Public Enemies

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Authors: Bernard-Henri Lévy
youth organizations (UCPA, the Club Alpin Français): a few years later, my father finds himself a member of the prestigious Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix. Quite a coup for a kid from Clamart.
    A love of mountains, it’s true, a genuine love of mountains. An unplanned, genetically unfounded love of mountains. A desire to lose himself in the snow, an admiration for colleagues who had had fingers amputated, an exacting love.
    A few years later, my father left Chamonix for Val-d’Isère. He bought some land and had a big house built in the center of Val-d’Isère (which, at the time, was not an internationally famous ski resort; Val-d’Isère doesn’t appear on the tourist map back then. Jean-Claude Killy * was still a pimply teenager).
    Capitalizing on this initial investment by reinvesting at the right time, someone else might have built a real fortune out of this.
    A few years later, I meet my father. (Let’s not exaggerate; I had driven across France with him in a jeep, but we’d never really gotten along; every time we stopped I was afraid he was going to drive off and leave me by the side of the road.) He has not made a fortune. By now he is an
independent ski instructor
, which means he’s not approved by the French ski school. The people who enlist his services (rich people, oftenvery rich people) don’t want to ski on marked ski slopes open to the public; what they want is to be set down by helicopter on the summit of a glacier and come down alone, surrounded by powdery snow, they want to do
real skiing
. But for that, they need a guide, a qualified
alpine guide
, otherwise it’s illegal, it’s too dangerous.
    My father’s most famous client was, I think, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, but he only took him out once or twice. Another one was Antoine Riboud, * who was a good client; my father took him out at least a dozen times, and I even went out skiing with him. My one memory of this captain of industry was in a restaurant in the mountains where some people in the group were taking too long deciding what vegetables to have with their meal. I can still see his exasperated expression, the brusque, self-important way he turned to the waiter: “Salad for everyone!” And it was important, and necessary, otherwise there would be all kinds of things—French fries, steamed potatoes, rice … In my mind, an august captain of industry is someone who, when the time is right, knows how to say, “
Salad for everyone!

    My father had other clients, less famous but just as rich, and there were no real social barriers, so I was invited to come along. This was how, when I was ten, I came to play games of Monopoly with children my age who lived in a
hôtel particulier
on the rue de la Faisanderie. Then, when the holidays were over, I’d go back to my grandmother’s house, where there was no bathroom (we washed in the washbasin;from time to time we’d heat a basin of water). None of this struck me as surprising. Children are strange creatures.
    And then there came the worst. Sylvie. Now, here I don’t know what happened, my father must have charmed the family, but whatever it was, she stayed at the chalet for ten days; I was there too. We must have been about twelve, thirteen at the most. One day she played some records and asked me to dance a slow dance with her, we were the only people in the apartment, and I said, “I don’t know how to dance.” She was pretty, with a mop of curly chestnut hair. She was probably as much of a virgin as I was, which means a complete virgin. She was delectable, a doe. I was probably delectable, a faun. It makes me sick just thinking about it.
    I’ve seen some of her family on television from time to time. And people see me on television too from time to time.
    But, while I was experiencing the first flushes of my natural disposition for social failure, what was my father doing—socially speaking, I mean? Well, not much either. As an independent ski instructor, he could

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