Christopher Hitchens’ death: Timothy Garton Ash recalls Hitchens’ roast lamb with mint sauce, and his arguments.

A wartime lexicon.
Dec. 16 2011 11:25 AM

Lamb With Lion

A Sunday lunch with Hitchens, poolside in California.

3467177
The late Christopher Hitchens

See Slate’s full tribute to the life of Christopher Hitchens. Read Slate’s complete collection of Christopher Hitchens' columns.

I could recall that fifth bottle of wine in Tuzla, Bosnia. Or Hitch still arguing furiously about the Falklands War sometime around 3 a.m. at the poet James Fenton's kitchen table in Oxford. (“Christopher,” said James, raising his head from the table, “you sound like a bishop.” It was the ultimate insult.) But what pops entirely unbidden into my mind is the leg of lamb he cooked, English-style, with boiled vegetables and mint sauce, for us to eat by the poolside in a high Californian summer. It was parody of parody, like something out of the opening pages of Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One, and of course he knew it—but at the same time, I think he actually liked it. That was Sunday Lunch, cap S, L.

 I did not always agree with the political positions he took—and they did not always agree with each other—but his company was irresistible. Nowhere was he more genial than at the poolside house in Atherton, arguing, arguing, arguing, while the automatic swimming pool cleaner went about its ceaseless submarine work, hoovering, hoovering, hoovering. Where other people furtively Google it on their iPhones, he had extraordinary natural powers of recall. Detail, anecdote, biography, and quotation would flow almost as fast as the whisky.

Writers and activists from the 17th to the 21st century were brought conversationally into the same room, to argue with each other—a conjuring act he shared with Isaiah Berlin, whom he attacked mercilessly soon after the liberal philosopher's death. In his verbal salon, Tom Paine crossed swords with Edward Said, Thomas Jefferson met P.G. Wodehouse. Yes, Wodehouse—that superficially unlikely hero for a political writer who spent much of his life on the more or less militant left. Last time we met, we traded Wodehouse-isms. (Roderick Spode, leader of Britain's fascist Black Shorts, with “the sort of eye that can open an oyster at 60 paces.”)

It is this literary, English Hitch that I remember with most affection. The American citizenship he took after the 9/11 attacks on his adopted country meant a great deal to him. In many ways, it defined what we must now call his last decade. But culturally, we can say of him that in spite of all temptations to belong to other nations, he remained an Englishman. Never more so than when dishing up roast lamb, with mint sauce and added Wodehouse, by the poolside on a California summer Sunday.

See Slate’s full tribute to the life of Christopher Hitchens. Read Slate’s complete collection of Christopher Hitchens' columns.

Timothy Garton Ash is the author of nine books, a professor of European Studies at Oxford, and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution.

TODAY IN SLATE

The World

The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

Are the Attacks in Canada a Sign of ISIS on the Rise in the West?

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

Is It Offensive When Kids Use Bad Words for Good Causes?

Fascinating Maps Based on Reddit, Craigslist, and OkCupid Data

Culturebox

The Real Secret of Serial

What reporter Sarah Koenig actually believes.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea

Can Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu Pull Off One More Louisiana Miracle?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 23 2014 3:55 PM Panda Sluggers Democrats are in trouble. Time to bash China.
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 23 2014 2:36 PM Take a Rare Peek Inside the Massive Data Centers That Power Google
  Life
Outward
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM Why Is an Obscure 1968 Documentary in the Opening Credits of Transparent?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM What Happens When You Serve McDonald’s to Food Snobs and Tell Them It’s Organic
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 23 2014 4:36 PM Vampire Porn Mindgeek is a cautionary tale of consolidating production and distribution in a single, monopolistic owner.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.