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Grothendieck’s gallery No. 154

Since mid May the Montpellier part of Grothendieck’s gribouillis are online and for everyone available at the Archives Grothendieck.

The story is well-known.

End of June 1990, Grothendieck phoned Jean Malgoire warning him to come asap if he wanted to safeguard the better part of G’s mathematical archive, for he was making a bonfire…

A second handover apparently took place on July 28th 1995.

Malgoire kept these notes (in huge Pampers boxes!) until 2010 when he got cold feet as a result of Grothendieck’s letter. He then donated the boxes to the University of Montpellier in 2012.

After Grothendieck’s death in 2014, Montpellier started a project to scan each and every page and put them online, with the backing of Grothendieck’s children (and generous financial support from the local authorities).

So here we are now, and… nobody seems to care.

I’m aware only of this post on MathOverflow by someone who wants to LaTex some of the material on motives.

Perhaps this is due to the less than optimal presentation of the material, or more likely, Grothendieck’s terrible handwriting. Perhaps the University of Montpellier should partner up with the (older generation of) French pharmacists.

But then, there’s this artistic gem in the archive: cote 154 systemes the pseudo-droites written in 1983-84.

It is written on ancient matrix-plotter page. Here’s a typical example

Which mathematical department wouldn’t want to acquire a framed version of one of these original pages?

That’s the point I wanted to make early may in this G+-post, hoping to raise money to safeguard the Lasserre part of Grothendieck’s gribouillis.

When in need for a header picture, I’ll use a page of Grothendieck’s gallery No 154 from now on.

Here’s evidence that Grothendieck was working on GUTS! (literally).

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Where are Grothendieck’s writings? (2)

A couple of days ago, there was yet another article by Philippe Douroux on Grothendieck’s Lasserre writings “Inestimables mathématiques, avez-vous donc un prix?” in the French newspaper Liberation.

Not that there is much news to report.

I’ve posted on this before: Grothendieck’s gribouillis, Grothendieck’s gribouillis (2), and more recently Where are Grothendieck’s writings?

In that last post I claimed that the five metallic cases containing Grothendieck’s Lasserre notes were in a white building behind the police station of the sixth arrondissement of Paris.

I was wrong.

There’s a detail in Douroux’ articles I forgot to follow-up before.

Here’s the correct location:

[section_title text=”What went wrong?”]

Here’s my ‘translation’ of part of chapter 46 of Douroux’ book “Alexandre Grothendieck, sur les traces du dernier genie des mathematiques”:

“On November 13th 2015, while the terrorist-attacks on the Bataclan and elsewhere were going on, a Mercedes break with on board Alexandre Jr. Grothendieck and Jean-Bernard, a librarian specialised in ancient writings, was approaching Paris from Lasserre. On board: 5 metallic cases, 2 red ones, 1 green and 2 blues.

At about 2 into the night they arrived at the ‘commissariat du Police’ of the 6th arrondissement. Jean-Bernard pushed open a heavy blue carriage porch, crossed the courtyard opened a second door and then a third one and delivered the cases.”

It all seemed to fit together: the ‘commissariat’ has a courtyard (but then, so do most buildings in the neighborhood) and has a blue carriage porch:

portepolicejpg

What went wrong?

I should have trusted Google-translate instead.

It translates the original text “…il garait sa voiture pres du commissariat…” more correctly into “…he parked his car near the police station…”. ‘Near’ as apposed to ‘at’…

We should have looked for a location close to the police station.

And, I should have looked up “Jean-Bernard, a librarian specialised in ancient writings”.

[section_title text=”Who is Jean-Bernard?”]

In Douroux’ latest article there’s this sentence:

“Dès lors, on comprend mieux le travail de Jean-Bernard Gillot, libraire à Paris et expert en livres anciens et manuscrits scientifiques pour lequel les cinq malles contenant les écrits de Lasserre représentent l’affaire d’une vie.”

I’m not even going to make an attempt at translation, you know which tool to use if needed. Suffice it to say that the mysterious Jean-Bernard is no other than Jean-Bernard Gillot.

jbgillotjpg

In 2005, Jean-Bernard Gillot took over the Librairie Alain Brieux, specialising in ancient scientific books and objects. Here’s a brief history of this antiques shop.

Relevant to our quest is that it is located 48, rue Jacob in Paris, just around the corner of the Police Station of the 6th arrondissement.

