Mrs. Florence Leonard—11/18/76
WALI ALI: We are talking to Florence Leonard, and you were telling me when you first met Samuel Lewis.
FLORENCE: I met him, I think, about 1956, '55 or' 56, that was when we were in Alan Watts' class.
WALI ALI: That was at the American Institute of Asian studies?
FLORENCE: No, the Academy of Asian Studies, which was under the auspices—at that time, it was the College of the Pacific, later on it became the University of the Pacific. They were giving graduate degrees for their classes—
WALI ALI: And it was like a branch of the College of the Pacific?
WALI ALI: It was like a department of The College of the Pacific?
FLORENCE: Of course, but based on Asian studies.
WALI ALI: Who was on the faculty besides Alan Watts? Who was on the faculty?
FLORENCE: I can show you that—I have the whole—
WALI ALI: Oh good, maybe you can get that, that would be useful, because I expect some of those other people might still be around too that we might be able to contact—okay so you were going to look for something which you were going to try and find this—which is a brochure of the college, is that right? Because I was asking you about who was on the faculty. I know Watts was; was Rom Landau on the faculty?
FLORENCE: Rom Landau—
WALI ALI: Spiegelberg, was he on at the time?
FLORENCE: Spiegelberg, I had classes with him, and Chaudhuri—
WALI ALI: Dr. Chaudhuri—and Dr. George Fung, and the other one, Paul.
WALI ALI: Right, the people that were connected with the Chinese Buddhist Church—
FLORENCE: And then Hasagawa—
WALI ALI: Sabro Hasagawa—
FLORENCE: The Japanese teacher, Croft (?) and so forth—
WALI ALI: Yeah, I know him—
FLORENCE: He passed on—
WALI ALI:—a long time ago—
FLORENCE: That's from his widow, I wrote to her a Haiku when he died. I was in New York, my sister was ill at that time, and when he died—I wasn't here, I was in the East, and I sent a condolence note in the form of a Haiku to Mrs. Hasagawa.
WALI ALI: Was that around 1960 or something?
FLORENCE: No, it was '63, because I was in New York. No, it was earlier, '57 when my sister died. That was when he died.
WALI ALI: He was a painter of France (?)—
FLORENCE: He was—yes, he was an artist, he worked in wood—and he also was a teacher of philosophy. I had a six months class with him in the Tea Ceremony, and that was unforgettable. He was a wonderful teacher, and let me see—
SABIRA: Was that this person Agarwal or is that someone else you are talking about?
WALI ALI: No, it was Sabro Hasagawa we are talking about. What's this name, Sabira? She has a professor Satya Agarwal? Do you recall him?
FLORENCE: Oh, of course I remember him, I have a very good book that he gave me, he was the Indian, a young Indian, and then there was the other one, the Chinese, now what was his name—if I take the book out I’ll see his name. He taught there also, a young Chinese, I forget is name-
WALI ALI: Okay, I just wanted to stop and go back, to sketch out a little of the background—
FLORENCE: Then there were the Americans, one who taught Greek philosophy, I don't remember him anymore, but it was Dr. Wood who became the president of the Academy while I was there.
WALI ALI: What was his first name?
FLORENCE: Ernest. And I took a number of classes with Rom Landau, who taught North-African, studies including Islam. He always claimed—
WALI ALI: He is still around somewhere, isn't he?
FLORENCE: He certainly is not, he is as dead as a doornail.
WALI ALI: I'm trying to sketch out the people that were there and the general setting.
FLORENCE: Yes, and then very often after class we'd walk down to Van Ness and stop in at the Hippo—a number of us would sit around and chew the fat about this and that, and that was how we became more acquainted.
SABIRA: Let's go back to the first time that you met Sam—
FLORENCE: We were sitting in class, and that was all.
WALI ALI: That was in 1950?
FLORENCE: In the '50's, about 50—
WALI ALI: Was that before or after he traveled to Asia in '56?
FLORENCE: Before; he went to Asia much later.
WALI ALI: He went for the first time in 1956, and for the second time in 1960-61.
FLORENCE: The second time I am more familiar with than the first. He had this friend, Gavin Arthur?
WALI ALI: Yes.
FLORENCE: And then there was Thea; she was part of this group; she went to the classes also.
WALI ALI: She was a friend of everybody—
FLORENCE: We, we were all in the thing and we became friendly through that sort of association, and then there was Yvonne and Lois who married.
WALI ALI: You’ve already gotten the names and addresses?
SABIRA: Right; I have contacted all these people and they are going to be interviewed.
