On the Founding of the IFF Archive of the Feldenkrais Method

Interview with Cliff Smyth by Richard Ehrman
agosto 28, 2004

In late August after the Seattle FGNA conference, the IFF Archive Working group went to Portland to continue its work. One evening we took a break to record some history of the Archive itself. George Krutz and I prompted Cliff Smyth to relate the story of how the International Feldenkrais Federation ‘Archive of the Feldenkrais Method’ began. The references I’d heard Cliff make to this story seemed to have the makings of a good tale and I wanted him to tell it to promote the work of the archive. The story serves as an example of how volunteers act to support the Method through our community organizations.

R: Cliff Smyth is going to tell us the story of the beginnings of the IFF Archive. First, what led you to go on this mission?

do: A variety of unpublished materials had been in the Feldenkrais Institute in Tel Aviv for some time. Moshe’s nephew Michel Silice Feldenkrais was having some problems with his health and so we talked about the IFF taking over responsibility for preserving and publishing these materials. For two months in 2001, we negotiated via phone and fax and came up a contract to create the Archive. Then the question was – how to get it to Portland to be stored and worked on?

R: How did you decide the materials should leave Tel Aviv?

do: Well I think we were worried about what would happen to the materials in Tel Aviv – with the weather and other considerations. Michel Silice Feldenkrais trusted the IFF and felt like we would do a good job looking after them. He sent me a fax after we signed saying, “Now this is signed and we should let the community know.” And I faxed back and said, “I think this is a great thing for the community.” So we decided to go ahead – we signed the contract but we still didn’t really have a plan for getting the materials. But it was slow to get off the ground because we were kind of nervous about shipping these unique materials. They needed to be documented before they were shipped. At that time there was a lot going on in the IFF, like the competency project and the Academy idea, and there was a whole lot of new ideas being laid down.

R: Así que con todas estas otras cosas que estaba haciendo, ¿cómo se llega a la decisión de ir a Israel?

do: En Mayo 2002 tuvimos la Asamblea IFF en Noruega, un largo camino desde cualquier lugar y Michel estaba preocupado por su salud y estaba en contacto constante a través de la Asamblea a través del teléfono celular de Daniel Clénin y algún lugar de ahí surgió la idea de que me vaya a Israel.

R: Usted no había planeado ir a Israel?

do: No había planeado ir a Israel, no. De hecho, me encontré con George Krutz y Daniel Clénin, que era entonces el vicepresidente de la FIB, we were sitting in the corner of a fishermens’ bar. See you’ve got to understand Skottevig. You fly into Oslo and then you fly another hour into Christiansand in the south and then you travel 34 km to this place. We stayed in these huts that are more normally used by fishermen – it was a beautiful setting for an Assembly.

R: Isolated.

do: Isolated. Great natural beauty, beautiful place… very moving place: but no phones in the rooms, no internet connection and so the easy connection was the cell phone. So it was decided that I should go. I made the arrangements, rearranged my flightsI’m calling our copyright lawyer in Chicago, swiping my IFF President’s credit card in the public phone – there were about forty 8 Croner telephone calls before I ended up talking with him! I was the last person there after the Assembly – I was sitting alone and it was actually kind of lonely that night when everybody had gone.

R: The weight of the presidency; The future of the materials; What should I do?

do: That’s right and I was going off to war-torn Israel on my own. Algunos en mi familia estaban preocupados. No le dije a mi madre dónde iba hasta que me dieron la espalda! Así que entro en Christiansand y que vuelo en Oslo y tratar de negociar con KLM y obtener algo de dinero en los billetes. Compro mi boleto de París a Tel Aviv en el mostrador de Air France en el aeropuerto de Oslo. Entonces volar a Amsterdam - descansar allí con un colega - yo estaba cansada de la Asamblea. Luego tomar el tren a París y estar un día con François Combeau, the founding president of the IFF and the person who really negotiated the first contracts for materials with Michel. He was very supportive.

I get on this airplane to Tel Aviv and it was one of the most turbulent flights I’d ever been on! Here I am worried to death I’m going to get shot down and the weather was awful for the plane all the way from Paris…

R: Bouncing around?

do: Yeah bouncing around. Yeah so that didn’t do anything for my mood!

I don’t want to over dramatize the safety thing, because Israeli people live with this all the time, but you know, it was a real choice to go to Tel Aviv at this time. When the IFF first went to Tel Aviv for the 1994 Montaje, it was just after the Oslo Accords were signed – it was very peaceful, people were very optimistic. But by 2002, it was pretty hot! The day I arrived in Tel Aviv, there was a bombing where 17 a 20 people had been killed in Jerusalem.

