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Tag: Weil

Where was the Bourbaki wedding?

I’m pretty certain I got the intended date & time of the Bourbaki-Pétard wedding right : June 3rd 1939 at 12h.
Finding the exact location of the wedding-ceremony is an entirely different matter. And, quite probably, we are reading way too much in these pranks of the Weil-clan.

Still, it’s fun trying to find an elegant answer, based on the (intended or imagined) clues in the text and the little we know about the early Bourbaki-days. Here, the translation of the relevant part of the wedding announcement :

“They will receive the trivial isomorphism from P. Adic, of the Order of the Diophantines, in the Principal Cohomology of the Universal Variety, on the third of Cartember, year VI, at the usual hour.
The organ will be played by Monsieur Modulo, Assintant Simplex of the Grassmannian (with lemmas sung by the Scholia Cartanorum). The collection will be donated in full to the retirement home for Poor Abstracts. Convergence will be guaranteed.”

First solution : Perhaps one might read “in the Principal Cohomology of the Universal Variety” as : “in the Principal Church of the generic type/name”. In many French cities the main church is the Cathedral and an awful lot of them are called Notre Dame, so it might mean : in the Notre Dame Cathedral. But even then, we have to choose between these two

On the left, the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. On the right the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Annonciation in Nancy. As the invitation promises guests to be entertained after the ceremony by Monsieur et Madame Bourbaki at their ‘Fundamental Domains’, the choice depends on the location of the Bourbaki-household in June 1939.

‘Bourbaki’ made two applications to become an AMS-member. The first, in 1948, tells us that Bourbaki is a scientific advisor to the Hermann Publishing Co. in Paris since 1934, and, the second in 1950, that he is ‘Directeur Libre de Recherches a l’Université de Nancy’.
I couldn’t find out when exactly Nicolas did change cities, and even Liliane Beaulieu’s talk Bourbaki a Nancy does not provide an answer.

Second solution : Or, one can read that sentence as a mathematical, perhaps proto-motivic, statement, and, hunt for clues elsewhere in the text. But then, what are these clues?

  • Mass is celebrated by “P. Adic, of the Order of the Diophantines”. This suggests that the church itself belongs to a monastic order, and is perhaps a convent-church.
  • Hymns are “sung by the Scholia Cartanorum”. Scholia Cartanorum is Latin of sorts and refers perhaps to the Paris’ Latin Quarter, le Quartier Latin.
  • The collection is donated to the “retirement home for Poor Abstracts”. Perhaps the church is connected to a saint for the poor.

Let’s consider “Scholia Cartanorum” more closely. It may be Latin, admittedly very bad Latin, for ‘the Scholiums of Cartesius’, that is, ‘of Descartes‘.

One of the more famous ‘Scholia’ in scientific history is Newton’s general scholium to the Principia, which is a prime example of Descartes-bashing. Newton attacks Descartes on his vortical theory of planetary motion, his aeter to explain gravity, his God-axiom (unlike Descartes, Newton induced God from nature, rather than starting with God as an axiom) and his hypothetico-deductive method. So, there is a link between Descartes and ‘Scholium’, although the genitive form ‘Cartesiorum’ might be fairly inappropriate…

But then, Descartes died on 11 February 1650 in Stockholm (Sweden) where he was buried, so there won’t be a connection to a French or Parisian church, right? Well, not quite. The fate of Descartes’ remains is a rather strange story : “In 1666, sixteen years after his death, the bones of René Descartes
were dug up in the middle of the night and transported from Sweden to
France under the watchful eye of the French Ambassador. This was only
the beginning of the journey for Descartes’ bones, which, over the
next 350 years, were fought over, stolen, sold, revered as relics,
studied by scientists, used in séances, and passed surreptitiously
from hand to hand. ” For example, during the French Revolution, his remains were disinterred for burial
in the Pantheon in Paris among the great French thinkers. But today, his ashes are burried in…

the abbay church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, located in the Quartier Latin, within walking distance of the Bourbaki-café Capoulade and the Ecole Normal Superieure.