FLORENCE: Tell me, is Yvonne married again?
SABIRA: I haven't met her yet, I don't know. She is in the phone book, though, as Yvonne Childs.
FLORENCE: Then that's it—
WALI ALI: So what was your…
FLORENCE: We had a lot in common, and Sam liked an audience and he knew a lot, he was interesting, and he showed qualities that I admired very much. He had a very high ideal of what people should be and was constantly remonstrating about what they weren't—mostly in the professorial class, and what Americans all thought about things who were not qualified to pass judgment on them—
WALI ALI: I am very familiar with that theme—
FLORENCE: Yes, I would say that was his life's motif, and that he wasn't accepted by them. He was very much interested in soil, wanted to help the Egyptian government—they had a salinization problem, but he always met with rebuts, I think this was a personality problem, he had a way of telling people, and he meant it awfully well, and he knew a lot, but as one of the professors said, he said, "Sam is like an encyclopedia that someone has torn up and thrown in the wastepaper basket." Because he had such an enormous fund of knowledge but it didn't seem to be coordinated, so that he could give it out in a way in which other people grasped.
WALI ALI: This was certainly the story of his life for years of frustration. At the end he was able to find a way of communicating and people that could hear him in reality, and so it came out very satisfactorily for him in the last years of his life.
FLORENCE: Those years I only saw him occasionally when he had a party and he invited the old crowd in which I was included. But in the earlier years he would come up here and he’d sit over there with his feet crossed and once in a while he invited us for a dinner, and we had dinner once at the Japanese place and a few other places. I think he introduced me to raw fish which I hadn't tasted, and we were all very friendly as a group. Nothing personal, just students interested in what we are studying and all very serious about wanting to learn.
WALI ALI: How many years would you say that he and you were involved at the Academy.
FLORENCE: That's a little hard to say because I don't—I don't really know when that tapered off. When he started with this dancing business with the young crowd—
WALI ALI: That was much later—that was 1968.
FLORENCE: Yes, I remember him telling me about dance, about this dancing business which of course was from the Whirling Dervishes—
WALI ALI: And others, that's right—
FLORENCE: Then he had many quarrels with Prof. Landau because he said, "He is a Sufi.”
WALI ALI: Because Samuel said that he was a Sufi or because Landau said he was Sufi?
FLORENCE: And Landau said, “There is no such thing in America; there are no Sufis in America," and Samuel was furious—
WALI ALI: I can imagine.
FLORENCE: And there was another young man whom he claimed was a Sufi: we met that young man. Sam gave lectures occasionally, and we went. At Dr. Baker's, I remember once, he gave a lecture, and he gave other lectures, but I can truthfully say that we got very little out of them because while be said a lot it was never coordinated. We used to compare afterwards and—
WALI ALI: You mean there wasn't one sort of theme that was—He didn't carry through in these themes—he jumped around.
FLORENCE: He knew a lot but he couldn't give it out in a way in which other people got enough out of, except for his sincerity, and the fact that we knew that he knew a lot, but he wasn't giving it to us in a way which was usable.
WALI ALI: Did he ever give any classes or talks at the American Academy?
FLORENCE: No, not to my knowledge, anyway.
WALI ALI: Did he try to? Did he wish to?
FLORENCE: I never heard that he did. No, I think that he—at that time, belonged, I believe, to the World Affairs Council where I was a member, and he invited me several times to go with him—that might have even been before I joined there. I’m not sure. I think I joined there about 1955 or something like that.
WALI ALI: The World Affairs Council?
FLORENCE: And there I am an active member now.
WALI ALI: Do you know Terry Duce, also?
FLORENCE: No, I don’t remember that name—
WALI ALI: American Friends of the Middle East, the Middle East Council, I don't know, maybe it was the world Affairs Council.
FLORENCE: American Friends of the Middle East –-I know a lot of those people—because I belong, I belong to Najda, do you know Najda?
WALI ALI: I have heard of it, yes—
FLORENCE: They are young, mostly young, women who are either married to Arabs who are either professors or students or who themselves are Arabs-these girls, and I have—I belong to—
WALI ALI: Yes, we have met with some of those people, now I know who they are.
FLORENCE: And I belong to that group and have been active until rather recently. Now it is getting harder for me to go over there—at night, you know, with the parking problems and all that stuff, I don't particularly like to drive there anymore, and I don't care to drive at night anymore—time has marched on, I am not quite where I was in those days. But I think about 14 years that I have belonged to Najda.
