Saturday, November 11, 2006

Adrien's funeral

We returned Thursday night from Paris, where we spent all day visiting with others who knew Douady, sharing stories, and trying to process the events. The day began at the Institut Henri Poincaré, where approximately 25 mathematicians, mostly from the field of holomorphic dynamics, gathered. Roland, Sarah, and I took turns explaining what had happened. Two editions of Le Monde were produced, from last Wednesday and Thursday, which between them held five announcements of Douady’s death: they were placed by the family, l’Ecole Normale Supérieure, l’Université de Paris-Sud (where Adrien was a professor), SUNY Stony Brook, and Nicolas Bourbaki (the famously secretive French mathematical society, of which Douady was a member). Someone brought a great number of photos from the past couple or three decades, mostly amusing, and all capturing the conviviality of Adrien and his friends and students.

The funeral ceremony was held in the crematorium of the Père Lachaise cemetery, perhaps the most famous cemetery of Paris. (Their website has a virtual tour. You’ll find the crematorium towards the north-west corner; it’s the largest building on the site.) I’m not usually good at estimating numbers of people, but having discussed it with a few others, I can claim that there were about 250 people in attendance, nearly half of whom were standing in the back of the hall.

In my mind, the ceremony had four major pieces. First, the response of the mathematical community. This included childhood friends, collaborators, and students of Douady, as well as some who had simply felt his influence. Roland was the first to speak, and related the story of our visit to Les Arcs. He found a beautiful way to express the final hours. Adrien had told us, as we were contemplating going swimming that day, that it was for each person to decide if they would find it pleasing, and if so, then they should plunge in and enjoy it. Roland said perhaps Adrien was talking about all of life, too; one doesn’t hold back from doing what one loves. And Adrien loved to swim.

After the words of the mathematicians, the casket was carried to the top of the stairs at the front of the hall and placed in the furnace. There was a long respectful pause, during which was played music from Don Giovanni. (Hubbard has told me Douady liked singing the part of the Commendatore.)

Next the family members and other friends spoke. Adrien had three children, eight grandchildren (of whom four gave brief speeches), and four siblings (one of whom spoke on behalf of them all).

The final piece, which occurred somewhat in the middle of the family’s words, was the presentation of four brief film clips Adrien had been part of. Two were from the biographical film Adrien Douady, mathématicien, and the other two were from films intended to popularize mathematics. In all, Adrien’s humor and love for the sea were well-represented. One scene showed him on a staircase, singing heartily his setting of Baudelaire’s “Le vin de l’assassin”. Another watched him dive into the water, and subsequently to arrive on the boundary of the Mandelbrot set, which he clambered along barefoot just as he would the rocks of l’Esterel. A recurring image was the rabbit fractal, a Julia set given its name by Douady.

In the evening, Régine hosted all those interested at her and Adrien’s house. We were there briefly before we had to catch the TGV back to Marseille. Work has continued since Adrien’s death, even if it has slowed a bit to accomodate the necessary arrangements, travel, and memorial. Hubbard gave his class lectures both of the last two Fridays, and so we had to be back Thursday night. He says he believes continuing to do math even at this time is completely in the spirit of Adrien. Plans for conferences in Douady’s honor have already been born. He was loved, and he will be missed, but I believe those who worked with him and knew his passions will pay him due respect by carrying out those passions to the benefit of future generations.

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