’ his actions in those years, but failed to convince the French from offering him a professorship at a French university after the war.

Perhaps it may be worth looking into a comparison between Weil’s autobiography and the collected Clancy letters.

I guess that’s the best I can do to explain the use of that Weil photo by TØP. Surely they didn’t search any deeper as to where and when this picture was taken, or who the girl was next to Weil.

In case anyone might be interested, I’ll be happy to explain my own theory about this in another post.

I’m sure the full photograph ended up in the ‘Trench-bible’, given to the director of their clip-movies. The scenery is used at the end of the Jumpsuit video when ‘Clancy’ takes out a jumpsuit from the burning car and walks away along a road very similar to that in the photo.



The boy/girl shielding his/her eyes for the violence, should have been used at about minute one into the Outside video



Now, there’s another Weil (or rather Bourbaki) photograph we know did inspire Twenty One Pilots, the classic picture at the Dieulefit/Beauvallon 1938 Bourbaki-congress



which was photoshopped in order to get Szolem Mandelbrojt in from the Chancay (quite similar to Clancy now that i type this) 1937 Bourbaki congress



Now, these were the only two Bourbaki-meetings Simone Weil (Andre’s sister) attended, and she features prominently in both pictures.

Probably this brother/sister thing struct a chord with Twenty One Pilots. But then, you quickly end up with this iconic picture of both of them, taken in the summer of 1922, just before Andre entered the Ecole Normale (he entered the ENS at age 16…)



I’d love to be send a copy of the ‘Trench bible’ because I’m fairly certain also this photograph is in it. At the end of the Nico and the niners-video you see this boy and girl (who may be around age 9 and discover the truth about Dema) finding a jumpsuit with the Bishops approaching



and they reappear a bit older at the end of the Outside-video, with a burning Dema in the background.



Previous in the Bourbaki&TØP series:

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Bourbaki and TØP : East is up

Somehow I missed all the excitement, five years ago. From Bourbaki’s Wikipedia page.

In 2018, the American musical duo Twenty One Pilots released a concept album named Trench. The album’s conceptual framework was the mythical city of “Dema” ruled by nine “bishops”; one of the bishops was named “Nico”, short for Nicolas Bourbaki. Another of the bishops was named Andre, which may refer to André Weil. Following the album’s release, there was a spike in internet searches for “Nicolas Bourbaki”.

Google Trends for Nicolas Bourbaki
by u/HiLlBiLlYjOeL_ in twentyonepilots

With summer and retirement coming up, I’m all in for another Bourbaki riddle.

So, what’s going on?

Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun have weaved complicated storylines around the different albums of their band Twenty One Pilots (or TØP for short), each referring to a distinct era (the Blurryface-era, the Trench-era, the Scaled and Icy-ra, etc.), each having a different color scheme, characters and so on.

You can easily get lost forever in their sub-Reddit, or the numerous YouTube-clips and blogposts made by the ‘clique’ (as their fanbase calls itself). Perhaps the quickest intro in the TØP-world is this site.

The Bourbaki-group is important to the Trench-era, yet there are very few direct references in the songs. There’s the song “Morph” (lol!) containing:

He’ll always try to stop me, that Nicolas Bourbaki
He’s got no friends close, but those who know him most know
He goes by Nico
He told me I’m a copy
When I’d hear him mock me, that’s almost stopped me

So Nico=Nicolas Bourbaki, and there’s the song “Nico and the niners”

starting off with:

East is up
I’m fearless when I hear this on the low
East is up
I’m careless when I wear my rebel clothes
East is up
When Bishops come together they will know that
Dema don’t control us, Dema don’t control
East is up

and that’s about it.

We’ll cover Dema and the Bishops in later posts, but for now remember the mantra “East is up”, which supposedly indicates the direction of escape from the Bishops and the city of Dema.

A few months before the release of Trench, a mysterious website appeared, containing letters from someone called ‘Clancy’ and some pictures and gifs. One of these pictures was soon found out to be part of an iconic photo of Andre Weil.




This caught the attention of the ‘clique’ because another picture indicated that the name of one of the Bishops was Andre.

Poor Andre was credited for just two things he managed to do : he founded a secret group of mathematicians, called Nicolas Bourbaki (important because another Bishop’s name was ‘Nico’) and he invented the symbol $\emptyset$ for the empty set (important because TØP used it since the Blurryface-era). I guess most mathematicians will remember Andre Weil for other things.