WALI ALI: You mentioned Blanche Baker who is a person that I would like to know a little more about. Dr. Baker, did you know her very well?
FLORENCE: No, I didn't know her at all, I only knew about her. I think she taught lessons—exercises for the eyes—that's as much as I know, and I also know that she was a Doctor of Philosophy.
WALI ALI: He gave some talk over there—
FLORENCE: But he was very friendly with her.
WALI ALI: Yeah, and also Gavin Arthur, I think was very friendly with her, too.
FLORENCE: That was sort of a group—I was not in that group—I was on the fringe there, I didn't quite—
WALI ALI: I am interested in focusing in on the Academy and talking more about it. You quoted Landau as saying that there are no such things as Sufis.
WALI ALI: That argument must have developed over the course of years—
FLORENCE: I tell you, first of all he didn’t like Sam. Landau who was a brilliant man but he was a snob, and little Sam was always dressed in peculiar ways. We used to go after him and tell him to put on something else, you know, we—
WALI ALI: He didn’t have much consciousness about—all about his body or the clothes that he wore.
FLORENCE: That's right, he was beyond that, and—but not professor Landau who was a fuddy-duddy, and who made remarks, “No one shall come to my class without…”
WALI ALI: Without a tie?
FLORENCE: Without a tie and so forth and so on. “And my classes start at 6:30, they do no start 6:31 or 6:29,” so that’s how we started. But he was a marvelous raconteur and a teacher. When he got on to teaching he was wonderful. He wrote often, but he scribbled, and nobody cared for his books. But as a teacher sitting there we were transformed because it was unbelievably interesting.
WALI ALI: Was he British?
FLORENCE: Yes. And he always talked about, "We Christians,” we always knew that he was half Jewish, half Christian. His father was Polish, but he was a snob. "We Christians” and at the same time he gave a feeling of having much more feeling and understanding of Islam, but he wouldn’t admit it, and through him I joined—and I don’t know whether Sam joined or not—the Islamic Center.
WALI ALI: The one on Crescent Avenue?
FLORENCE: Now they are on Crescent—and I am still a member there—through that—
WALI ALI: Sam did join there, I think, for awhile also—
FLORENCE: But he would have found fault there too, I’m sure, and there was plenty of reason to find fault—
WALI ALI: As I recall, his criticism was that they were interesting in politics and not in Allah.
FLORENCE: No, that’s absolutely wrong, that’s not so, they are interested in Allah.
WALI ALI: There were periods of—(both talking)
FLORENCE: Yeah, they have had various periods—but they surely are all Allah now today.
WALI ALI: That is interesting.
FLORENCE: In fact to the point that if you go there it is pretty boring. I was there not so long ago and somebody was giving one of these enthusiastic talks about that, and I didn’t know finally which side to look at—it was such old stuff to me—I know it. But they are very well-intentioned—just the way Sam was—something I admire very much about the Muslims.
WALI ALI: And that he admired about the Muslims—
FLORENCE: The extended family and their charity—they try to really live up to the Qur'an. We had groups, and Sam was in those. I remember that we met on Friday nights in different peoples’ houses, and then they would serve a little something, and we studied Qur'an. We would have an assigned reading, and then when we met the next time, each one either explained or asked for the meaning of things—I wrote a paper on women in Islam. I used the Ruben Levy book which is the—what is the name of it?—the Social Structures of Islam, " that was and I wrote a paper and read it, and then I became very involved with all these Muslims, not because I was so attractive, but I had a car, and they were poor. So when they wanted to go anywhere with their cartons, for lunches or dinners, Palo Alto or wherever it was, the airport—they called me. And gradually I became friends with quite a number of young people's family so I learned through that and their festivities a great deal about Islamic life—their festivals and what their social life was—in fact in that area I really consider myself quite knowledgeable, much more probably than anybody else in the whole area, because there were so many of them and it was so very, very interesting.
WALI ALI: You would be interested to learn, you probably know that—about the Mosque that has been started in Fairfax this year by a Persian, a man named Imam Seyed Mehdi Khorasani, who is a Persian and who has bought land in Fairfax that used to belong to the Boy Scouts, and has started a Mosque there.
FLORENCE: I only know that when he died they started a monument there, or were going to build a monument.
WALI ALI: When who died?
WALI ALI: Oh, no, this is a entirely different—I just bring it up because of the Islamic interest—
FLORENCE: Oh I see—
WALI ALI: This is something that has happening now—
FLORENCE: Oh, then who is building this monument?
