talks with gurdjieff
george ivanovich gurdjieff (1866-1949)

thomas and olga de hartmann

when everything was back in place at the prieuré, movements continued just as strongly. the demonstrations were, in part, preparation for a possible trip to new york. i say "possible" because until the last moment we did not know whether the money for the tickets and living expenses would materialize.

mr gurdjieff had sent orage and dr stjernvall to new york in advance to make this trip possible. it was difficult to believe that it could take place, because almost everyone who took part in paris was to go. we had to prepare "as if."

the time of departure was fixed for the first week of january and mr gurdjieff put my wife in charge of passports and clothing for all the pupils. among the pupils going to america were not only russian citizens with old russian passports, but also lithuanians, armenians and poles. all their passports had to be registered and renewed at melun near fontainebleau, and none of us at that time had a car, except mr gurdjieff.

everyone had to be taken to paris and outfitted, in some cases literally from head to foot. of course, it was not possible to consider individual taste or desire but only to choose what was suitable for the purpose of the trip.

finally the check from america arrived and the tickets were bought at once. movements went on until the very last evening. we left a good number of people in the prieuré, with one person in charge during our absence. there had been no time for my wife to buy a hat and coat for herself, so mr gurdjieff took her to paris in his car the morning of the day of departure. in fact, the last of the necessary formalities was completed only half an hour before our train left for le havre.

as we arrived at the dockside, there stood the huge french liner paris just across the platform—40,000 tons! only the english liner majestic was bigger. most of us, particularly the russians, had never seen anything remotely like it.

as we were boarding at the gangplank, where we had to present our passports, one of the young women suddenly said to my wife, "olga arkadievna, i don't have mine with me!"

"how not? where is it? they won't let you on the steamer!"

"i hid it in my trunk!"

and the trunks were already loaded on the ship! happily, with the captain's permission, the young lady and my wife were escorted on board, went down into the hold and successfully extracted the passport.

we were all very happy to be going to america. everyone, myself included, dreamed of triumphal demonstrations and the large profits so indispensable to mr gurdjieff for carrying out his future plans. but, in fact, the reality was to become so mixed with difficulties that our american trip began to seem like another "crossing of the mountains." as always with mr gurdjieff, the goal was not a triumphal tour, but work and effort on ourselves every day in other circumstances—the simplest and humblest of living conditions and food in an environment of the most luxuriously tempting possibilities.

in essentuki mr gurdjieff had begun to give us exercises for this purpose, including some for the concentration of thought and some quite complicated ones with regard to breathing. i do not think i should describe them and, besides, it could not be useful to just read about them. mr gurdjieff often warned us that exercises connected with breathing could even be harmful if they were not done in the proper way. for the same reason he said not to repeat to others his personal talks with individuals, especially talks about breathing and sex energy.

one feature that all the exercises have in common is that they require all our attention and so avoid the flow of uncontrolled associations that waste our life energy through very stupid, sometimes very painful, sometimes fantastic, sometimes erotic thoughts, feelings and sensations, which we all more or less experience. mr gurdjieff frequently said that "conscious labour" and "intentional suffering," by reducing this unconscious flow of associations, could prolong life. for those who work on attention and use it in the struggle with associations, who do not forget to "remember themselves"—for those people attention begins to be not only the centre of life, but also the factor that lengthens it.

mr gurdjieff had a first-class cabin. the rest of us had very comfortable second-class cabins and excellent food. as we had promised to give a demonstration of movements as a benefit for the crew, the ship's purser allowed us to use freely the first-class public rooms, except at mealtimes. but all the trip was not to be as smooth as the start. soon the sea began to be very rough and by seven o'clock the first night most of the passengers, including our pupils, did not appear for dinner. my wife and i were not feeling very well either, but as we wished to stay with mr gurdjieff, we struggled not to give in but to overcome the nausea. later, during this and other trips, we stood stormy weather very well. it was one of the worst crossings the paris had ever had; even the big mirror in the grand salon was cracked.

the following days were spent in visiting all our sick people who were not able to enjoy the ship's advantages and could swallow nothing but orange juice.

the day before our arrival, however, the weather changed and the sun came out. mr gurdjieff ordered everyone to rehearse movements because the demonstration was to take place in the evening. after so many days lying in bed, it was necessary to limber up the muscles.

when i went on deck i saw a crowd of people watching something with eager curiosity; it was our pupils practising movements under the direction of ferapontov. during the day we had a full rehearsal in one of the lounges and after dinner we gave the demonstration before all the passengers, dressed in our white costumes, silk for the ladies and cotton duck for the men. the programme began with one of the pupils explaining in a few words the aim of the movements. then my wife sang the "bell song" from lakmé, which mr gurdjieff particularly liked. the movements performed were nearly all those that had been given in the théâtre des champs-elysées in paris. at the end mr gurdjieff, who sat in the first row, shouted "stop!" the audience was amazed to see the pupils achieve this in spite of the ship's rolling, which was so extreme at one point that the piano slowly, but steadily, slid from one side of the stage to the other, myself following it on my stool.

