HE GLOUPS, THEREFORE HE IS

THE BROADER PICTURE

"NON!!! C'est la cinquieme fois..." The scream, one Monday morning last month, could be heard all over Nice airport's ticket hall. It was the anguished cry of the television personality made light of, the egghead being covered in yolk. Bernard-Henri Levy, France's leading "intellectuel engage", had received yet another custard pie smack in the kisser.

For BHL (as Levy is known), it was the latest in a series of outrages that began in 1988 while he was musing aloud on Belgian television. Noel Godin, Belgium's version of the man from the public bar, emerged from the studio audience to intervene in the debate: splat! And so it has continued: Godin (alias Georges Le Gloupier, above) has nothing else to say; in fact, he has been making the same remark since 1970, when he first covered the film director and novelist Marguerite Duras with chocolate cake. A not particularly successful author himself, he soon achieved a cultural impact with hurled patisserie that had eluded him with the written word. Other victims have included Jean-Luc Godard, Maurice Bejart and Philippe Douste- Blazy, minister of culture. Why? Godin replies that he is an "anarcho- situationist", out to prick the self-important in "their self-esteem and arrogance".

This year, Levy's self-esteem was pricked on his way to the Cannes Film Festival. Levy does not go to Cannes as lesser men might go, hoping to take in a few movies and catch a glimpse of Kristin Scott Thomas or Sharon Stone. Levy goes there to make a statement. Last year, he went to present an important documentary film which he had made on the subject of Bosnia, the matter on which he is still "engage" at the moment. This time, he went with his beautiful wife, the actress Arielle Dombasle, who is also liable to make statements on issues of the day. So, the BHLs land at Nice, and suddenly it's "l'horreur!": 12 assorted males surround the elegant young philosopher whose immaculate white shirt is so carelessly unbuttoned to his navel, and the beautiful lady whose silk shirt is so prettily knotted at the waist. The men look like Serbs: in fact, they are Belgians, and they are not interested in Bosnia. They bear "patisseries". The ritual cry goes up, "Entartons, entartons, le couple cornichon!" ("Let's cover the two gherkins [or jerks] in custard!") And there it is again, that whipped-cream-on-my-collar feeling. "Gloup! Gloup! Gloup!" yell Godin and his gang. Arielle's handbag flaps around, BHL's fists rattle against Godin's chest. The airport police try to contain their laughter.

The BBC props department used to make three grades of custard pie: "Impracticals" (which looked all right but were made of cardboard and could not be chucked), "Partially Practical" (looked good, excellent for chucking) and "Fully Practical" (looked terrific, and could be both chucked and eaten). Noel Godin's tartes are invariably Fully Practical; his ambitions less so. Current targets include Sylvester Stallone and the Pope (who is due to receive a load of condoms packed with creme chantilly). But he is clearly a force to be reckoned with. He boasts that he has sent "the most beautiful dinner-jackets of the pret-a-penser to the cleaners"; he has published his memoirs, Creme et Chatiment ("Cream and Punishment"); and he has been assigned his own Belgian police officer, Major Boudin, whose job it is to shadow him. Boudin means "blood sausage". !

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