WALI ALI:—it is done by a man by the name of Seyed Mehdi Khorasani” who is Persian and who had a Mosque in England for a number of years. He is a very broad-minded man and a Sufi also, he has started a community in Marin County—we have a very good friendship with them.
FLORENCE: Are you a Sufi?
WALI ALI: Yes, I am.
FLORENCE: A Sufi corresponds to a Yogi in the—
WALI ALI: In the Hindu terminology, yes—
FLORENCE: Because there is really practically no difference, they—
WALI ALI: Hazrat Inayat Khan says somewhere that the difference between the Yogi and the Sufi is that the Yogi uses asceticism as the path towards the same goal that the Sufi uses humanity as a means.
FLORENCE: The books I have on Sufism also emphasize asceticism—
WALI ALI: It's true, there is a lot of a acetic practice, but the emphasis is really on love and on the way of humanity.
FLORENCE: According to Arberry—but I thought that – so they are not ascetic?
WALI ALI: Sufis don’t particularly follow the path of asceticism, that’s right—the approach is not—
FLORENCE: Would that be The Sufis or Sufis in general?
WALI ALI: I can’t make it as an absolute statement, because as you know there are many different schools and some of which have many different practices some of which are highly ascetic—
FLORENCE: Are all of the ones in India very much ascetic?
WALI ALI: It depends upon the order. Hazrat Inayat Khan came from the Chishti Order in India which used music and other types of sound for spiritual practices.
FLORENCE: I see, but in other ways, they have the same general attitude about life?
WALI ALI: Yes. I’d like to, if I can, get maybe a little light focused on to what Samuel was like in the ‘50’s. Was he poor?
WALI ALI: What were his circumstances at the time?
FLORENCE: He always had an income from his family; he came from a very well-to-do family.
WALI ALI: Yes.
FLORENCE: Do you know their names?
WALI ALI: Yes, I know; we have spoken with some of the members of the family too, and we—I know he didn’t have any money until after—his
FLORENCE: people died in the family.
WALI ALI: Then he was given a very small trust—that came in later—
FLORENCE: Yes, but later on when his brother died he got quite a bit more.
WALI ALI: No, that's not true, because I was living with him at the time. No, his brother died about one year before he died, both of their money was tied up by the trust of Jacob Lewis' estate, and it was only theirs as a trust to be paid out to them on a monthly basis and it reverted back to the—
FLORENCE: But he had enough to go to India.
WALI ALI: He got a lump sum when his father died, which he used to travel to the East, and at the most he was receiving from his trust was less than a $1000 per month.
FLORENCE: I wouldn’t call that poor.
WALI ALI: No, but he was receiving approximately $800 a month from his trust, and that was for the last year of his life. Prior to that about three years before, he was receiving about $500 a month, prior to that I think it was around $300 or so.
FLORENCE: Yes, but at that time money had much more value—
WALI ALI: I think that’s right—
FLORENCE: It could easily double or triple what he could do with the money at that time, I never had the feeling of him being poor—never.
WALI ALI: He was living in the city—
FLORENCE: Yes, he lived very modestly in a little apartment on Clementina, I remember that—
WALI ALI: Did you ever go there to that apartment?
FLORENCE: I don't think so; I think I went to Gavin’s apartment over there.
WALI ALI: Which was next door—
FLORENCE: Yes, I think it was. I don't think I was in Sam's, but he didn't have a lot of money, but he worked. He did this garden work and he was paid for that. He worked for people in gardening, knew a lot about plants, and he considered that his work, and you know about that. I’m sure.
WALI ALI: I’m not sure what sorts of jobs he had during that period—
FLORENCE: Yvonne would know that and Della also. You see, his relationship with me was mostly based on what we thought of the world, religion and all of the abstract subjects, and that was where we hit it off very well, and although we were impatient with some of his ways, I considered him a very fine person. His understanding of what life really is and what we are here for—I think he was really one of the elect, because he had no feeling or thought for himself; he only thought about things that were wrong in the world. He was very argumentative and very unpleasant about all of it, but nevertheless—and he saw a lot that people had a way of pooh-poohing—but he was right! He knew what he was talking about.
WALI ALI: Can you give me some examples of this?
FLORENCE: In Egypt. He was furious because the Egyptians wouldn't accept his way of handling their soil situation, he was very angry about that, and what else. To remember, you know, at this point—
WALI ALI: I know, I know—it is something else—but this is what really helps us, the more specific your remembrances can get the more it really helps me and the book.
FLORENCE: Let me think what else.
WALI ALI: Maybe something else will come up as we talk. What about his differences with Alan Watts? Were there any? What was his relationship with Alan Watts?