the following morning we arrived in new york. the personnel of the ship had been very attentive to all mr gurdjieff's pupils when they were so ill, but no one had any money for tips. however, when orage appeared with some reporters and a photographer, he quickly resolved this problem. the photographer took pictures of mr gurdjieff, including one when he was saluting america with his astrakhan hat in hand.

this photo, in which the face of mr gurdjieff has a profoundly inner expression, exists. i like especially another photo of him taken in olginka in the caucasus, sitting with his dogs and his cat. all his kindness and tenderness, particularly towards animals, shows clearly. we saw him like this very often in those far-away times...

when all landing formalities were over, orage brought mr gurdjieff, my wife and me to the hotel ansonia, while some of his friends took the rest of the pupils to another hotel, with madame ostrovsky to look after them. having settled in our rooms, my wife looked in the phone book and quickly found her brother's number. at first he refused to believe that his own sister was speaking from new york. of course this was again an unexpected joy.

orage brought an american journalist to meet mr gurdjieff and we all lunched together in the hotel restaurant, a very expensive one. the roast beef had an odd bluish shade. it was surely from frozen meat, which mr gurdjieff refused to eat. afterwards we always bought chickens or meat from jewish butchers, because they didn't deal in frozen meat.

when he was paying the bill, mr gurdjieff took out his very beautiful leather wallet. the journalist admired its many-coloured oriental design and inquired where it came from. mr gurdjieff asked, "do you like it?" "oh, of course!" was the answer. then mr gurdjieff took out his money and papers and handed the wallet to the journalist, explaining that in the orient if a guest expresses his admiration for something in the house of his host, the host always presents it to the guest. the journalist was stunned.

the next day the question was raised of determining a place and date for our demonstration, and at once difficulties arose because not a single theatre was free. the pupils had to rehearse, sometimes twice a day, but where? neither private halls nor dance studios like those in paris were to be had. finally, we found something appropriate and inexpensive, called leslie hall, on the west side of broadway, not far from where the pupils were staying. it was a longish two-storey building. each floor had a hall along its length, but on the ground floor there was only a small stage and a meeting room, which was not appropriate. the upper hall had plenty of space but no stage from which the movements would be visible. so mr gurdjieff had one quickly built by the pupils to the design and direction of mr de salzmann.

we could perhaps have had much better conditions, because the moscow art theatre was just then visiting new york and the artists and manager were very well known to me, as i had written music for them during our year in tiflis. mr gurdjieff knew all this, but for one reason or another he did not wish to change from leslie hall.

the date of the first new york demonstration was set. the piano was carried up from the ground floor. two days before the performance mr gurdjieff summoned me and said, "would it not be possible to arrange the music for an orchestra of about five musicians?" it had to be done of course. after the sound of the orchestra at the theatre des champs-elysées, although even there we had had only thirty-five musicians, this seemed a quite pitiful number. to tell the truth such an "orchestra" was not necessary at all; the piano would have been quite enough.

at the rehearsal in the afternoon we had five good russian musicians with whom mr gurdjieff could communicate. in the middle of the rehearsal he particularly wanted to interest them. so he ordered all the pupils to go to the far end of the hall, asked the musicians to choose a word and whisper it to him. then he told them to play a foxtrot and himself took up the tambourine from the percussionist and began very skilfully to strike an interesting rhythm. in a minute or two the word was loudly pronounced by the pupils from the other end of the hall. the musicians were quite astonished.

in fact, the violin, cello, double-bass and percussion played wonderfully together. it was agreeable afterwards to be told by the cellist, bukinik, who came from moscow and was a connoisseur of oriental music, that all the music pleased him very much, especially the melody that we called "geese."

on the evening of the demonstration the hall was filled with very elegant americans. there were journalists and writers invited by orage. even the celebrated conductor walter damrosch came. the whole programme of champs-elysées was given. at the end of this very long performance, when the public began to leave, i wanted to speak with some of them. but i could not, because mr gurdjieff told me to play the music for "the fall of the priestess" and he told the pupils to perform it, not on the stage but on the floor of the hall, where it continued until all the public had left. that spoiled the evening for me and i never understood the purpose.

we gave only one performance in leslie hall.

afterwards, we had to take apart the stage. as it turned out, soon after our departure from new york, the building was demolished and a multi-storey building took its place. but for the time being fate had assigned it to us.

later we had several demonstrations in the neighborhood playhouse on grand street.