So I arrived safely in Tel Aviv and went and stayed in the hotel where we had stayed for the 1994 Montaje. The Israeli IFF Representative, Ilan Jacobson, had organized a deal for me, with a friend of his who was a travel agent who got a good price for us. So I stayed in my familiar old hotel and every day for six days, every day, I went to the Feldenkrais Institute.

R: Describe the Institute.

do: Michel had moved the Institute to a bigger space from Nachmani Street where it had been in the basement there since Moshe had set it up. I went to the new Institute. It was nice inside and Michel had done renovations. Fue realmente muy inspirador estar allí porque no eran todas estas personas que rodaría en varias veces al día para hacer clases Alexander Yanai ATM con Moshe en la cinta! Yo trabajaba en la oficina de forma continua durante seis días, excepto, por supuesto Tomé Shabat fuera!

R: ¿Puede describir el lugar donde estaban los materiales?

do: No era la oficina de Michel y en la parte posterior de la misma era un compactus, unos seis estantes de rodadura de las cintas, etc.. Empecé, Tenía mi portátil conmigo, and I set it up on the table and Michel just kept bringing me things from the shelves and I kept going – typing – at great speed because there turned out to be around 850 items of audio visual materials and the 1700 photographs.

R: You looked at every photograph?

do: I counted every photograph and I looked at a lot of them. Well there wasn’t lots of time, but we did stop and look at things.. It was hot, it was really hot, in the 90s Fahrenheit, and humid. I put little stickers on them and numbered everything and created a database from scratch. I entered what ever I could that was obvious that would allow the materials to be identified later so what kind of media it was on, if anything was inscribed on it, dates especially.

R: So you had to read everything and type it in?

do: Yeah that’s right, and try to kind of work out what went together in a series. A lot of materials were together, but some of them were a bit jumbled up. También estábamos hablando acerca de cómo enviar ellos - porque las cosas se pierden en el transporte marítimo internacional. Al final decidimos que les enviaríamos Federal Express, Tomamos un seguro. Michel tuvo un gran rollo de papel de burbujas allí, así que se alineaban en las cajas de plástico de burbujas. Entonces repacked todo y comprobado en contra de la base de datos como Recargué y encontré algunos errores a continuación, y trató de verificar la exactitud y terminamos con ocho cajas de envío de tamaño estándar. También llamé a Barbara Greenfield (FGNA / Director Ejecutivo FEFNA) and said, “We want to get this stuff into America but we don’t want to pay any customs duties so can we send it to FEFNA?” FEFNA was relatively new then and we didn’t have time to consult with the Board, and she made an executive decision right there on the phone.

do: I wrote up a shipping label to FEFNA and photocopied it so they’re all the same. When you ship something from Israel, it’s no easy thing. You’ve got to call up and prearrange the shipment. You’ve got to talk to the shipping people about the process of shipping and collecting everything but you’ve got to talk to the security agent of the shipping company and they want to know a lot of things about your stuff. They give you an authorization number and their ID that goes on the carton that they have interviewed you.

R: Did you have some trouble getting out of the country?

do: In addition to the eight boxes of audiovisual materials there was a whole lot of photographs – and also some film – which were a bit delicate and Michel and I decided that I should carry them with me. I went down to Ben Yehuda Street – there were a lot of closed shops. A lot of the stores, the doors were locked and there was no handle on the outside. You had to come and knock on the door and get them to let you in.

I went to this bag store with this lovely old Israeli couple and they said hopefully, “Oh! You’re a tourist! Do you want a bag?” I said, “No, I’ve got these archival materials I want to take out of the country”. They said, “What kind of archival materials?” “Oh, stuff about Moshe Feldenkrais.” And they said, “Oh, the man who taught Ben Gurion to stand on his head? Ben Gurion’s wife used to come and buy her bags here.So then they were really nice to me. He cut out this extra foam padding to protect the photographs to put in the bag. I go back to the Institute, put all the photos in the bag, and the film and everything. A lot of the photos were really kind of curled so I put them on backing. There were all those little pieces of Masonite at the Institute so I wrapped the photos in paper, put rubberbands around them and backed them on this stuff that would hold them and I tried to keep them in clumps of numbers of photos because there were numbers on the back. Some of them were in sequences that were used for the drawings for Judo and Higher Judo. I tried to keep them in sequences. I went off to the airport the next day.

