Bernard Henri-Levy penned a personal diary for the Times of London. Here’s the first part. It’s enough to give this American vertigo:
I wake up at 5.30am. I have no problem getting out of bed. The first thing I need is a cup of tea, usually lapsang souchong. I dress as lightly as possible. I often wear a shirt open down to under my chest, but not out of vanity. The truth is, I find clothes suffocating. I want to live as much as possible in the open air, in the sun. I’ve never worn a tie in my life. That caused problems a couple of times: once at the Elysée Palace when I was invited to a lunch with the then president, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, and once at the Vatican at a private audience with Pope John Paul II. I put my foot down both times. The Vatican let me not wear one on the spurious grounds I suffered from a serious handicap.
At 6am I’m at my desk. My offices in all my homes are virtually identical. The length and width of the desks are the same. My papers are piled up in the same spot. It’s important — it’s like building the space where I write. First I write with a felt-tip pen, then I type the text into the computer.
My wife gets up later than I do, but occasionally I wake her up. Sometimes it’s to ask her about my writing. She’s my first reader. She’s severe and demanding. Even when she doesn’t master a topic, she has a radar which spots something wrong. She’s almost always right.
I stop for breakfast at about 9am. In St-Paul-de-Vence, where I spend a lot of the year, I walk to a nearby hotel, the Colombe d’Or, where I’ve been a regular for 40 years. I buy the newspapers on the way, then I have my breakfast. Then it’s back to writing. I work less in Paris. There are too many distractions there. Moving from one home to another helps me write. It prevents me from getting stuck in a rut.
My latest book, American Vertigo, is an account of a journey I took through the US. I wrote it because I thought that for a European intellectual there was nothing more important than to understand what was happening in America, to go and tell the Americans what was wrong with their society.
I’m not anti-American — I can’t stand the French prejudice against America.
I consider myself a philosophe engagé — a philosopher who gets involved. I like to think I manage to change things. Like any successful intellectual, I reckon I’m 99% misunderstood and 1% understood. That’s quite good. For instance, I think I helped to persuade Jacques Chirac to bomb the Serb positions around Sarajevo and thus stop a massacre.
I’ll let you into a secret: I never, never eat at home. I know it’s odd, but I find the idea of eating at home repugnant.