first met Mr. Gurdjieff just before the war when an old and valued pupil of his, seeing the effect upon me of the diagram of the Ray of Creation, took me to the Café de Paris and then to Mr. Gurdjieff’s apartment. It was a day I shall always remember for not merely did I learn things that only later I came to understand, but it pointed me in the direction my life was to take. On leaving my vital and benevolent host, he declined to say goodbye, “You will be back,” he said, and I agreed, not knowing that it would be several years before the prediction came true. War intervened, also the Atlantic Ocean, and it was not until peace broke out and I returned to London that the Golden Arrow, and I in it, could speed from its bow to Paris.
I came shyly to his new apartment feeling myself very much a stranger. I was shocked, therefore, to find myself placed at luncheon in the seat opposite his. When I protested at this I was told that is was customary for the latest arrival to sit in front of him. So I accepted. Who was I to do otherwise?
Then suddenly there was a new vitality in the air and he was in the room. I trembled. How was I to greet him? But instead, after a long piercing glance, he greeted me!
“Ha!” he exclaimed, “You come back!” Shocked again, but this time joyfully, I nodded mutely. How could he have remembered?
“H’m! English!” he said, reflectively. “English sell their butter and eat their margarine. True—Yes?” He leaned across the table.
“Oh, no!” I replied. Sell one’s butter—two ounces a week on the ration book! Who would do such a thing?
“I say Yes,” he said, belligerently. But for me it was not true. He was my host, but even so I could not lie to him.
“No.” I said, almost apologetically.
“Yes!” he insisted. And from then on, ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ went back and forth across the table, until, seeing me weeping into my cutlet and saffron rice, he broke off and left me severely alone.
But what if the same thing happened at dinner and I had to face it all again? I went and sat in a small local garden trying to gather my energy for I knew, if the same proposition was put before me, I would have to repeat my fatal word. Fortunately, a new guest had arrived during the afternoon and I was able to take a seat further down the table and when the vital presence entered making myself as inconspicuous as possible, I leant back behind a pair of shoulders on my left. As the meal proceeded I became more and more aware of these shoulders. I sensed that they would neither shield me from, nor expose me to my fate.
Moreover, they were as aware of me as I of them and that what they were telling me was “Don’t hide!” I knew they were right and was just about to move from their shelter when a head craned round from the opposite side of the table and the searching black eyes found me.
“Still No?” the fierce morning voice demanded.
“Still No,” I said, to my surprise, firmly. Those shoulders had steadied me. His smile came up like the rising sun, spreading over everyone.
“I very glad for you!” he said, lifting his plate and passing it across to me. I was non-plussed. After all that—this! I did not know what to do till the face above the shoulders looked at me, glad also, and a voice said “Eat!” It was my first glimpse of Madame de Salzmann! . . .
[The complete text is available in the printed copy of this issue.]
~ • ~
Pamela Travers was an Australian-born British writer who spent most of her career in England. She is best known for the Mary Poppins series of children’s books.
This was originally published in The Gurdjieff Society: Report of the Council to Members, (London) April 1989 – March 1990, and is reprinted here with their kind permission. The first photo of Mme. de Salzmann is by Louis Andrieux and is from the archives of Dr. Alexandre de Salzmann.
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Featured: Winter 2018/2019 Issue, Vol. XIII (1)
Revision: August 1, 2019