The clique-consensus seems to be that the girl next to Andre (some even thought it was a boy) is his daughter Sylvie Weil.

If you ever read her novel Chez les Weil you’ll remember that Sylvie did have from a very young age the same exuberant hairstyle as her aunt Simone Weil. So no, she’s definitely not Sylvie.

I’ll save my theory as to where and when this photo was taken, who the girl next to Andre is, and how this picture was used later on in TØP-iconography, for another post.

For now, I just want to point out one tiny detail: the girl is shielding her eyes from the blistering summer-sun, and shadows are falling from right to left.

Got it? Yes: East is up!

The Bourbaki-hype intensified when Tyler Joseph tweeded on August 19th, indicating that a new Album called ‘Trench’ was coming up:

Again, there’s a lot more to say about this tweet, but for now look at the desktop-image. It’s part of one of the most known Bourbaki images of all time (also featuring on their Wikipedia page): the Dieulefit 1938-congress (which we discovered to be taken at Beauvallon).

(Left to right: Simone Weil, C. Pisot, Andre Weil, Jean Dieudonne (seated), Claude Chabauty, Charles Ehresmann and Jean Delsarte)

Ah, you spotted it too? We’ll come back to this, and the clique made even more surprising discoveries wrt this picture.

You see, we’ll have a lot of ground to cover, so let’s stick to the “East is up” motto,for now.

Via Google maps you can check that the exit-door in the picture is located to the East side of the main building of the Ecole de Beauvallon.

All Bourbakie-congress followers are outside, so does this mean they’ve escaped Dema? Are they now Banditos (whence the Yellow-background-color)?

If you’ve never heard about Banditos or te relevance of the color Yellow, we’ll cover that too.

There’s another ‘East is up’-side to the Beauvallon-story. For this we have to recall some of the history of the spiritual father of the B-gang, General Charles-Denis Bourbaki.



In the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, he was given the command of ‘armee de l’Est (yes, the ‘East’-army!), a ramshackle of ill-trained men.

After some initial successes they suffered defeat in the battle of Lizaine and were forced to escape to Switzerland (Yes: East!) where they were disarmed, and treated for their injuries (this was one of the first cases of the International Red Cross, and is remembered in the Bourbaki Panorama in Luzern).

For clique-people: Red cross & Red architecture of the Boubaki-panorama = color of the Bishops.

Anyway, the important fact is that General Bourbaki had to escape to the East.

During the Bourbaki-congress in Beauvallon in 1938 a similar situation occurred. From Andre Weil’s The Apprenticeship of a Mathematician (page 123-124):

In 1938, Bourbaki held a congress in Dieulefit, where Chabauty, who had joined the ranks of the Master’s collaborators, had familie ties. Elie Cartan graciously joined us and took part in some of our discussions.

This was precisely the time of the Munich conference. There were sinister forebodings in the air. We devoured the newspapers and huddled over the radio: this was one Bourbaki congress where hardly any real work was accomplished.

By the time I had resolved that, if war broke out, I would refuse to serve. In the middle of the congress, after confiding in Delsarte, I thought up some pretext or other and left for Switzerland.

But the immediate threat of war soon seemed to have dissipated, so I returned after two days.

So, there’s a remarkable analogy between General Bourbaki’s escape to the East in 1871, and Andre and Simone Weil’s flight to the East at the time of the Munich agreement.

Clearly, the ‘East is up’ mantra is not the only reason why Tyler Joseph used these two Bourbaki-related photos in his narrative, but it illustrates that none of these choices is arbitrary.

I think Tyler knows a lot about Bourbaki. His knowledge about them goes certainly deeper than that of the average clique-member (who state that Bourbaki was a group of mathematicians trying to prove God’s existence, or that there where exactly nine Bourbaki founders, corresponding to the nine Bishops of Dema).

But then, TØP never corrects erroneous clique-statements, every fan-theory is correct to them. In fact, they see the interactions with their fanbase as a collective work in storytelling: they pose a riddle, the clique proposes various possible solutions, and afterwards they may use one of these proposals in their further work.