FLORENCE: I don't know enough about that to give any real information, there probably would be others there—there was a couple—Virginia, and what was her husband's name? He was younger than her son—they were married and he was a very bright fellow. I think they might know. They live in Palo Alto and have a book shop there, Metaphysical Book shop—
WALI ALI: What was their last name?
FLORENCE: That's what am trying to think of, his last name, Virginia and —he was a Jewish boy from Brooklyn, and she was and American Gentile from California, and they were a very happy couple—they certainly looked odd together but they were a good couple. He did some kind of secret service for the Government.
WALI ALI: During World War II or at that time?
FLORENCE: They were in two classes with us, they took the same, and they took a lot of the Greek Philosophy.
WALI ALI: Do you recall Samuel's demeanor in class? He took me to some classes, he never stopped going to courses. Even the last years of his life when he had all his students and all these projects, and people were taking him seriously and everything was happening for him, he still kept going to classes.
FLORENCE: What classes?
WALI ALI: He took all of Dr. Becker Colonna's classes on Egyptian archaeology, and anthropology, and Mediterranean cultures, and all of that.
FLORENCE: You don't say, imagine that!
WALI ALI: He took a number of classes that Dr. Needleman offered at San Francisco State on new religions and other things. He took classes in the South East Asian Studies Department at Berkeley, he took classes at the Middle Eastern Department, but he was just a…
FLORENCE: An avid student.
WALI ALI: Yes, and he was always quite willing to be a student. He didn't even think that there could come an end to knowledge, even though he was a master in his own field. But sometimes he wouldn't be bashful about bringing down a scene in a classroom. didn't suffer from a certain kind of shyness in a classroom to stand up and make a rebuttal or something.
FLORENCE: Oh, I remember, he was a little sort of pugilistic—he was always ready to fight for something; he had his gloves on, ready; if you disagreed he would argue you down, but his sincerity and his feeling and his interest were what gave him stature—because most people are dilettante in their interests. Not Sam, that was his life—and there are others like that but he did know a lot, but he was very unhappy about the professors who never accepted him.
WALI ALI: I know he was and when he went to the Far East he said that he got the reverse treatment over there, here he couldn’t even get in the door, and there he was put up on the podium. He sent me a picture from India with the decoration that they had given him there for his knowledge in their subject. Do you recall discussions on world affairs at that time or any of his particular pet projects, or interests, or fears, or visions—in terms of world affairs?
FLORENCE: No, I only know that he told me that when he had enough money he was going to send me to all of the religious centers of the world. He was going to pay for my trip to go to all these various places—It was nice thought!
WALI ALI: Yeah, I know he was always—he did have a lot of nice thoughts like that, he was very hopeful that he would get his father’s total inheritance at some point in time—which was quite substantial, but which he never got, and he was really going to offer so many scholarships, so much study—he really had it all planned out how he was going to give away that money, but he never was able to get it.
FLORENCE: He was—you can’t say he was pathetic, because he wasn’t; he was a happy person, fighting his fight. He was rejected as a man because he wasn’t attractive, and I think that that may have had some effect on him because he wasn’t an object of romance, and who knows he might have felt hurt.
WALI ALI: I know that he felt incomplete in that way and frustrated to a certain extent, and then his own spiritual practice took him—instead of rise above it, he was able to transmute it. And this was something that came out in his dances. He used to do these dances with women, with beautiful women—and these love dances with women—like the Krishna and the God dances and so on—very striking. And of course as one knows a lot about the various spiritual movements in our time—I happen to be in the middle of it, so I know a great deal about what is going on—in terms of the different teachers and so on. Samuel comes out as a particularly striking person because he, of all the Gurus around, is one of the very few who have no sexual interest in anyone of the students that were under him. He had really gone beyond it or transmuted it; he gave it to them in another way, but the temptation—especially with the breakdown of any kind of sense of morality in terms of law in our culture and so on and so forth. And people coming from the East and they find a totally different kind of attitudes here—it’s quite a show in terms of what goes on in the sexual sphere, in the various spiritual movements.
FLORENCE: And then of course I think a lot of this had to do with his feeling of rejection; it was not spoken, it was not mentioned, but it was there nevertheless, in a very polite way nobody could say anything but Sam was not an object of romance, period.
WALI ALI: It was—there was just nothing happening there.
WALI ALI: You don’t even know of any abortive romances or anything like that?