Now all the hints fall handsomely in place. St-Germain-des-Prés is the oldest church in Paris. Parts of it date to the 6th century, when a Benedictine abbey was founded on the site by Childebert, son of Clovis. Hence the sentence ‘in the Principal Cohomology of the Universal Variety’ might simply mean ‘in the first church, ever’. In medieval times, the Left Bank of Paris was prone to flooding from the Seine, so much of the land could not be built upon and the Abbey stood in the middle of fields, or prés in French, thereby explaining its appellation.

The other part of its name, Saint Germain, comes from Saint Germanus of Paris, also known as the ‘father of the poor’ (!). His remains were interred in St. Symphorien’s chapel in the vestibule of St. Vincent’s church, but in 754, when he was canonized, his relics were solemnly removed into the body of the church, in the presence of Pepin and his son, Charlemagne, then a child of seven, and the church was reconsecrated as Saint-Germain-des-Prés. That is, also the remains of the ‘father of the poor’ are buried in this church.

Here’s my best guess : the Bourbaki-Pétard wedding was held on June 3rd 1939 in the church Saint-Germain-des-Prés at 12h. Genuine aficionados of the Da Vinci code may regret it wasn’t held in the neighboring Saint-Sulpice church, but then, perhaps someone can bend the clues accordingly…

Remains this problem : who was the organist, Monsieur Modulo? Suggestions anyone?


When was the Bourbaki wedding?

It’s great fun trying to decode some of the puns contained in Betti Bourbaki’s wedding invitation. Below a photograph, taken on May 13th 1939, of three of the practical jokers (from left to right : Ralph Boas, Frank Smithies and Andre Weil), the others were Claude Chabauty, Weil’s wife Eveline and Louis Bouckaert (from Louvain).

Part of this picture is on the front cover of the book Lion Hunting & other Mathematical Pursuits. This book clarifies the ‘Secrétaire de l’Oevre du Sou du Lion’-phrase as well as some of the names on the card.

Inspired by the Bourbaki-hoax, a group of postdoctoral fellows visiting Princeton University in 1937-1938 (Boas, Smithies and John Tuckey) published their inventions, allegedly devised by Hector Pétard (aka ‘H(oist) W(ith) O(wn) Petard’ after the Shakespeare line “For ’tis the sport to have the engineer, hoist with his own petard…” Hamlet act III scene IV) who was writing under the pseudonym of E.S. Pondiczery. Pétard’s existence was asserted in the paper “A Contribution to the Mathematical Theory of Big-Game Hunting” Amer. Math. Monthly 45 (1938) 446-447.

Smithies recalls the spring 1939 period in Cambridge as follows : “The climax of the academic year, as far as we were concerned, came in the Easter term. André Weil, Claude Chabauty, and Louis Bouckaert (from Louvain) were all in Cambridge, and the proposal was mooted that a marriage should be arranged between Bourbaki’s daughter Betti and Hector Pétard; the marriage announcement was duly printed in the canonical French style – on it Pétard was described as the ward of Ersatz Stanislas Pondiczery – and it was circulated to the friends of both parties. A couple of weeks later the Weils, Louis Bouckaert, Max Krook (a South African astrophysicist), Ralph and myself made a river excursion to Grantchester by punt and canoe to have tea at the Red Lion; there is a photograph of Ralph and myself, with our triumphantly captured lion between us and André Weil looking benevolently on.”

From this and the date of the photograph (May 13th 1939) one can conclude that the marriage-card was drawn up around mid april 1939. As weddings tend to follow their announcement by a couple of months, this contradicts the following passage from Notice sur la Vie et l ‘oeuvre de Nicolas Bourbaki by an unidentified author :

“Nominated as Privat-Dozent at the University of Dorpat in 1913, he (that is, N. Bourbaki) married two years later; a single girl, Betti, married in 1938 to the Lion hunter H. Pétard, was born out of this marriage.”

But then, when was the Bourbaki-Pétard wedding scheduled? Surely, a wedding announcement should provide that information. Here’s the relevant part :

“The trivial isomorphism (aka the sacrament of matrimony) will be given to them by P. Adic, of the Diophantine Order, at the Principal Cohomology of the Universal Variety, the 3 Cartember, year VI, at the usual hour.”