Here’s an interview making clear that Tyler knows a lot more about Bourbaki than most people (1.50 till 4.40)

Interviewer: “How far are you into a Wikipedia wormhole when you come across this? (the Bourbaki group)”
Tyler: “No, no THEY named their group after Nicolas Bourbaki”
Interviewer: “but there is no Nicolas Bourbaki, right?”
Tyler: They named their group after Blurryface.”
Interviewer: “Even though it was the 1930″s?”
Tyler: “Yeah.”
Interviewer: “So how does it relate?”
Tyler: “its EVERYTHING and at the same time, has nothing to do with it”
Interviewer: “See I’m no good at math, this is difficult for me.”
Tyler: “Math?! *laughs* Math has nothing to do with it… and yet it has everything to do with it.”

Okay, in the next couple of posts I’ll use the little I know about the Bourbaki group trying to make sense of the Trench-era narrative.

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A newish toy in town

In a recent post I recalled Claude Levy-Strauss’ observation “In Paris, intellectuals need a new toy every 15 years”, and gave a couple of links showing that the most recent IHES-toy has been spreading to other Parisian intellectual circles in recent years.

At the time (late sixties), Levy-Strauss was criticising the ongoing Foucault-hype. It appears that, since then, the frequency of a hype cycle is getting substantially shorter.

Ten days ago, the IHES announced that Dustin Clausen (of condensed math fame) is now joining the IHES as a permanent professor.

To me, this seems like a sensible decision, moving away from (too?) general topos theory towards explicit examples having potential applications to arithmetic geometry.

On the relation between condensed sets and toposes, here’s Dustin Clausen talking about “Toposes generated by compact projectives, and the example of condensed sets”, at the “Toposes online” conference, organised by Alain Connes, Olivia Caramello and Laurent Lafforgue in 2021.

Two days ago, Clausen gave another interesting (inaugural?) talk at the IHES on “A Conjectural Reciprocity Law for Realizations of Motives”.

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Against toposes

The French anthropologist and ethnologist Claude Levi-Strauss once observed

“In Paris, intellectuals need a new toy every 15 years.”

Some pointers to applications of their toy of choice for the past ten years:

How do Parisian mathematicians with a lifelong interest in topos theory react to this hype?

With humour!

Here’s an ‘exposé parodique’ (parodical lecture) by Stéphane Dugowson on “Contre les topos” (against toposes).

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Leila Schneps on Grothendieck

If you have neither the time nor energy to watch more than one interview or talk about Grothendieck’s life and mathematics, may I suggest to spare that privilege for Leila Schneps’ talk on ‘Le génie de Grothendieck’ in the ‘Thé & Sciences’ series at the Salon Nun in Paris.

I was going to add some ‘relevant’ time slots after the embedded YouTube-clip below, but I really think it is better to watch Leila’s interview in its entirety. Enjoy!

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Cartan meets Lacan

In the Grothendieck meets Lacan-post we did mention that Alain Connes wrote a book together with Patrick Gauthier-Lafaye “A l’ombre de Grothendieck et de Lacan, un topos sur l’inconscient”, on the potential use of Grothendieck’s toposes for the theory of unconsciousness, proposed by the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan.

A bit more on that book you can read in the topos of unconsciousness. For another take on this you can visit the blog of l’homme quantique – Sur les traces de Lévi-Strauss, Lacan et Foucault, filant comme le sable au vent marin…. There is a series of posts dedicated to the reading of ‘A l’ombre de Grothendieck et de Lacan’:

Alain Connes isn’t the first (former) Bourbaki-member to write a book together with a Lacan-disciple.

In 1984, Henri Cartan (one of the founding fathers of Bourbaki) teamed up with the French psychoanalyst (and student of Lacan) Jean-Francois Chabaud for “Le Nœud dit du fantasme – Topologie de Jacques Lacan”.



(Chabaud on the left, Cartan on the right, Cartan’s wife Nicole in the mddle)

“Dans cet ouvrage Jean François Chabaud, psychanalyste, effectue la monstration de l’interchangeabilité des consistances de la chaîne de Whitehead (communément nommée « Noeud dit du fantasme » ou du « Non rapport sexuel » dans l’aire analytique), et peut ainsi se risquer à proposer, en s’appuyant sur les remarques essentielles de Jacques Lacan, une écriture du virage, autre nom de la passe. Henri Cartan (1904-2008), l’un des Membres-fondateur de N. Bourbaki, a contribué à ce travail avec deux réflexions : la première, considère cette monstration et l’augmente d’une présentation ; la seconde, traite tout particulièrement de l’orientation des consistances. Une suite de traces d’une séquence de la chaîne précède ce cahier qui s’achève par : « L’en-plus-de-trait », une contribution à l’écriture nodale.”