FLORENCE: I tell you one thing, he certainly liked me very much, but it never was that sort of thing; we always had our conversations, but never—
WALI ALI: There were people—Vocha Fiske was another person—just a great, loving friendship that they had—
FLORENCE: Yeah, and he trusted me, he knew that I was sincere, and that I liked him. We were just part of a group—all of these various people who were—it was a wonderful time. It was sort of without all the glamour, the sort of thing that Plato had, except we were a little inferior to that—but it is the analogy in a mind that is correct. It was the Academy and various studies and various interests, and it was a wonderful time, very interesting.
SABIRA: His letters certainly reflected a sense of having a great deal of confidence in you—the letters that I read, they are like conversations—It’s like he is talking to you in the letters—
FLORENCE: I would love to see them—
WALI ALI: They are all here—we have 16 of them.
WALI ALI: What do you have there, Sabira? Do you have a questions or do you have anything you’d like to read and have her comment on?
SABIRA: Not at the moment.
FLORENCE: He used to write so many letters.
WALI ALI: Do you have anything you’d like to read and have her comment on?
SABIRA: Let me look through it a minute.
WALI ALI: Alright you can look through it. I have some more things I wanted to ask you about and that is. To speak about Sabro Hasagawa again—
FLORENCE: Do you know what he told somebody? This will sound funny to you that I repeat it, but he told somebody that I was the most perfect person he had ever met—so take it from there, you know, because I certainly was anything but perfect, and what made him at that particular time feel that way—I certainly never got that impression of myself.
WALI ALI: Sam, who was to me Murshid, had the amazing capability that went along with his criticism of also idealizing people too. When he saw somebody in a certain way, they really were the epitome of—
FLORENCE: Oh yeah, I was going to be his heir and he was going to leave me books and all sorts of things at one time, but of course I never took any of that seriously; I never gave it much thought. But there was a period—
WALI ALI: He was very concerned, as you might know, during a certain period in his life when he had all these writings and diaries and everything which we are now the trustees of, and he didn’t know who—he felt they were important—but he didn’t know who he was going to leave them with, or he felt they would just naturally be rejected, so I can certainly understand his speaking to you in that way. Then later when he got his own students and he got people that were really in—
FLORENCE: The he had his bit between his teeth.
WALI ALI: In fact I brought you a copy of a book that we recently put out which is three of his major poems; the mysticism of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
FLORENCE: Oh, isn’t that beautiful!
WALI ALI: And we published it with a nice cover—
FLORENCE: That’s lovely—
WALI ALI: And I was one of the chief editors on it, so I thought you might want to have it.
FLORENCE: That’s lovely. You’re not giving it to me?
WALI ALI: Oh yes, I’m giving it to you.
FLORENCE: Now isn’t that lovely! That is really lovely. That’s just lovely
FLORENCE: I’m glad that you feel that way too, I know many people who are not Zionists; they want you to feel guilty if you are not a Zionist.
WALI ALI: Which is ridiculous, and I think it is important to mention a little but about it. We have been talking about Zionist and the whole question of the Middle East and the Palestinians and so on. I know it was an area that Murshid Sam felt very strongly about, and wanted to bring some of these points of view to the eye of people that have never seen—
FLORENCE: But you see their side is never heard in our press. Colin Edwards, who is a newspaper men, journalist—he knows a lot. I saw many movies of what actually happened to them. You don’t see those movies and what really happened, and so—
WALI ALI: And so we have the situation we do today. Do you recall discussing the Middle Eastern situation with Samuel?
FLORENCE: Oh probably because that was the time when I went over there '54 and I saw, the Arab refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon.
SABIRA: He says something interesting here about different religions, which is something he wrote to you. He says, “Judaism has become too ethnocentric; Christianity has become too egocentric; and Islam remains Theocentric, and only a Theocentric religion is real religion." That’s one of the things that he wrote you in 1960.
FLORENCE: I’d like to have some of these or read them all. If you let me read them I would send them back to you. I’m not like the average people here who would take something and say, “Yes,”—
WALI ALI: What I would like for us to do is check and see—some of these materials we did duplicate, and in that case, I could just turn them over to you for an indefinite period of time. If this is the only original we have, then we just have to be careful with it, but we can, I think, under the circumstances bring it over here and you can read it but I we’ll work out something so that you can have them.
FLORENCE: I don’t want to see everything that he wrote to me, but something that is interesting.
SABIRA: Did you write him back, Do you have any copies or anything?
FLORENCE: I don’t think Sam expected answers, he was writing to you, he wasn’t expecting answers.
