Last week a friend and I chatted with two pleasant American women for about an hour, in a café. Afterwards he - an American himself - turned to me and, pointing to where one of the women had sat, asked if I realised who she was. I said no. He said: "Monica Lewinsky."

It wasn't any old joint, mind you. It was Café de Flore, where JP Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir sat putting the world to rights (or rather to lefts). Their story was also one of idealism colliding with nature. To be a Marxist - as they variously were - is to believe fundamentally in the perfectibility of mankind, in the essential equality and goodness of man, woman, and everything. Nonetheless, Sartre in his actual life makes Bill Clinton look like choirboy, even if his infamous sexual exploitations didn't quite have the geo-political impact of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair. (Alternative global scenario: Al Gore - supported by an untainted Clinton - wins against Bush; the climate change "debate" burns itself out; Sadam Hussein is still in power; the Taliban are running Afghanistan and Pakistan... etcetera.)

At any rate, it's remarkable to meet someone, themselves unremarkable, who so epitomises that it is only our imperfect - but perfectly human - nature that "makes history".