Richard P. Feynman to Gweneth Feynman, October 11, 1961
October 11, 1961
Hotel Amigo, Brussels
Hello, my sweetheart,
Murray and I kept each other awake arguing until we could stand it no longer. We woke up over Greenland which was even better than last time because we went right over part of it. In London we met other physicists and came to Brussels together. One of them was worried—in his guidebook the Hotel Amigo was not even mentioned. Another had a newer guide—five stars! and rumored to be the best hotel in Europe!
It is very nice indeed. All the furniture is dark red polished wood, in perfect condition; the bathroom is grand, etc. It is really too bad you didn’t come to this conference instead of the other one.
At the meeting next day things started slowly. I was to talk in the afternoon. That is what I did, but I didn’t really have enough time. We had to stop at 4 PM because of a reception scheduled for that night. I think my talk was OK tho—what I left out was in the written version anyway.
So that evening we went to the palace to meet the king and queen. Taxis waited for us at the hotel—long black ones—and off we went at 5 PM, arriving through the palace gates with a guard on each side, and driving under an arch where men in red coats and white stockings with a black band and gold tassel under each knee opened the doors. More guards at the entrance, in the hallway, along the stairs, and up into a ballroom, sort of. These guards stand very straight, dark grey Russian-type hats with a chin strap, dark coats, white pants, and shiny black leather boots, each holding a sword straight up.
In the “ballroom” we had to wait perhaps 20 minutes. It has inlaid parquet floors, and L in each square (Leopold—the present king’s name is Baudoin, or something). The gilded walls are 18th century and on the ceiling are pictures of naked women riding chariots among the clouds or something. Lots of mirrors and gilded chairs with red cushions around the outside edge of the room—just like so many of the palaces we have seen, but this time it was alive, no museum, everything clean and shining and in perfect condition. Several palace officials were milling around among us. One had a list and told me where to stand but I didn’t do it right and was out of place later.
The doors at the end of the hall open—guards are there, and the king and queen so we all enter slowly and are introduced one by one to the king and queen. The king has a young semi-dopey face and a strong handshake, the queen is very pretty. (I think her name is Fabriola—a Spanish countess she was.) We exit into another room on the left where there are lots of chairs arranged like in a theatre, with two in front, also facing forward, for K & Q later, and a table at the front with six seats is for illustrious scientists (Niels Bohr, J. Perrin (a Frenchman), J. R. Oppenheimer etc.).
It turns out the king wants to know what we are doing, so the old boys give a set of six dull lectures—all very solemn—no jokes. I had great difficulty sitting in my seat because I had a very stiff and uncomfortable back from sleeping on the plane.
That done, the K & Q pass thru the room where we met them and into a room on right (marked R). All these rooms are very big, gilded, Victorian, fancy, etc. In R are many kinds of uniforms, guards at door, red coats, white coat sort of waiters to serve drinks and hors d’oeuvres, military khaki and medals, black coat—undertaker’s type (palace officials).
On the way out of L into R, I am last because I walk slowly from stiff back and find myself talking to a palace official—nice man—teaches math part time at Louvain University, but his main job is secretary to the queen. He had also tutored K when K was young and has been in palace work 23 years. At least I have somebody to talk to, some others are talking to K or to Q; everybody standing up. After a while the professor who is head of conference (Prof. Bragg) grabs me and says K wants to talk to me. I pull boner #1 by wanting to shake hands again when Bragg says, “K, this is Feynman”; apparently wrong—no hand reaches up, but after an embarrassed pause K saves day by shaking my hand. K makes polite remarks on how smart we all must be and how hard it must be to think. I answer, making jokes (having been instructed to do so by Bragg, but what does he know?)—apparently error #2. Anyway, strain is relieved when Bragg brings over some other professor—Heisenberg, I think. K forgets F and F slinks off to resume conversation with Sec’y of Q.
After considerable time—several orange juices and many very very good hors d’oeuvres later—a military uniform with medals comes over to me and says, “Talk to the queen!” Nothing I should like to do better (pretty girl, but don’t worry, she’s married). F arrives at scene: Q is sitting at table surrounded by three other occupied chairs—no room for F. There are several low coughs, slight confusion, etc. and lo! one of the chairs has been reluctantly vacated. Other two chairs contain one lady and one Priest in Full Regalia (who is also a physicist) named LeMaître.
We have quite a conversation (I listen, but hear no low coughs, and am not evacuated from seat) for perhaps 15 minutes. Sample:
Q: “It must be very hard work thinking about those difficult problems.”
F: “No, we all do it for the fun of it.”
Q: “It must be hard to learn to change all your ideas” (a thing she got from the six lectures).
F: “No, all those guys who gave you those lectures are old fogeys—all that stuff was in 1926, when I was only eight, so when I learned physics I only had to learn the new ideas. Big problem now is, will we have to change them again?”
Q: “You must feel good, working for peace like that.”
F: “No, never enters my head, whether it is for peace or otherwise we don’t know.”
Q: “Things certainly change fast—many things have changed in the last hundred years.”
F: “Not in this palace.” (I thought it, but controlled myself.)
F: “Yes,” and then launched into lecture on what was known in 1861 and what we found out since—adding at end, laughingly, “Can’t help giving a lecture, I guess—I’m a professor, you see. Ha, ha.”
Q in desperation, turns to lady on her other side and begins pleasant conversation with same.
After a few moments K comes over, whispers something to Q who stands up and they quietly go out. F returns to Sec’y of Q who personally escorts him out of palace past guards, etc.
I’m so terribly sorry you missed it. I don’t know when we’ll find another king for you to meet.
I was paged in the hotel this morning just before leaving with the others.
Phone call—I returned to the others and announced, “Gentlemen, that call was from the queen’s secretary.” All are awestruck, for it did not go unnoticed that F talked longer and harder to Q than seemed proper. I didn’t tell them, however, that it was about a meeting we arranged—he was inviting me to his home to meet his wife and two (of four) of his daughters, and see his house. I had invited him to visit us in Pasadena when he came to America and this was his response.
His wife and daughters are very nice and his house was positively beautiful. You would have enjoyed that even more than visiting the palace. He planned and built his house in a Belgian style, somewhat after an old farmhouse style, but done just right. He has many old cabinets and tables inside, right beside newer stuff, very well combined. It is much easier for them to find antiques in Belgium than for you in Los Angeles as there are so many old farms, etc. He has large grounds and a vegetable garden—and a dog—from Washington—somebody gave the king and the K gave to him. The dog has a personality somewhat like Kiwi because I think he is equally loved. He even has a bench in his garden hidden under trees that he made for himself to go and sit on and look at the surrounding countryside. The house is slightly bigger than ours and the grounds are much bigger but not yet landscaped.
I told him I had a queen in a little castle in Pasadena I would like him to see—and he said he hoped he would be able to come to America and see us. He would come if the Q ever visits America again.
I am enclosing a picture of his house, and his card so I don’t lose it.
I know you must feel terrible being left out this time—but I’ll make it up someday somehow. Don’t forget I love you very much and am proud of my family that is and my family that is to be. The secretary and his wife send their best wishes to you and our future.
I wish you were here, or next best thing, that I were there. Kiss SNORK and tell Mom all my adventures and I will be home sooner than you think.
Your husband loves you.