SABIRA: Yeah, he mentioned that he was writing for his Diaries—which were Diary entries but—
FLORENCE: I am a big writer, but I don’t remember at that time writing to Sam. There was no need to, he would call us or write and get it off his chest.
SABIRA: One of the questions that I think is interesting is—here is what he said, "I am not, and may never again be outwardly the person that I was in San Francisco, and I want—"
WALI ALI: This was written when?
SABIRA: In 1960—
WALI ALI: When he was traveling.
SABIRA: And I wonder if you would comment or how he changed when he came back and your feeling—
FLORENCE: From India?
WALI ALI: Yes.
SABIRA: He went to Egypt and—
WALI ALI: In 1960 he went to Egypt and he went to Pakistan and India—
FLORENCE: Poor Sam—I don't know why I say "poor Sam"—he wasn't poor Sam, he had a life had a meaning for him—he didn't just go through it with the little daily annoyances—he was on, what I would call, the grand level.
WALI ALI: He was thinking about grand issues—
FLORENCE: Far superior to his parents which annoyed them because they couldn't or wouldn't go alone, and see what he represented.
WALI ALI: I cut you off, and didn't get you to answer that question—I was just looking here, I—in which we were just reading, he says, "I am not and may never again be outwardly the person that I was in San Francisco—you will remember that I was ready to explode that night at the World Affairs Council; I made friends with all those speakers and have fouled it up. They were, thank God, Americans giving us information on Asia and not Europeans giving up mis-information."
SABIRA: I was curious about how he changed, in your estimation, from the time he left to go and then after he came back. What changes did you see?
FLORENCE: And then you see I had to be a little tactful because I had Mr. Leonard (?) my ex-husband who visited me, and still does and we are very close—and every once in a while Sam came over. And while he couldn't have minded, Sam was far beyond his depth in knowledge, but he was not lady with a man, and therefore he didn't quite like it. There was nothing to it but that was it.
WALI ALI: Do you recall changes in him after he came back from Asia?
FLORENCE: Yes, I think he drew into his own way of going ahead. I don't think he showed as much interest in us, in being with us—
WALI ALI: In being receptive to all the wide range of things that he had been studying as a student before—it was more like he had come into his own or something like that.
FLORENCE: I think so.
FLORENCE: I wasn't at home the way I had been, formerly, you see, I had been deaf and I was operated on a number of times and during the deaf period couldn't have worked but after the operations which helped very much, and now they have been done so that they are permanent, I was able to do this work. I was never trained to work in a career or something; I was a student, a musician, all things of that sort, so around that time I chose my way of life which might have had some influence on the connection, because I wasn't as available as before.
WALI ALI: Let me ask you a couple more things about the Academy before we just leave it: the groups that you were speaking about that met privately and studied the Qur'an, was that connected with the Academy?
FLORENCE: No, that was the Islamic Center. We as students were invited to join for one dollar and we joined and I think that Sam may have joined too.
WALI ALI: That sounds like something that he would have done. But you had other informal gatherings of people that were here?
FLORENCE: Oh yes, they met in different homes, in Thea's home—she became an alcoholic, but there were many parties. She loved parties, and she gave big parties.
WALI ALI: Did Sam come to those parties?
WALI ALI: Were they party-parties, or discussion parties?
FLORENCE: They were not discussion parties, but in general, Sam was always included, as far as I remember, in everything. Everybody liked Sam, but there was a great deal in his life that I didn't know, such as his association with Gavin , and it was all a different part of his life, which I am very sorry I didn't have the guts to follow, because that was really the right trend for me, but being a coward and from a different background I didn't give it what I could have had.
WALI ALI: He had a way of singing Gilbert and Sullivan; did he do all that?
FLORENCE: Yes, I remember that and he liked to be jolly, he wanted to be part of the crowd, but there were many inhibiting factors there, he really was very serious underneath about it.
WALI ALI: He came on with a great deal of intensity I think, and this was something that frightened people.
FLORENCE: That poem that he wrote, the thing that he gave me the second part of, which I have, was absolutely sublime.
WALI ALI: Which poem was this?
FLORENCE: This long….
WALI ALI: Saladin?
WALI ALI: That is published in this book.
FLORENCE: It is?
WALI ALI: It's in this book that I gave you along with two other poems.
FLORENCE: Now only a person of the highest quality would be able to think and write that, that is as good as this Lessing book on Saladin? I have that.
WALI ALI: Nathan the Wise?
FLORENCE: Nathan the Wise, and if you take Byron's Paradise Lost and all that, I consider that….
WALI ALI: I do too, it's in the same category.
