r. Gurdjieff informed us one day that he was to receive Mr. and Mrs. Frank Lloyd Wright for dinner in Chicago, and that we were to participate in the event. This announcement engendered considerable excitement because we had heard much about Olgivanna Wright who had joined Mr. Gurdjieff and his work in Tiflis at the time Mr. Gurdjieff had brought forty of his followers over the Caucasus from Russia into Turkey. It was known that she and Mme. Ostrowska, Mr. Gurdjieff’s wife, were the two finest performers of his so-called ‘movements’ and dances. We had heard other tales from Americans who had visited the Prieuré as to Olgivanna’s work ability and of the economy and fitness of her acts and speech. Here was an opportunity to observe and learn from one who was an exemplar.
Mr. Gurdjieff had spent many hours in the kitchen in preparation for this special dinner. We gathered at the apartment around seven in the evening. The Wrights were expected about eight o’clock. But it had started to rain and very soon the skies were flooded and there seemed to be no let-up. Eight o’clock arrived, then nine o’clock; but as yet there was no sign of the Wrights. Mr. Gurdjieff repaired to the kitchen a number of times to be certain that the dinner was kept hot. At nine-thirty the doorbell rang, and I hurried to receive the Wrights. Their coats were wet, and they both looked somewhat strained and frazzled after their five-hour drive from Taliesin in Wisconsin.
Mr. Gurdjieff appeared and in his suave, oriental and most ingratiating manner welcomed them, exclaiming: “We all wait dinner for you, our most honored guests. Now we can sit down to specially prepared feast. All was kept hot.” Frank Lloyd Wright responded: “Sorry, Mr. Gurdjieff, had my dinner. Dined at Taliesin. Always eat at certain hour—have stomach trouble—lots of gas.”
Mr. Gurdjieff, showing great consternation: “You not wait for dinner here?—special dinner prepared just for you? You, honored guest—you drive five hours, time to eat again, special dinner.” Frank Lloyd Wright: “Nope. Never eat after dinner—sorry—will sit with you at dinner and talk.”
Mr. Gurdjieff continued to remonstrate as the Wrights were ushered into the dining room. Mr. Gurdjieff seated Mr. Wright to his right, and Olgivanna sat on Mr. Wright’s right. The salad bowls were already placed in position. Mr. Gurdjieff spoke of the special salad dressing he had prepared: “Very good to start digestive juices, Mr. Wright, you eat salad, good for your stomach. I know, I great physician, I know chemistry of body. This is just right for you.” Frank Lloyd Wright: “Nope. Wouldn’t dare eat it, it would upset me for an entire night.”
Mr. Gurdjieff: “This sauce I prepare is for kings, special ingredients, this sauce a symphony of flavors. Only I can make. You taste only.” Frank Lloyd Wright: “Nope. Sorry, wouldn’t dare.”
Mr. Gurdjieff (now showing exasperation and seemingly much angered): “I come from East—guest is much honored person. Host must prepare best food. You honored guest, but you not honor host—I prepare for you, but you not honor me.”
His burst of anger startled Mr. Wright into an awareness of Mr. Gurdjieff’s feelings as host, so abandoning his inflexible position and his preoccupation with his digestive troubles, Mr. Wright compromised to the extent of saying: “To please you, I will taste the sauce.”
Mr. Gurdjieff beamed happily, and Mr. Wright continued to taste and to eat the salad. The armor had been pierced and Mr. Wright said, “Yes, the sauce is good; it may create gas—I manufacture so much gas, the generator at Taliesin could be run with it.” Mr. Gurdjieff, responding in kind: “Why Mr. Wright, I also produce gas.” He demonstrates. “Why, I could produce enough gas to run the whole World’s Fair.”
We had all been amused with this exchange, this play of wills and masculine humor. We were amazed at the outcome. I had glanced at Mrs. Wright and saw that she was greatly tensed. This was the first meeting between her teacher and her lord-husband. It had taken her three years to achieve this meeting between the two men who had helped shape her life. Both men masters in their own rights.
Mr. Gurdjieff now served the main dish. As I recall it was a succulent goulash, laced with condiments, whiffs of whose aromatic herbs for over two hours had tantalized our nostrils and whetted our appetites. Mr. Wright ate it without being urged.
After dinner in the living room Mr. Wright said, “Mr. Gurdjieff, I am not interested in your philosophy, but I am interested in your music—Olgivanna has played some of it for us on the piano. I would like to hear you play on your harmonium.” Mr. Gurdjieff, still beaming, took out his harmonium and played a great range of melodies which wrung our hearts and penetrated to our very essences.
Olgivanna Wright previously, as a matter of course, had come to the kitchen to help. I remonstrated, saying that she had so little time to be with Mr. Gurdjieff. She smiled but shook her head, saying, “There will be time enough.”
I was not to know the outcome of this meeting until twenty years later when Olgivanna Wright, whom I had sought out in 1953, became my guide, my second teacher in the Work. She told the following:
During the night around 2:00 a.m., Mr. Wright awakened with violent pains, moaning and cursing Mr. Gurdjieff, his devilish oriental dishes, his wife’s insistence that he meet with Mr. Gurdjieff, and cursing his fate in general. Mrs. Wright, desperate and wrought up herself by this disastrous turn of affairs, found a hot water bottle and after about two hours Mr. Wright had some relief. Mrs. Wright told me that this was the first time in all the seven years she had known Mr. Gurdjieff that she had doubts about her teacher. She was appalled at the result.
At eight o’clock the next morning Mrs. Wright was shaken out of a fretful sleep with a cheery, “Good morning Mother, wake up and prepare me a breakfast of bacon and eggs. I feel wonderful.” The master had been successful. The various condiments and herbs he had employed had stirred up the gall bladder, inflamed it to be sure, but had forced it to empty its contents. Mr. Gurdjieff had carefully inquired as to Frank Lloyd Wright’s symptoms when he had talked with Mrs. Wright before their coming. He had planned it all. That is the reason why he had to employ any and all desperate means to get Mr. Wright to eat his “special dishes.”
Mrs. Wright told me that Mr. Gurdjieff had effected a permanent cure. The congestion and blockage of the gall bladder which had caused so much discomfort never reoccurred. From then on Mr. Gurdjieff and Frank Lloyd Wright were firm friends. At the time of Mr. Gurdjieff’s death, Mr. Wright delivered a memorial address at Unity Church in Madison, Wisconsin, which he had designed. His opening words were to this effect: “We are here to pay homage to a great man, the greatest man who has lived in this century.”
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Diana Huebert Faidy (1899–1983) was a noted modern dancer and choreographer and in the 1930’s joined the Gurdjieff group in Chicago led by Jean Toomer. In 1953, she followed and studied with Olgivanna Lloyd Wright.
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Featured: Winter 2018/2019 Issue, Vol. XIII (1)
Revision: August 1, 2019