Lacan was not only fascinated by the topology of surfaces such as the crosscap (see the topos of unconsciousness), but also by the theory of knots and links.

The Borromean link figures in Lacan’s world for the Real, the Imaginary and the Symbolic. The Whitehead link (that is, two unknots linked together) is thought to be the knot (sic) of phantasy.

In 1986, there was the exposition “La Chaine de J.H.C. Whitehead” in the
Palais de la découverte in Paris (from which also the Chabaud-Cartan picture above is taken), where la Salle de Mathématiques was filled with different models of the Whitehead link.

In 1988, the exposition was held in the Deutches Museum in Munich and was called “Wandlung – Darstellung der topologischen Transformationen der Whitehead-Kette”



The set-up in Munich was mathematically more interesting as one could see the link-projection on the floor, and use it to compute the link-number. It might have been even more interesting if the difference in these projections between two subsequent models was exactly one Reidemeister move

You can view more pictures of these and subsequent expositions on the page dedicated to the work of Jean-Francois Chabaud: La Chaîne de Whitehead ou Le Nœud dit du fantasme Livre et Expositions 1980/1997.

Part of the first picture featured also in the Hommage to Henri Cartan (1904-2008) by Michele Audin in the Notices of the AMS. She writes (about the 1986 exposition):

“At the time, Henri Cartan was 82 years old and retired, but he continued to be interested in mathematics and, as one sees, its popularization.”

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Bourbaki, Brassens, Hula Hoops and Coconuts

More than ten years ago, when I ran a series of posts on pre-WW2 Bourbaki congresses, I knew most of the existing B-literature. I’m afraid I forgot most of it, thereby missing opportunities to spice up a dull post (such as yesterday’s).

Right now, I need facts about the infamous ACNB and its former connection to Nancy, so I reread Liliane Beaulieu’s Bourbaki a Nancy:

(page 38) : “Like a theatrical canvas, “La Tribu” often carries as its header a subtitle, the product of its editor’s imagination, which brings out the theme of the congress, if necessary. There is thus a “De Nicolaıdes” congress in Nancy, “Du banc public” (reference to Brassens) that of the “Universites cogerees” (in October 68, at the time of co-management).”

The first La Ciotat congress (February 27 to March 6, 1955) was called ‘the congress of the public bench’ (‘banc public’ in French) where Serre and Cartan tried to press Bourbaki to opt for the by now standard approach to varieties (see yesterday), and the following Chicago-congress retaliated by saying that there were also public benches nearby, but of little use.

What I missed was the reference to French singer-songwriter George Brassens. In 1953, he wrote, composed and performed Bancs Public (later called ‘Les Amoureux des bancs publics’).

If you need further evidence (me, I’ll take Liliane’s word on anything B-related), here’s the refrain of the song:

“Les amoureux qui s’bécotent sur les bancs publics,
Bancs publics, bancs publics,
En s’foutant pas mal du regard oblique
Des passants honnêtes,
Les amoureux qui s’bécotent sur les bancs publics,
Bancs publics, bancs publics,
En s’disant des “Je t’aime'” pathétiques,
Ont des p’tits gueules bien sympathiques!

(G-translated as:
‘Lovers who smooch on public benches,
Public benches, public benches,
By not giving a damn about the sideways gaze
Honest passers-by,
The lovers who smooch on the public benches,
Public benches, public benches,
Saying pathetic “I love you” to each other,
Have very nice little faces!‘)

Compare this to page 3 of the corresponding “La Tribu”:

“Geometrie Algebrique : elle a une guele bien sympathique.”

(Algebraic Geometry : she has a very nice face)

More Bourbaki congresses got their names rather timely.

In the summer of 1959 (from June 25th – July 8th) there was a congress in Pelvout-le-Poet called ‘Congres du cerceau’.

‘Cerceau’ is French for Hula Hoop, whose new plastic version was popularized in 1958 by the Wham-O toy company and became a fad.


