This was the second gathering that The Luncheon Society had with Christopher Hitchens, the first taking place earlier in the year with a memorable gathering at Rubicon in San Francisco followed by a drunken pub crawl that ended up at Belden Place, which is known as “French Quarter of San Francisco.”
This was the Luncheon Society everybody wanted to attend but because it was only three days after Christmas, there were a number of painful regrets. However, we thought that we would be able to get him again, since he would often spend his summers on the property of his father -in-law who lived in the Peninsula, but it was not to be. Our Hitchens Luncheon Society gatherings scheduled in 2010 were postponed because of the cancer diagnosis; he would die less than a year later. He did not ask for prayers or pity.
We started the luncheon with our glasses raised to the recent passing of Susan Sontag, whose death was announced that morning of Acute Myeloid leukemia. Sontag, who had been fighting the disease for some time, succumbed but according to Hitchens, near gave up her zest for life.
Hitchens gave an impassioned opening speech that eulogized her memory as somebody with incredible courage. Hitch spoke to her courage when she moved to Sarajevo during the midst of the genocide to produce “Waiting for Godot,” using three actors for each of the two characters, one Christian, one Muslin, and one Jew. He said that “Susan Sontag was a faint candle among the great arena of darkness and hate.” The regard for Sontag is universal regardless of how you feel about her politics
He remembered that she would often introduce people to writers from Eastern Europe. When Czech President and former dissident Vaclav Havel came to the United States, Sontag was the one person that he wanted to meet. At the time of her death, few knew that her longtime companion was celebrated photographer Annie Liebowitz.
Hitchens talked about Afghanistan and the Failed War on Drugs and pointed to the map of the current conflict. Afghanistan was once a producer of grapes, but it is overly optimistic for agriculture to return to that cash crop because they take five years grapevines to produce fruit. However, poppies, the active ingredient for the creation of heroin, can go from seeds to a bountiful harvest in roughly 6 months. One for the few upsides of Taliban rule, Hitchens noted, is that they initially destroyed the poppy harvest, although members of the Taliban have now moved to monetize the pappy trade to fund their terror. Hitchens mentioned that is one of the areas that could completely undermine that peace process in Afghanistan. In short order, he was proven correct.
He expanded his thoughts on Afghanistan and critiqued President Harmed Karzai as little more than “The Mayor of “Kabul,” with little political influence in the rural areas of the country, where there was a hotbed of rebel activity. Karzai has been unable to translate his relationship with the American into extending his influence with the competing warlords, who actually run the country. Hitchens spoke about his trip to Herat, where he found himself under machine gun fire, in a city by himself where he did not know the language.
According to his wife Carol Blue, Hitchens is a poor driver and does not care to find himself behind the wheel of any car. However, as part of a writing project, he found himself following US Highway 66 as part of a book project, in the driver’s seat of a custom classic red Corvette. He recalled that he was clearly out of his element and repeatedly asked when she would be traveling out to met him, but she held her ground. He met his wife Carol at the airport, but refused to drive after that because Hitchens refused to sit behind any wheel of any car.
Salman Rushdie. Hitchens said that Salman Rushdie had a hard time staying married even in the best of times. He said that Rushdie’s third wife was difficult (expletive redacted); his fourth wife would be Padma Lakshmi, who he married in 2004. However, that would blow up in 2007, perhaps because of the unique pressures of living in hiding as a result of the fatwa ordered by Ayatollah Khomeini when “The Satanic Verses” were published. However, when the Ayatollah’s grandson came to visit (Hussein Khomeini is a liberal reformer in Iran) he made the mullah’s grandson sit in Rushdie’s chair.