the lewisohn sisters, who had founded this theatre, were patrons of experimental arts and provided the space to mr gurdjieff free of charge. in the same theatre an amateur group was rehearsing prokofiev's opera the buffoon. there was also one evening dedicated to american indians and their music. mr gurdjieff sent me specially to observe and listen, and write down their melodies. these notes i have still.

as time passed, there were fewer and fewer people in our audience and we had no further prospects. our food ration diminished day by day. madame ostrovsky had to be extraordinarily inventive to feed us all cheaply, tastily and satisfyingly. i remember particularly the kisel jelly she made, which i had not tasted since my typhoid days, though where she found the particular kind of cranberries i cannot guess.

finally, mr gurdjieff decided that there was nothing else to do than repeat what he had done in sohi in 1918 after crossing the mountains. he told us he had no more money, that we were now responsible for our own livelihood and each of us should look for work. we all decided to go to an employment agency in the morning, list our professions and then wait for calls.

at the agency i offered myself as a musician, but only cooks were really in great demand. there was also a request for someone who could restore paintings. i gave them the name and address of mr de salzmann, who was particularly in a difficult situation. he had just received news of the death of his mother, whom he adored. i tried in vain to console him in his grief. "after all," he said, "you cannot feel what a wonderful person she was."

hardly had i returned home from the agency when our phone rang and a familiar voice spoke in russian. i said, "bolm is that you?" "yes, it is really i." adolph bolm was a former premier danseur and one of the most eminent persons in the imperial ballet in st petersburg. having had great success with the diaghilev ballet troupe, he had stayed in chicago and opened a successful ballet studio there. he found me through the moscow art theatre. he was looking for me, thinking that the music of a small ballet, tanzlegendchen, was my composition. actually, it was by a pupil of richard strauss, whose name was hermann bischoff. confusion of hermann and hartmann had perhaps caused the misunderstanding, but his mistake led to a total change in our fortunes.

i told him what i was doing and spoke about mr gurdjieff. he was very interested and asked to be introduced. as a result, bolm invited us to come to chicago, and not only offered his studio for our rehearsals, but also said he would help us organize a demonstration in a major theatre there. mr gurdjieff accepted his invitation and decided we should all go to chicago. so conditions changed once more, from very bad to very good.

one of the important parts of our programme in america presented examples of both real and simulated psychic phenomena, such as "transmission of thought" at a distance. a word would be whispered by a person in the audience to one of the pupils, usually madame ostrovsky, who moved about the hall, and the pupils on the stage had to guess the word. they also identified objects hidden in people's pockets. and if someone chose to think of the name of an opera, music from that opera would be played on the stage. before all these experiments it was announced that some would be real and others would be tricks. the public was invited to say which were which. this interested young people and students tremendously, but they were never able to understand how we did it.

perhaps this all stemmed from a time in essentuki when dr stjernvall was at our little house. there was a knock on the door and mr gurdjieff entered wearing mandzavino's tall silk hat. laughing, he asked us whom he resembled. the doctor said, "a circus director!" and indeed his black moustache that day was particularly curled.

the very next evening my wife and i had gone to kislovodsk to attend a seance of a famous hypnotist, whose posters we had seen. on the stage several doctors were present to try to determine whether the person in the hypnotic trance was a partner of the hypnotist, who walked about among the audience asking repeatedly, "so-and-so, are you asleep?" his voice was somehow nasal, not a normal voice. the hypnotized person, blindfolded, was able to locate and identify objects hidden by the public, among them a needle.

the following day i told mr gurdjieff about the seance, and he said, "i know how they do it." he added that in his early years he and his friends decided to check on the nature of hypnotic seances performed for audiences, as well as telepathic sight, reading of thoughts and so forth. having devoted a definite time to this, they had succeeded in demonstrating publicly all of these phenomena. whether that was really so or not, what mr gurdjieff began to talk about in essentuki he finally translated into reality in the united states.

before going west, mr gurdjieff arranged demonstrations in philadelphia and boston to give us more practice. in boston, before the performance, mr gurdjieff did not miss an opportunity to give me an emotional experience. in the orchestra pit where i was to play on the piano, there were some folding chairs, which he wanted to put away or move somewhere. there was something that i "failed to understand." he made a comment that hurt me and provoked a turmoil of inner complaint: "everything connected with the music depends entirely on me and here i am being picked on for a trifle." in half an hour the demonstration was to begin and i had to be able to concentrate all my attention. in the intensity of the moment i looked to see what was missing, and finally realized that if the music needed know-how, there must also be know-how for the chairs. in other words, i should not be lopsided, and at that moment it was more necessary to pay attention to the chairs than to my inner complaints over this painful stroke. that realization cleared my mind and the demonstration passed successfully. the very same evening we returned to new york.