(Girl twirling Hula Hoop in 1958 – Wikipedia)

The next summer it was the thing to carry along for children on vacation. From the corresponding “La Tribu” (page 2):

“Le congres fut marque par la presence de nombreux enfants. Les distractions s’en ressentirent : baby-foot, biberon de l’adjudant (tres concurrence par le pastis), jeu de binette et du cerceau (ou faut-il dire ‘binette se jouant du cerceau’?) ; un bal mythique a Vallouise faillit faire passer la mesure.”
(try to G-translate it yourself…)

Here’s another example.

The spring 1949 congress (from April 13th-25th) was held at the Abbey of Royaumont and was called ‘le congres du cocotier’ (the coconut-tree congress).

From the corresponding “La Tribu 18”:

“Having absorbed a tough guinea pig, Bourbaki climbed to the top of the Royaumont coconut tree, and declared, to unanimous applause, that he would only rectify rectifiable curves, that he would treat rational mechanics over the field $\mathbb{Q}$, and, that with a little bit of vaseline and a lot of patience he would end up writing the book on algebraic topology.”

The guinea pig that congress was none other than Jean-Pierre Serre.

A year later (from April 5th-17th 1950) there was another Royaumont-congress called ‘le congres de la revanche du cocotier’ (the congress of the revenge of the coconut-tree).

From the corresponding La Tribu 22:

“The founding members had decided to take a dazzling revenge on the indiscipline young people; mobilising all the magical secrets unveiled to them by the master, they struck down the young people with various ailments; rare were those strong enough to jump over the streams of Royaumont.”

Here’s what Maurice Mashaal says about this in ‘Bourbaki – a secret society of mathematicians’ (page 113):

“Another prank among the members was called ‘le cocotier’ (the coconut tree). According to Liliane Beaulieu, this was inspired by a Polynesian custom where an old man climbs a palm tree and holds on tightly while someone shakes the trunk. If he manages to hold on, he remains accepted in the social group. Bourbaki translated this custom as the following: some members would set a mathematical trap for the others. If someone fell for it, they would yell out ‘cocotier’.”

May I be so bold as to suggest that perhaps this sudden interest in Polynesian habits was inspired by the recent release of L’ile aux cocotiers (1949), the French translation of Robert Gibbing’s book Coconut Island?

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Le Guide Bourbaki : La Ciotat (2)

Rereading the Grothendieck-Serre correspondence I found a letter from Serre to Grothendieck, dated October 22nd 1958, which forces me to retract some claims from the previous La Ciotat post.

Serre writes this ten days after the second La Ciotat-congress (La Tribu 46), held from October 5th-12th 1958:

“The Bourbaki meeting was very pleasant; we all stayed in the home of a man called Guérin (a friend of Schwartz’s – a political one, I think); Guérin himself was in Paris and we had the whole house to ourselves. We worked outside most of the time, the weather was beautiful, we went swimming almost every day; in short, it was one of the best meetings I have ever been to.”

So far so good, we did indeed find Guérin’s property ‘Maison Rustique Olivette’ as the location of Bourbaki’s La Ciotat-congresses. But, Serre was present at both meetings (the earlier one, La Tribu 35, was held from February 27th – March 6th, 1955), so wouldn’t he have mentioned that they returned to that home when both meetings took place there?

From La Tribu 35:

“The Congress was held “chez Patrice”, in La Ciotat, from February 27 to March 6, 1955. Present: Cartan, Dixmier, Koszul, Samuel, Serre, le Tableau (property, fortunately divisible, of Bourbaki).”

In the previous post I mentioned that there was indeed a Hotel-Restaurant “Chez Patrice” in La Ciotat, but mistakingly assumed both meetings took place at Guérin’s property.

Can we locate this place?

On the backside of this old photograph

we read:

“Chez Patrice”
seul au bord de la mer
Hotel Restaurant tout confort
Spécialités Provençales
Plage privée Parc auto
Ouvert toute l’année
Sur la route de La Ciota-Bandol
Tel 465
La Ciota (B.-d.-R.)

So it must be on the scenic coastal road from La Ciotat to Bandol. My best guess is that “Chez Patrice” is today the one Michelin-star Restaurant “La Table de Nans”, located at 126 Cor du Liouquet, in La Ciotat.

Their website has just this to say about the history of the place:

“Located in an exceptional setting between La Ciotat and Saint Cyr, the building of “l’auberge du Revestel” was restored in 2016.”

