March 7th-17th,2001

In 1994 I'd done some fund-raising for a project of a more limited scope: finding him.My last visit to him was in 1990. Around 1993 he disappeared from the little village in the Vaucluse where he's been hiding out to an unknown location. So jealous was he of his privacy that it appears that even his son, then studying mathematics at Harvard and recipient of a regular stipend from AG's bank, was not informed of his whereabouts.

This project was not without controversy, given that most of us agree that people who sincerely want to be left alone should have a right to be so. Sincerity is the key, and it appears with respect to this attribute AG does not have a good record.

Given AG's extreme mental state, which fluctuated on
insanity, his importance to modern science ( like it or not, he is a very public figure) and his own ruthlessness in violating the privacy of almost all his
colleagues through the publication of a memoir, *Recoltes et Semailles*
filled with vicious personal attacks against them, it was felt that, both
for his own good and to keep open a dialogue which he had sought to
sabotage, one had the right to know if he was in good health, that he wasn't wandering about lost through the countryside of southern France, and if he was prepared to discuss, explain or defend the serious accusations he'd made against everyone.

During my first visit with him in the summer of 1988, I'd remarked that despite his much advertized rejection of human society, he is actually very lonely, and in fact does appreciate it whenever anyone sucessfully vaults all the hurdles, if only to say hello.

It turns out that finding him was the easiest part. He is now living somewhere in the Pyrenees. His self-imposed visitors' list is more restricted than the federal government's for Leonard Peltier in Leavenworth Penitentiary. Although direct communication with him is next to impossible, his neighbors in the village where he resides look after him. Thus, although he is known to come up with ideas like living on dandelion soup and nothing else , they see to it that he maintains a proper diet. These neighbors also maintain contact with AG well-wishers in Paris and Montpellier, so one doesn't need to worry about him

Living interfered with life, as it always does. Even as Alexandre has buried himself in the Pyrenees, so I buried myself in Middletown, Connecticut: As Voltaire
said at the conclusion of *Candide* "Tend Your
Gardens" , and I have been doing just that. Yet I was very conscious of having disappointed the contributors to the 1994 search for
Grothendieck.

In 2000 A.S. (After Socrates) I received an E-mail message from Harvey Shoolman, an editor based in London. Among other things, Harvey is the managing
director of the British Academy Isaac Newton project. In this E-letter he
described the Newton project as :
*".. a vast scholarly undertaking to produce a printed and electronic
edition of the (eventually)complete Newton opus. We are beginning with
the vast unpublished manuscript archives in theology and alchemy....as
you know Isaac Newton spent most of his time on this material rather
than the mathematics and dynamics. A team of over 40 international
scholars are transcribing the mss and providing detailed scholarly
annotation. Eventually we intend to put this free on the web....."*

It was through the Newton Project that Harvey became interested in 20th century mathematics. By typing the name "Grothendieck" into Internet search engines, he soon uncovered the advertising for series of articles entitled the "Quest for Grothendieck" which I'd published in the Ferment newsletter in the early 90's.

We corresponded, then arranged a meeting over lunch in a North Indian restaurant on the Lower East Side of New York. Harvey, connoisseur of London's world renowned Indian restaurants, assured me that the food was not very good. He may have been correct: we both agreed that the service was terrible. Still, we spoke for over an hour on the subject of Grothendieck.

Harvey was interested in producing a comprehensive biography of Grothendieck. This is a formidable task. The lives of each of his parents are already more engrossing than most fiction. Researching them alone would involve consulting records dating back over a century, in libraries and government archives in at least 5 countries: Russia, Germany, Belgium, Spain and France. Then he wanted to set up a conference based on his life and work; oversee and publish translations of AG's mathematical opus, political writings and memoirs "Recoltes et Semailles " and " La Cle des Songes ". Finally we spoke about setting up a Grothendieck Biography website.

Harvey Shoolman's coordinates and E-mail address are easily found through any Internet search engine. Type in either his name or "Newton Project"

A committee was put together at the beginning of 2001. Since most of the persons involved are French or were resident there at that time a ( very!) informal consensus emerged that we would all meet in Paris on a certain date, which did not come into focus as the weekend of March 10th and 11th until a few days before I flew over there.

Touchdown at the Charles de Gaulle airport, 7:30 AM on Thursday, March 8th. Although more familiar with Paris than even my native town of Philadelphia, (

By 11 AM I was walking through the door of the Ideal Hotel on
the rue de Trois Bornes in the 11th Arrondisement.
The room had been reserved and paid for by *Leila Schneps*,
algebraic geometer at the University of Paris and passionate
Grothendieck enthusiast. It had been her timely grant that eliminated the
final obstacle to my attendance at the meeting.

The next morning I set out to find Leila and her co-worker Pierre Lochak. Their offices were listed as being located at the Jussieu science faculty , a bewildering collection of many medieval towers spread out like rooks on a lunar landscape. After numerous inquiries I discovered that the tower in which all the mathematical thinking at U -Paris had been concentrated, was completely gutted. All that remains are locked doors, corridors filled with rubbish and empty classrooms. The new headquarters are at 175 rue du Chevaleret ( Metro Chevaleret) , a labyrinth of buildings loosely connected by paradoxical corridors, about two miles away.