And, there is a beautiful heavy blue carriage porch, leading to an interior courtyard…

portelibrairiejpg

A quick look at the vast amount of scientific objects (such as these Napier’s bones) indicates that there must be adequate and ample storage space in the buildings behind the shop.

This is where the five metallic cases containing the Lasserre writings are at this moment.

[section_title text=”What’s next?”]

We’re lightyears removed from Maltsiniotis’ optimistic vision, broadcast at the Grothendieck conference in Montpellier last year, that the BNF would acquire the totality of the writings and make them available to the mathematical community at large.

Apart from Maltsiniotis’ cursory inventory of (part of) the 93.000 pages, nobody knows what’s inside these five boxes, making it impossible to put a price tag on them.

Perhaps, the family should grant some bloggers access to the cases, in return for a series of (live)posts on what they’ll find inside…?!

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Where are Grothendieck’s writings?

You better subscribe to the French newspaper Liberation if you’re interested in the latest whereabouts of Grothendieck’s ‘gribouillis’. And even then it is hard to turn this info into a consistent tale. A futile attempt…

[section_title text=”In the Bibliotheque Nationale de France?”]

A year ago it all seemed pretty straightforward. Georges Maltsiniotis gave a talk at the Grothendieck conference on a small part of the 65.000 pages discovered after Grothendieck’s death in Lasserre.

He said that Grothendieck’s family has handed over all non-family related material to the Bibliotheque Nationale de France.

Maltsiniotis insisted that the BNF wants to make these notes available to the academic community, after they made an inventory (which may take some time) and mentioned that the person responsible at the BNF is Isabelle le Masme de Chermont.

A year later there’s still no sign of the Lasserre papers in their database.

Earlier this year, Liberation-jounalist Philippe Douroux, published a book on Grothendieck’s life: “Alexandre Grothendieck, sur les traces du dernier genie des mathematiques”.

In this book, and in follow-up articles in Liberation, he follows the trail of Grothendieck’s gribouillis and suggests that we’d better look in stranger places, such as a police station or even a botanical institute…

[section_title text=”In a Parisian police station?”]

From chapter 46 of Douroux’ book:

On November 13th 2015, while the terrorist-attacks on the Bataclan and elsewhere were going on, a Mercedes break with on board Alexandre Jr. Grothendieck and Jean-Bernard, a librarian specialised in ancient writings, was approaching Paris from Lasserre. On board: 5 metallic cases, 2 red ones, 1 green and 2 blues.

At about 2 into the night they arrived at the ‘commissariat du Police’ of the 6th arrondissement. Jean-Bernard pushed open a heavy blue carriage porch, crossed the courtyard opened a second door and then a third one and delivered the cases.

Comparing this description with the image above from google maps, the Lasserre boxes might be in the white building behind the police station.

I have no clue what the function of this building is, or why the boxes were delivered at that place, not at all close to the Bibliotheque Nationale.

As to why they are not at the BNF, this is probably a question of money.

Before the BNF can accept a legacy, French law says they have to agree on its value with the family. Their initial estimate was ridiculously low: 45.000 Euros or less than one Euro a page. In a similar case, the archives of Michel Foucault, a former professor at the College de France, were acquired by the BNF for no less than 4.800.000 Euro.

[section_title text=”At the botanical institute in Montpellier?”]

The mysterious white building in Paris is the best guess to hold the 65.000 pages Grothendieck wrote in Lasserre.

However, there are also the 20.000 pages of the Mormoiron gribouillis, consisting of 5 boxes (Pamper-boxes it is said) rescued by Malgoire in 1991 from Grothendieck’s bonfire.

In 2010, after Grothendieck’s letter that his work should be destroyed, Malgoire donated the Pamper-boxes to the university of Montpellier. The university put them in solid archive boxes and placed them in the Botanical Institute.

As Grothendieck donated these writings to Malgoire, who donated them in turn to his university, the University of Montpellier claimed to own the Mormoiron-gribouillis, and started a silly legal battle with Grothendieck’s children.

On May 3rd the children won, and the documents should have been handed over to the family by mid July 2016. The intention was that they would join the Lasserre notes in Paris.

Mid June, however, the region of Languedoc-Roussillon gave the University of Montpellier 57.000 Euro so that the Grothendieck-notes could be scanned and archived. Probably, a delaying tactic.

So, my best guess is that the Mormoiron gribouillis are still in Montpellier.

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