January 27, 2011
About fifteen years ago I received a very polite letter from Belgium asking me to list three of the most pompous and self-important people in the UK. It came with a self-addressed return envelope and stamp. The writer was known as l’entarteur, a man who would approach the pompous and vainglorious and shove a pie in their face. He would never insult the victims nor use foul language—in fact, he always remained silent—and he assured me in his letter that he used only the finest ingredients and freshest milk in his pies.
The first potential target who came to my mind was Edward Heath, but I immediately took his name off the list. Heath was too bloated, his face too red, and the last thing I wished was for him to have a stroke while covered in a lemon-meringue pie. L’entarteur agreed, and we started a lively correspondence. One of the candidates I submitted was not a Brit, but Algerian-born Frog Bernard-Henri Lévy, whom my Belgian buddy had already pelted with pies on at least three occasions. Four is a good round number, suggested yours truly.
One month later at the airport in Nice Lévy got blasted by l’entarteur like never before. The pie was giant size, and the cream made him look like a Yeti while he fumbled around and screamed bloody murder. Then les gendarmes interfered and arrested my friend, who offered no resistance. One thing the onlookers noticed was that the fuzz had trouble making the arrest because they were laughing so hard. Led in front of a judge, my NBF promised he would no longer throw pies on BHL (as the pompous Lévy is known in the land of cheese) and was let off with a fine for disturbing the peace. We lost touch with each other after that.
“There are those, mind you, who take Lévy seriously—French image-makers, PR hucksters, and other such modern pests—but serious people do not.”
Last week I almost got on a plane to Paris to help continue my Belgian friend’s good work, but I got lazy and went skiing instead. There is no pie big enough to make the bum BHL mend his wicked ways. His latest outrage involves Stéphane Hessel, a German-born Jew whose father emigrated to France in 1924 when Stéphane was seven. Hessel’s father was the model of one of the two lovers in Jules et Jim, the novel which later became a very popular film. Stéphane served in the French Army, became a prisoner of war, escaped, and joined de Gaulle. Dispatched to France to help organize the Resistance, he was captured, tortured, and sent to Buchenwald. While being transferred to Bergen-Belsen, he escaped again.
After the war he was named ambassador and worked with the United Nations. Honors and awards followed. Late last year—his 93rd—he published his book Be Indignant!, his defense of Palestinians under brutal Israeli occupation. The book became an overnight bestseller, moving 600,000 copies in three months. (Charles Glass Books, an imprint of London’s Quartet Books, has landed the UK rights and will publish it shortly.)