And a comment on a website dedicated to the nearby Restaurant Roche Belle confirms that “Chez Patrice”, “l’auberge du Revestel” and “table de Nans” were all at the same place:

“Nous sommes locaux et avons découverts ce restaurant seulement le mois dernier (suite infos copains) alors que j’ai passé une partie de mon enfance et adolescence “chez Patrice” (Revestel puis chez Nans)!!!”

I hope to have it right this time: the first Bourbaki La Ciotat-meeting in 1955 took place “Chez Patrice” whereas the second 1958-congress was held at ‘Maison Rustique Olivette’, the property of Schwartz’s friend Daniel Guérin.

Still, if you compare Serre’s letter to this paragraph from Schwartz’s autobiography, there’s something odd:

“I knew Daniel Guérin very well until his death. Anarchist, close to Trotskyism, he later joined Marceau Prevert’s PSOP. He had the kindness, after the war, to welcome in his property near La Ciotat one of the congresses of the Bourbaki group. He shared, in complete camaraderie, our life and our meals for two weeks. I even went on a moth hunt at his house and caught a death’s-head hawk-moth (Acherontia atropos).”

Schwartz was not present at the second La Ciotat-meeting, and he claims Guérin shared meals with the Bourbakis whereas Serre says he was in Paris and they had the whole house to themselves.

Moral of the story: accounts right after the event (Serre’s letter) are more trustworthy than later recollections (Schwartz’s autobiography).

Dear Collaborators of Nicolas Bourbaki, please make all Bourbaki material (Diktat, La Tribu, versions) publicly available, certainly those documents older than 50 years.

Perhaps you can start by adding the missing numbers 36 and 49 to your La Tribu: 1940-1960 list.

Thank you!

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Le Guide Bourbaki : Celles-sur-Plaine

Bourbaki held His Spring-Congresses between 1952 and 1954 in Celles-sur-Plaine in the Vosges department.

  • La Tribu 27, ‘Congres croupion des Vosges’ (March 8th-16th, 1952)
  • La Tribu 30, ‘Congres nilpotent’ (March 1st-8th, 1953)
  • La Tribu 33, ‘Congres de la tangente’ (March 28th-April 3rd, 1954)

As we can consult the Bourbaki Diktat of the first two meetings, there is no mystery as to their place of venue. From Diktat 27:

“The Congress of March 1952 will be held as planned in Celles-sur-Plaine (Vosges) at the Hotel de la Gare, from Sunday March 9 at 2 p.m. to Sunday March 16 in the evening. A train leaves Nancy on Sunday morning at 8:17 a.m., direction Raon-l’Etappe, where we arrive at 9:53 a.m.; from there a bus leaves for Celles-sur-Plaine (11 km away) at 10 am. Please bring big shoes for the walks (there will probably be a lot of snow on the heights).”

Even though few French villages have a train station, most have a ‘Place de la Gare’, indicating the spot where the busses arrive and leave. Celles-sur-Plaine is no exception, and one shouldn’t look any further to find the ‘Hotel de la Gare’.



This Hotel still exists today, but is now called ‘Hotel des Lacs’.

At the 1952 meeting, Grothendieck is listed as a ‘visitor’ (he was a guinea-pig earlier and would only become a Bourbaki-member in 1955). He was invited to settle disputes over the texts on EVTs (Topological Vector Spaces). In the quote below from La Tribu 27 ‘barrel’ refers of course to barreled space:

“But above all a drama was born from the laborious delivery of the EVTs. Eager to overcome the reluctance of the opposition, the High Commissioner attempted a blackmail tactic: he summoned Grothendieck! He hoped to frighten the Congress members to such an extent that they would be ready to swallow barrel after barrel for fear of undergoing a Grothendieckian redaction. But the logicians were watching: they told Grothendieck that, if all the empty sets are equal, some at least are more equal than others; the poor man went berserk, and returned to Nancy by the first train.”

The 1953 meeting also had a surprise guest, no doubt on Weil’s invitation, Frank Smithies, who we remember from the Bourbaki wedding joke.

Frank Smithies seated in the middle, in between Ralph Boas (left) and Andre Weil (right) at the Red Lion, Grantchester in 1939.

At the 1954 meeting we see a trace of Bourbaki’s efforts to get a position for Chevalley at the Sorbonne.

“Made sullen by the incessant rain, and exhausted by the electoral campaigns of La Sorbonne and the Consultative Committee, the faithful poured out their indecisive bile on the few drafts presented to them, and hardly took any serious decisions.”

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