R: When you were going through the materials were there certain things that really excited you? Can you talk a little more about what you were discovering as you were cataloging.

do: There was a lot of stuff that it was not clear what it was but stuff that was clearly very old, old audio tapes and things like that and then…If it had a Hebrew label I’d go over and ask him Michel what was on it. Like the Aaron Meshkin tape, por ejemplo, the interview with the actor from the Israel National Theater. He was able to translate that for me and so he knew many of the materials. Then there were a whole lot of materials I’d never heard of, and then there were materials that had been published already – there was a whole mix of things.

R: Did you see any surprises?

do: Well I think the stuff that was really exciting were the photos of Moshe as a young man and doing Judo. Some of those photos with him with Koizumi from the 1930s from Paris. The ones of him doing the mock knife fights, using tables and dressed in suits and all that. Hay fotos de él cuando llegó el canciller japonés. Y luego las fotos de Moshe en estado de pre-Israel, de Palestina en los años 1920 y 1930, haciendo artes marciales y que caen en los techos de estos clásicos apartamentos Tel Aviv aspecto muy tropical y Moshe aspecto tan joven y en forma. Toda una época diferente de Moshe. Eso fue emocionante - y algunos de los artículos de prensa desde la década de 1930 captura el sabor de París en el momento y el artículo en danés sobre cuando fue a la conferencia de Copenhague potencial humano en los años 50.

R: ¿Ha tenido un sentimiento de la amplitud de tiempo que el método desarrollado a lo largo?

do: Sí, y el hecho de que Moshe estaba grabando material de audio a través de los años 50 a los años 80. Y que tuvo la visión de utilizar la tecnología, que en el momento era grabadoras, y luego de vídeo, para grabar su obra. That was really something. And the amount of the materials was really exciting.

R: Let’s return to leaving the country.

do: I took the taxi to the airport and as I’d been to Israel once before, I knew security was tough. I knew that I had all these red flags and sure enough they went up. I get there to do the interview and you’ve got the person who is doing the interview, which is a young guy and you’ve got the supervisor about twenty paces away, who is a young woman kind of observing the interaction—so first it’s like, “Who are you?” I’ve got an Australian passport right, but I live in America. So that’s a little red flag. So “Where have you been?” OK, Noruega, OK. So show us your tickets, Oh, you’ve cancelled your tickets back from Amsterdam to America and you booked a ticket on Air France from Paris to Tel Aviv and back,? It’s like big red flag now. Big red flag. What were you doing here? I was picking up materials for an archive, etc., etc.. I have this letter from the Institute… Of course that doesn’t count, you can get a letter from anybody for anything. That doesn’t count for diddley. My credit card, the IFF credit card, only had my name on it, ‘Monsieur Clifford Smyth’, not anything about the International Feldenkrais Federation. “Why doesn’t your credit card have the business name on it?” OK, so then the classic question, “Are you carrying anything that somebody gave you to take.” “Yes! A whole lot of archival materials.” Hello, it’s like red flag, red flag, red flag! “Did you buy a bag in Israel” “Yes I did!” More red flags. I look at him and I know I’m in for the third degree.

R: Were you nervous?

do: A little but, but I also knew it was going to happen. I know I’m going to get the third degree. He goes over and checks with the supervisor and chats with her, which is normal, they usually check in with the supervisor who has been observing the interaction and there’s my bag and credit cards and letter from the Institute, all laid out on top of my bags and I think he’s going to bring the supervisor over and she’s going to give me the third degree. He comes back and he said, “Lo siento, pero sólo voy a tener que llevará a esta otra instalación y registrar su equipaje.” I paquete de todo mi ID, mis documentos, mis entradas de Amsterdam muertos de vuelta a San Francisco que no me daría ningún dinero de vuelta en ... nos vamos a este tipo de zona de interrogación con mesas largas de metal, cerca de tres filas de ellas, muy similar a la cárcel.