we had to find the cheapest way to get to chicago. i began my inquiries with the big railway companies in grand central and philadelphia stations, but my researches finally led me to a little agency across the river in hoboken. having learned what my business was, the agent first offered me a cigar and then proposed a price for all the participants that was considerably lower than all the other offers, but the trip would take longer.

when i told this to mr gurdjieff, he consented to this plan and told me to leave for chicago the next morning with all the other pupils under my guardianship. he himself, with my wife and orage, would take a direct train, not leaving until 6 p.m. the same day as ours, but arriving in chicago early the following morning. our train would not get there till 5 p.m., so they would have time to prepare everything for our arrival and make the necessary contacts, interest the press, visit bolm's studio and so on.

my trip with the pupils was not without difficulties. one episode makes me shiver whenever i think about it. our route was through niagara, and the pupils found out that our tickets gave us the right to stop over to visit the falls, then continue three hours later on the following train. every russian from childhood had seen pictures of niagara falls in illustrated magazines, so all of them were delighted at this possibility. i had a queer presentiment that we should not take time for this, although certainly mr gurdjieff would not need us the day we arrived. i had great difficulty in persuading everyone to continue the trip and give up niagara, but they accepted it as part of the work.

when my wife met us at the chicago station, she told us we would have to perform for the french consul in two hours. mr gurdjieff had accepted his request that we give an advance preview for his friends to speed up publicity. everyone saw how right it had been not to interrupt the trip.

the demonstration for the consul went well and as a result a concert hall was engaged, as big as carnegie hall and with a stage as large as in paris. many people were at the performance and both the movements and our "tricks" were well received.

returning from chicago to new york, we gave a last demonstration in carnegie hall at the beginning of april.

there were a lot of people. my husband and ferapontov translated what mr gurdjieff said in russian, and orage relayed it to the audience.

after the demonstration i said to mr. gurdjieff, "i looked out at the audience and saw that half the people were not even interested and seemed quite asleep. why do you allow all these people? wouldn't it be better to have fewer people, who are interested?" mr. gurdjieff answered me, this time even a little angrily, "how can you judge? perhaps for those who seem asleep today, in twenty years something will be awakened in them, and those who now seem so eager will forget in ten days. we have to let everyone hear. the result does not belong to us."

the day of our departure for france approached. mr gurdjieff told my wife on the last day that he needed me to stay with him in new york. as her presence was indispensable at the prieuré, she was to go back with the pupils. my wife could not agree to this and asked mr gurdjieff to decide which he needed more: her presence in the prieuré or mine in new york. mr gurdjieff was very displeased with her refusal, but in such a situation my wife could not be moved and he knew it. during supper he told her that he preferred her in the prieuré and that he would keep madame galumian with him. so i could also return to france. some hours before the departure my wife found that there was not a single dollar left once the tickets had been bought. she went in haste to pawn one of her rings. it was the very one she once told mr gurdjieff she would never part with because it was my mother's wedding ring. she asked madame galumian to find her brother, who was temporarily out of the city, and ask him to redeem it. madame galumian could bring it with her when she returned to the prieuré.

we sailed back on a very nice ship, the george washington. the weather was splendid and this time all our pupils were able to enjoy the good meals. some of the youngest, after several years of simple institute meals, discovered they could have second helpings of anything. once they asked for and received six helpings of ice cream. all this did not upset their healthy stomachs, even at sea. plainly they were able to enjoy the rewards of their efforts for mr gurdjieff in the united states. one of his principles was: "if something is given, then take!"—and make full use of it. he knew how to give, generously and at just the right time, and the use of his gifts always brought joy and new force.

we arrived back at the prieuré in the morning. madame ouspensky, who had remained there with several others, prepared for us a simple meal, and after that i changed into my work clothes. then ivanov and i took shovels and went to the far kitchen garden to dig...

when mr gurdjieff came back, we learned that he had kept madame galumian with him in new york in order to dictate to her some recollections of his youth in the caucasus, concering his "universal workshop." he scraped together enough money to rent two small, cheap rooms, where they began as energetic a work as only mr gurdjieff knew how to create—dictation, transcription, typing, revision, again dictation... for a while they literally starved, not having the wherewithal to buy food, but the work had to go on, and it did. and when it was finished, money appeared, from lectures by orage and movements classes for americans given by madame galumian. they returned at the beginning of june in first-class cabins.

some of us met them at the station in paris. then everyone except my wife went back to the prieuré by train; mr gurdjieff asked her to wait and go with him by car. when they were in the car, he took out the ring i mentioned earlier and handed it to her. he said: "you should not have done it without telling me. your brother might have forgotten or not redeemed it in time, and the ring would have been lost." she was very happy and was touched by his words.

our life with mr. gurdjieff