FLORENCE: Yes, in the same category; it was sublime, and that's what I have the greatest respect for.
WALI ALI: I hope you will take a look at the book. Because the poems that are in here were of the same general type and we wanted to put it out right, so we spent a lot of time, also, in giving definitions of terms in the back of the book, because there were quite a lot of terms that would be unfamiliar to people, and illustrations and so on—
FLORENCE: But isn't the fate of many people of his quality that they never really fit into our civilization, which is pretty crude. They are not accepted because they are not the same as everybody else, which is pretty boring.
WALI ALI: He had the good fortune of finding fulfillment at the end of his life, and he was able to say that all the frustration and rejection that he had before—he was able to forgive and understand the meaning and the purpose.
FLORENCE: For that I am very glad, because unless you get to an older age it is pretty difficult to put all these things together and understand what went before and also how limited most people really are. So that you can't blame them, they're immersed in their backgrounds plus what their mentality is or isn't and that's it.
WALI ALI: I remember one story he told about Sabro Hasagawa that I will pass on and maybe it will trigger something in your memory, or you can make a comment on it or not.
FLORENCE: I wasn't here when Hasagawa died.
WALI ALI: But this was during Hasagawa's lifetime; it is something that happened. Samuel said one day, that Hasagawa said to him, "You have heard there are seven forms of laughter in Zen, you come and I will show you the eighth form of laughter, but you have to come over here when nobody else of the Academy is around, especially Watts." And Sam said he came and he showed him the eighth form of laughter and very shortly after that was when he died.
FLORENCE: That period I wasn't in at all, I was at a party shortly before that, it was over at Precita, a big party, we were all invited, Syd Cohen was there, do you remember her?
WALI ALI: No.
FLORENCE: Oh G' Ming, that was the name of the Chinese , I remember it now because she went to the Academy through me. She probably knows quite a bit about Sam. She is about my age. She lives in the Golden Gate area.
WALI ALI: You went to the party when he started the house on Precita, is that right?
WALI ALI: And that was in '67.
FLORENCE: And I was also over at Gavin Arthur's when he had parties, what was it, Clementina?
WALI ALI: Clement.
FLORENCE: Clementina was earlier yet. And he lived in various areas. He always had a new address. Whenever he came back he had a new one.
WALI ALI: He was always being ejected—a bohemian.
FLORENCE: And he gave me a lot of his books when he left, and they are very nice books, very fine books.
WALI ALI: Because Herb Caen wrote in his column once that "The Grandson of the President of the United States is selling newspapers down on the corner." And that was Gavin.
FLORENCE: Yes, but with his astrology and all that, people would pay him and he and they are all dead. They were all going to have long lives.
WALI ALI: I did get some of Gavin Arthur's memories on tape before he passed on. Was Hasagawa a person of a lot of humor, or what kind of a person was he?
FLORENCE: He had a brain like a whizz, he was wonderful, very highly intelligent and artistic, none higher than Sabro. When he gave those classes on the Tea ceremony, and we were all sitting on cushions, and he would explain the meaning of silence and the spaces between them, they were things that were absolutely unforgettable, because he did not merely say them, but the expression on his face as he said them, and he explained the whole meaning of the Tea ceremony—that went on for six months, it was a whole semester, Sabro was tops.
WALI ALI: How would you summarize the man you knew, Samuel Lewis, what would be the things that you would most like to say about him?
FLORENCE: I am glad I knew him; he added a great deal of knowledge, and through his companionship he widened my horizons to things which I never would have been exposed to from other sources. Sam was a very valuable friend. I was fond of him, I liked him. As far as I know, everybody liked him; although the snobs, they couldn't take him, but I thank Gos, was no snob, why should I be? Who am I that I should know? I am thinking of writing something; I already have notes on it, because as you get on in your life, you see what is real and what is important, and why we are limited. We don't judge, we don't criticize, you observe and you see that this mess will never be resolved, because it is too complicated, too sad. Basically I think that every human being's thoughts are well-intentioned, but we….
WALI ALI: At least as long as it always starts that way, there is hope for the future. There always will be because it will always start that way. There was nobody more critical of the wrongs in the people and the world than Sam and he was able to say that he found genuineness and a well-intentioned response and this whole generation of young people that were attracted to him so that it took away his bitterness.
FLORENCE: But the thing that he liked in Islam, which I liked, is that the individual is not so important. It is the group and your participation in the group, which is what I admired so much in Islam—making less of the "I" and the totality of the group, and that's very, very good, very helpful in every way.
WALI ALI: Thank you