After many false starts and visits with several informative secretaries in different departments, Leila and Pierre were uncovered pacing back and forth in the throes of intense mathematization in the Algebraic Geometry unit on the 7th floor of Batiment A .

We sat around in Leila's office talking about needed to be accomplished at the upcoming meeting. The following persons were anticipated:

- ( 1-3 ) Ourselves;
- (4) Harvey Shoolman coming over from London;
- (5) Mathematics Historian Alain Herreman: and
- (6) Colin McLarty,
chairman of the philosophy department at Case Western University.
Before coming to Paris, Leila had communicated to me about a biography written by Hanka Grothendieck, Alexandre's mother. Pierre Lochak went to his office to find a photocopy, and returned bearing a pile of 16 volumes with an accumulation of over two thousand pages! Evidently the writing of immense biographical memoirs is a family tradition. The biography is in German, and crudely typed .

For our purposes the interest lay in the last two volumes. In them she speaks about her meeting with and eventual marriage to Alexandre 's father, Sasha (Alexander) Shapiro. The memoir tells how Alexandre Grothendieck's childhood in the anarchist circles of Berlin between 1928 and 1939. Desperately poor, hounded by the police, moving from loft to warehouse without any fixed address, Hanka Grothendieck (

*AG's last name comes from his mother, his first from his father*) wrote for an anarchist journal called*Der Pranger*( The Pillory ). This publication, which can be referenced on the Internet, also carried contributions by Emma Goldman, Karl Kraus, as well as another, Alexander (Sanya ) Shapiro, a man much better known to historians of the Anarchist movements of the 20th century.The biographies of the two Alexander Shapiros intersect in so many places that there must be some co-mingling of their life stories in the historical record. The fascinating problem of untangling the two of them may tax our resources for some time.

Several Bourbaki events, seminars and retrospectives, were scheduled that week at the Institut Henri Poincare, in the vicinity of the Luxembourg Gardens ( I was briefly enrolled there in 1969). Pierre and I arranged to meet there the next day after a seminar which let out at 3:30. Together with Harvey Shoolman and Colin McLarty we drove back to the rue du Chevaleret where we were joined by Leila Schneps.Colin is chairman of the philosophy department at Case Western University. From the study of

*toposes*(*An alternative to the standard Zermelo-Fraenkel version of set theory, based on functional relations and invented by AG*) he became interested in*etale cohomology*.Very loosely speaking, Cohomology can be seen as a generalization of the Integral calculus and Stokes Theorem into Algebra, Topology and Algebraic Geometry. There are many "cohomologies" in modern mathematics. Barry Mazur, a top level contemporary mathematician, has stated that it took him 10 years to understand etale cohomology.This led Colin to begin an examination of all of AG's work . Now he is fired up to write AG's biography.Settled in once again in Leila's office, the 5 of us brain-stormed for almost 5 hours on AG's genius, personality, recluse existence, and biography; the memoir

*Recoltes et Semailles*; the status of his unpublished manuscrips in mathematics; the fascinating problems surrounding Sasha Shapiro's identity and career as a highly active anarchist in Russia, Belgium, Germany, France and Spain; the relationship of AG's research to the history mathematics; his quarrels with Deligne, Thom, Dieudonne , Serre, indeed with every one of his colleagues ; locating articles written by Hanka in the 20's, etc.At 8 we decided to continue the conversation at an Ethiopian restaurant in the 13th Arrondisement. There we were joined by Alain Herreman. Alain is producing a semiotic investigation of AG's mathematical language . Evidently mathematical historians are treated with undisguised contempt by the French academic world. Alain told us that the historians in French mathematics departments entitle themselves 'mathematicians' to protect their right flank. Alain has no university post, and relies on grants from the CNRS ( French equivalent of the NSF), and a job as a math teacher in a lycee.

As we consumed the dinner, exhilarating high-level chatter consumed the time . Eventually 7 projects were proposed:

- Putting all of AG's writings in mathematics, both published
and unpublished, on the Web.
- Putting
*Recoltes et Semailles*on the Web. A small excerpt, has been translated into Russian and may be accessed at Recoltes et Semailles . Mainstream publishers have refused to touch it. The publisher*Odile Jacob*for example will only publish the first 400 pages, provided that all the real names are replaced by fictitious ones. - Translating "Recoltes et Semailles" into English.
- Translating all of AG's work in mathematics, both published and unpublished
- Transcribing and/or publishing AG's
notebooks written since he quit mathematics in the 1970's. In 1995
he made a present of these to Jean Malgoire, with permission to do
whatever he wanted with them.
- Colin's biography project, to which we will all contribute.
- (7) A historical retrospective conference honoring AG.

Now Harvey is out looking for grants. He's somewhat distrustful of me since he's worried that my 'bohemian' perspective on the world of ideas may not sit well with the starchy institutions that give grants for scholarly projects. On the other hand, Leila is all for putting my "Quest for Grothendieck" on the Web right away! Not everyone appreciates the credibility of wandering fiddle-playing as the means for uncovering the whereabouts of a great mathematician.When I left on March 17th, Colin was still in France, visiting places important to AG's life history. Among them is the village of Le Chambon , where he and his mother were protected from the Nazis throughout the Occupation. The village is famous.Under the leadership of the Protestant priest Andre Trockme , it protected thousands of refugees. One can read about it in the documentary "Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed", by Phillip Hallie

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