It wasn't until the 1980s when The Nation, along with the Dutch weekly Vrej Nederlander, invited Izzy to keynote an international conference of investigative journalists (who better to attract idealistic, progressive, investigative reporters from all over than the by-now-famous one-man band, I.F. Stone?), that I came to fully appreciate the significance of his lifestyle.
When I called to ask Izzy if he would be available, he said not only did it sound like a valuable event but he had a sentimental reason for being interested. He and his wife, Esther, had taken their honeymoon in Amsterdam many years ago.
And when our publisher, Hamilton Fish, made a follow-up call to pin Izzy's participation down, and Izzy responded, "We'd love to do it," Hamilton, correctly concerned about matters budgetary, stuck his head into my office and asked, "Who is this 'we'?"
I explained that Izzy prefers not to travel without Esther, don't worry about it. Izzy's presence would guarantee the success and gravitas of our conference.
As it turned out, not only was Izzy ready to join us, but he made it clear that he understood no fee would be involved--a good thing, since, as Ham had unnecessarily pointed out, we had no fee in our tight budget.
In fact, our budget was so tight that we had arranged with a nonscheduled airline for budget round-trip tickets, at $400 per person, and at the other end our friends at Vrej Nederlander had negotiated a group rate at a modest hotel on the outskirts of town (we would commute to the conference center by a chartered bus that had agreed to give us its lowest rate).
A couple of days later Ham stuck his head into my office again to say we might have a problem. Izzy had called and explained that over the years he and Esther "have found that it's too much of a strain to fly going east, so we take the boat," and it seemed the boat they always took was the Queen Elizabeth II. Once again I started to tell Ham not to worry when he interrupted to tell me, "Izzy has already told me that. And he put me in touch with a travel agent in Jacksonville, Florida, who he says always takes care of them. In fact, he even knew which cabin they favored."
So when, the next day, Ham appeared with some new news, I said, "Don't tell me," but he did.
Apparently, when Ham called to tell Izzy that the QE II was going to dock in England a few days prior to the conference, he couldn't have been more pleased. "At our age," he explained, "we need a couple of days to get our land legs, and we have this little hotel in London which makes a nice base."
So Ham was not surprised when, a few days later, his phone rang again. "You know, Hamilton," Izzy confided, "I'm a romantic," and he proceeded to explain that on their honeymoon they had stayed "at a small pensione on the canal that ran through the center of town, not very expensive, and if you could just locate that...," and we did.
It was more of a joke than a problem when Izzy called again to tell us that by happy coincidence one of his children, her family and her in-laws were going to be in Europe at the same time and if they could stay in the cottage by the canal...
Also, Izzy had an idea. There was a famous cathedral in Amsterdam that operated as a sort of agora, a public forum. If we could arrange for Izzy to speak (he had done this many years ago and seemed to have something of a following in Amsterdam), he would be pleased to donate his fee to help defray the costs of the conference.
In the end close to a thousand Dutch men and women showed up to hear Izzy speak, and forty activist-journalists from all over Europe came to the conference. From the opening session Izzy peppered journalists with questions, and shared observations and anecdotes from the audience. His own keynote was truly inspirational, and the conference led to follow-up conferences in London and Moscow attended by hundreds of investigative reporters, activists and scholarly resource people. At a farewell session at a local bar we consumed caviar and vodka, and he raised a toast: "Comes the revolution, we will all live like this."