Here’s my guess : the first Bourbaki-meeting took place December 10th 1934. Actually, it was a ‘proto-Bourbaki-meeting’, but nevertheless founding members such as [Jean Delsarte counted 1934 as the first Bourbaki year as is clear from the ‘Remarque’ at the top of his notes of the first meeting : 34+25=59, trying to figure out when the 25-year festivity was going to be held …

Thus, if 1934 is year 1 of the Bourbaki-calender, year VI should be 1939. The notules also give a hint of ‘the usual hour’. In the 1934-1940 period, the Bourbakis met twice a month before the monday-afternoon seminar, at 12 o’clock sharp, the ‘sacred hour’, for a meeting over lunch.

Remains the ‘Cartembre’-puzzle. We know ‘Septembre (7), Novembre (9), Decembre (10)’ so if ‘Cart’ is short for ‘Quatre’ (4), Cartembre might be June. I guess the wedding was scheduled to be held on June 3rd, 1939 at 12h.

It fits with the date the announcement was drawn up and June 3rd, 1939 sure enough was a saturday, the ‘canonical’ day for a wedding. Remains the problem of the wedding place. Suggestions anyone?


The wedding invitation that nearly killed Andre Weil

Andre Weil wrote about his arrest as a Russian spy in november 1939 :

“The manuscripts they found appeared
suspicious – like those of Sophus Lie, arrested on charges of spying
in Paris, in 1870. They also found several rolls of stenotypewritten
paper at the bottom of a closet. When I said these were the text of a
Balzac novel, the explanation must have seemed far-fetched. There was
also a letter in Russian, from Pontrjagin, I believe, in response to
a letter I had written at the beginning of the summer regarding a
possible visit to Leningrad; and a packet of calling cards belonging
to Nicolas Bourbaki, member of the Royal Academy of Poldavia, and even
some copies of his daughter Betti Bourbaki’s wedding invitation
, which
I had composed and had printed in Cambridge several months earlier in
collaboration with Chabauty and my wife.”

I’ve always wondered how on earth the Finnish police could interpret mathematical texts as coded messages. Reading the ‘faire-part’ (attempted translation below) it is hard to view it as anything but a coded message…

Here it is : a copy of the ‘faire-part’ of Betti Bourbaki’s wedding to Hector Petard, that nearly did cost Andre Weil’s life.

Monsieur Nicolas Bourbaki, Canonical Member of the Royal Academy of Poldavia, Grand Master of the Order of Compacts, Conserver of Uniforms, Lord Protector of Filters, and Madame nee One-to-One, have the honor of announcing the mariage of their daughter Betti with Monsieur Hector Petard, Delegate Administrator of the Society of Induced Structures, Member of the Institute of Classified Archeologists, Secretary of the Work of the Lion Hunt.

Monsieur Ersatz Stanislas Pondiczery, retired First Class Covering Complex, President of the Reeducation Home for Weak Convergents, Chevalier of the Four U’s, Grand Operator of the Hyperbolic Group, Knight of the Total Order of the Golden Mean, L.U.B., C.C., H.L.C., and Madame nee Compact-in-itself, have the honor of announcing the marriage of their ward Hector Petard with Mademoiselle Betti Bourbaki, a former student of the Well-Ordereds of Besse.

The trivial isomorphism will be given to them by P. Adic, of the Diophantine Order, at the Principal Cohomology of the Universal Variety, the 3 Cartember, year VI, at the usual hour.

The organ will be played by Monsieur Modulo, Assistant Simplex of the Grassmannian (Lemmas will be sung by Scholia Cartanorum). The result of the collection will be given to the House of Retirement foor Poor Abstracts, Convergence is assured.

After the congruence, Monsieur and Madame Bourbaki will receive guests in their Fundamental Domain; there will be dancing with music by the Fanfare of the VIIth Quotient Field.

Canonical Tuxedos (ideals left of the buttonhole). QED.

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