Obtenemos las bolsas que tienen las fotos en ellas, lo que lleva a cabo estos racimos de fotos con las bandas de goma y el cartón y madera detrás de ellos, y corre el detector de metales sobre cada una de ellas. Estamos hablando de mil setecientos fotos aquí. Después de que tiene todas las fotos y él ha mirado hacia el interior de cada uno de esos pequeños botes de 35 negativos mm, todo. Entonces toman la bolsa y la bolsa pasa veinte minutos o media hora de distancia en la trastienda. Escucho a la gente hablar. Estamos tipo de pie allí, tocando nuestros pies - que no sólo conversar en medio de un interrogatorio este. Supongo que lo esencial, a la bolsa aparte y se aseguró de que no había nada en ella explosiva. Intentado toda la tecnología inhalación o tal vez los perros ... Finalmente la bolsa se vuelva mirando un poco torcida o tal vez un poco torcida - pero está bien. Hay este pedazo de espuma que había proporcionado el tipo de la tienda. Él dijo, "DE ACUERDO, buena.”Creo que va a comprobar todo el resto de mi equipaje, pero no lo hace. Así como yo estoy empezando a empacar las fotos de nuevo en él dice, “¿Puedo mirar algunos de los?”Así que conseguir uno de los paquetes de fotos y tomar las bandas de goma apagado y pelar el papel de nuevo y él tiene una mirada y dice, “Así que este es el mismo viejo, eh?” “Oh, sabe usted de Feldenkrais?" "Bien, todo el mundo en Israel, todo el mundo sabe acerca de Feldenkrais. Voy a este gimnasio donde hay clases de Feldenkrais y un practicante. Me hacen Aikido a mí mismo - por lo que estas fotos son realmente interesantes “.

Él sabía de Feldenkrais todo el tiempo - pero no insinuar de ninguna manera a través de todo el proceso que él sabía que era Moshe, lo que el método Feldenkrais era. Era el oficial de seguridad profesional consumada hasta que finalmente decidieron que era kosher y iban a dejarme pasar y entonces él dice, “me demuestra las fotos!”

Me subí al avión, respirado un suspiro de alivio, poner las fotos en el compartimento superior. Volé Tel Aviv a París. Yo llegué tarde, hospedado en un hotel de aeropuerto y la mañana siguiente volé a San Francisco. Las cajas fueron directamente a Portland, ningún problema. Fueron puestos en el almacenamiento con bastante rapidez. Ellos fueron abiertos y controlados por Penny McCornack (IFF Project Manager). La primera vez que se manejaron fue cuando se ha formado el Grupo de Trabajo de Archivo y fuimos a Portland para empezar a trabajar en ellos.

R: Mientras que estaba haciendo esto, lo que era su propia motivación, que estabas pensando? Fueron enfocado en la tarea o tuvo una idea del propósito más grande?

do; Tenía un enfoque en el objetivo más amplio porque había sido presidente de IFF 4, 5 años por entonces y que había tomado la responsabilidad de los materiales y parecía importante para obtener los materiales y ponerlos en buenas condiciones de almacenamiento y conservación.

R: ¿Hay alguien desea reconocer a través de todo el proceso?

do: Obviamente Michel para ponerlos a disposición de toda la comunidad y confiar en la FIB y yo con los materiales. Recuerdo estar esperando para el taxi del aeropuerto con él y despedirse de él y hubo un momento real de ... .era una cosa muy grande para él, que había recibido el mandato de la familia para cuidar de los materiales, para pasarlos a la comunidad, conmigo en funciones de la comunidad era importante.

No era el momento más fácil para visitar Israel y yo estaba trabajando duro - Ilan Jacobson, que era realmente grande. Se aseguró de que tenía paseos por la playa, apoyo moral, una oportunidad para hablar de cosas. Y debo reconocer la gente en casa que estaban preocupados por mí.

De alguna manera, todo tuvo sentido, no fue tan duro. We signed a contract and had this intention and wondered “How are we going to do it, do we really want to ship it?” We needed someone to go to the Institute and pack the materials, do a data base, personally, hands on…

R: The community owes you a great debt.

do. I feel like it was a good thing to do.

R. Well considering possible alternatives, it was very important.

do: They might have been lost to the weather in Tel Aviv, or whatever. It was important that they weren’t lost and that some people took stewardship of them on behalf of the community. I think the international body is the best one to do that because the materials are in different languages and there are materials that don’t have much commercial value, like the newspaper articles, and yet it’s important they be preserved.

R. I want to thank you for telling this story, I’ve been after you to tell it for some time. My reason is that it’s important to understand that the way these things happen is through the actions of individuals…taking advantage of circumstances. You had to go to Israel you had to deal with what you told us about and do it. The reason to tell the story is to encourage others that when there are things to be done, people should go ahead and do them. And to publicly commend you and the IFF for taking these steps. Of course it would not have been possible without the foresight and generosity of Michel Silice Feldenkrais, so it’s appropriate to again thank him here.