PEOPLE I MET – Haroun TAZIEFF (1914-1988)
EXTRACT FM CONSTANTIN ROMAN’S MEMOIRS:
The Royal Society’s meetings, which we were encouraged to attend by Keith Runcorn, were rather more accessible for me, than the meetings of the Royal Astronomical Society, because of my geological background. A lot of these Colloquia dealt, at the time, with global tectonics. Volcanoes and earthquakes were topical subjects, as Plate Tectonics was shaping up, as the latest mantra. All the big names of Geology and Geophysics were attending these meetings, from Cambridge, Newcastle and other British
university towns, but also from research establishments in the United States, France and elsewhere: Edward Bullard of the Bullard’s Continental Fit reputation, Vine and Matthews of ocean-floor spreading, Runcorn and Creer of Polar Wandering of continental drift, Xavier Le Pichon, a young, up-and-coming French scientist, later to make his mark in Plate Tectonics, the volcanologist Haroun Tazzieff to mention just a few. Tazzieff’s books on volcanoes, were best sellers in Romania, with his titles being sold out within hours.
During the break of one such meeting, at the Royal Society, I approached Tazieff, introduced myself as a Romanian geophysicist from Newcastle University and said that it was not about
Geology that I wanted to talk to him, but about poetry, his father’s poetry! What an unusual venue for such an admission, I said, but added that I knew and admired his father, Robert Vivier, for his translations of Romanian poetry into French and proceeded to recite one of Eminescu’s poems in French, which Vivier rendered so exquisitely well and which were of greatest literary value, in their own right:
“Le lac bleu des forêts scintille
De jaunes fleurs de nénuphars…
Un frisson soulève la quille
D’une barque prête au départ.
Moi j’attends au bord de la rive
Et des roseaux mon âme s’attend
A la voir surgir, et furtive,
S’abattre sur mon coeur battant.”
Scientists were roaming everywhere, around us, talking Geology and here I was reciting something particularly obscure and totally unrelated to the subject of this august meeting. Still, I felt I had the advantage, not only of admiring Tazzieff’s work and to have read his books, but also to have known that his stepfather, Robert Vivier, a distinguished Fellow of the Belgian Academy, had actually rendered in French this Romanian poet’s verse so well. The eyes of Tazieff lit immediately and I knew that I focused his attention:
– You must come to see me in Paris, to meet my parents: here is my address and telephone number in l’Ile St Louis.
I knew very well this romantic corner, on the Seine, behind Notre Dame, which was the Island of St Louis: here lived Georges Sand, the great love of Chopin, who gave recitals, during 1830s, for Count Czartorisky, at the Hôtel Lambert: it was an enchanting corner of Paris, replete with historic associations.
Tazieff was as good as his word: during my next visit to Paris he arranged to meet me at his parents’ home, in the outskirts of Paris. Tazieff’s mother, as I was going to discover later, was an impetuous Russian lady, whose name was passed on to the volcanologist, as his father, of Tartar origin died young. Madame Tazieff-mère was, as one would have
expected, a formidable lady, in every respect, and, for that matter, larger than life… At the age of 70 she just returned from riding in the forest nearby. Beside her sporting pursuits, Madame Tazieff was a dedicated artiste painter, in strong chromatic touches and her canvasses decorated the walls of the entire house. In true Russian fashion, she made sure that she remained the focus of attention. Yet, in spite of her strong presence, she had a captivating personality. Still, the purpose of my visit was to discuss with her soft-mannered, academic husband his translations of Mihai Eminescu’s poems, which he rendered so exquisitely well in French. On this latter purpose, I failed dismally, yet not only this encounter left an indelible memory, but I always remember it, often, with great affection.