In Memoriam: Antonia Raissi, née Francis, 4 February 1976 – 14 September 2015

Antonia Programme I

I have come to hold the belief that one of the most powerful and definitively human compulsions is that of being remembered: that when the physical reality of self has perished, that echo of appearance, the memory of self in other minds, should be confirmed in defiance of death. Hence the funeral, the oration, the headstone, the monument, the memorial service, the obituary and this, the personal memoire. That, and an expiation.

So I am not writing claiming I knew Antonia better than others – her mother and stepfather, her husband and her sons, her other family and many of her other friends had that privilege – but we had our moments over twenty or so years. I want to write down those I remember, and those I can repeat, before my recollections of them change and mutate any more than they already have. To ‘re-member’ to, as the word suggests, is to piece back together the members, the parts, of a dismembered whole. At best this is a jerry-rigged fiction that just about passes muster and at worst an outright lie, fuelled by want, and perspective, and sorrow.

AFH

*                    *                    *

Oxford

It was in her room in the top floor of Matthews Building I first met her, second on the right. A single bed, a desk, armchair and a basin in cupboard, divided by no more space than you could lie down in, loo and shower down the corridor. St. Peter’s College, Oxford, wasn’t exactly as glamorous as Brideshead Revisited, but Antonia was. Tall, lithe, exquisite faced which she fought against – admiring the strong more than the pretty – speaking with clipped St. Mary’s (Calne) tones and Eton-cropped black hair, which I would later cut to make her look more like Irène Jacob in Kieslowski’s Trois Couleurs : Rouge the film we all fell in love with that year. Just as we all fell in love with her.

RedIn that tiny room we were all packed, a group, almost exclusively male at its core, and regarded as deeply, almost hilariously pretentious even by the standards of Oxford undergraduates. However, looking back one can see it was just curiosity and fascination and youthful gaucheness.

There was Hugh Dancy, George Pendle and Paul Curran, all studying English under Dr Francis Warner, Dominic Elliot studying Archaeology and Anthropology, and Steven France studying Philosophy under Dr John Kenyon. Antonia would within her first year abandon Geography for English, and I would only make it to the end of my second before switching from Biology to Philosophy under Kenyon.

Me, matriculation day, October 1994

Me, matriculation day, October 1994

One of her first stories to me, a story which would have perhaps annoyed the more sophisticated and subtle person she became, was of her summer holiday, just prior to coming up to Oxford, in Kenya. I remember still the image she conjured so well of her sitting, dressed in white, smoking Cartier cigarettes, the only non-male, and indeed only non-Masai sitting around a camp fire in The Mara. She would have been eighteen years old.

I wonder if she viewed us like Masai too. She certainly preferred the company of us men, and although she was not a tomboy in the sense of climbing trees, her way of speaking was… well, like anti-aircraft fire – not always deadly accurate, but incessant and intimidating to fly amongst, the dark crumping bursts of her conversational shells peppering the night sky. And it was usually night sky – we sat up late into the night talking and talking, me smoking Marlboro, her Lights, me Coke, her Diet. She wasn’t much of a drinker, disliking the silliness, the loss of control, or so she claimed. When I did see her tipsy for the first time I was surprised at how girly she became. I think that was what she feared most.

Antonia's 19th Birthday Party, L-R, George Pendle, Dave ? & gf, Steven France, Hugh Dancy, Dr. Genevieve Connors, ?, John Mühlemann, ?, David Collard, David Budds, Biranda Ford, Lucy, Antonia, Caroline Early, Cat Bagshawe, Joshua Steckel (Photo by Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

Antonia’s 19th Birthday Party, Gloucester Green pizza restaurant, clockwise from bottom left: George Pendle, Dave – & ?, Steven France, Hugh Dancy, Genevieve Connors, ?, John Mühlemann, ?, David Collard, David Budds, Biranda Ford, Lucy -, Antonia Francis, Caroline Early, Catherine Bagshaw, Joshua Steckel (Photo by Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

Detail from above (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

Detail from above (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

It was inevitable that I would fall head over heels for her – I mean I was only a few months out of an all boys boarding school, grew up without sisters and had never had a girlfriend. And here was this stunning and exotic creature, fitting no standard feminine norm that I knew of – never a skirt or dress, but black boots and jeans on those very long legs, and almost invariably a black polo neck, channelling Juliette Greco with a hint of Audrey Hepburn. Of course, now in retrospect I can see that Antonia wasn’t oblivious to the effect she had on us boys – and we were just boys – wrangling us to some extent with those quirks honed to charms, equalising the gender imbalance using that weapon among all the others at her disposal. [Read more…]

Je ne suis pas Cecil… and neither was the lion (and that’s not his brother either)

spectator logo

I was originally asked to write this piece by The Spectator, but apparently I was a bit too late filing my copy – zoology professors and professional hunters are hard to round up at short notice – so here it is, unexpurgated and unimproved.

AFH

Photo courtesy of Slate -  ©Andrew Loveridge/Wildlife Conservation Unit

Photo courtesy of Slate – ©Andrew Loveridge/Wildlife Conservation Unit

Je ne suis pas Cecil… and neither was he

I never cease to be surprised either by the posturing courage or the sheer inhumanity of the expressions of ‘moral’ outrage on social media, but this recent furore over the death of the ageing Zimbabwean lion everyone knows as Cecil really has been quite special.

The complicity of the press is particularly grotesque. CNN went as far as to run a photo of the big cat with the caption, “Cecil the lion probably never knew how beloved he was,” surely winning some sort of prize for most redundant use of the modifier ‘probably’ in journalism.

He also certainly didn’t know he was called Cecil, a hilarious piece of nominal colonialism by British conservationists working in the country bloodily carved out of the Dark Continent by Cecil Rhodes and for almost a century called Southern Rhodesia in his questionable honour. (Rhodes is a distant relation of mine.)

This lion is called 'Bailey' (wild animals should not be named) the only male lion at Colchester Zoo. He was born on June 27th, 2007 at Woburn Safari Park. His father, 'Shane', was born at Knowsley Safari Park in June 1997, and his mother, 'Tamby', was born at Woburn on October 13, 1998. All these lions are descended from those brought into the UK from Uganda by Jimmy Chipperfield, of Chipperfield's Circus, to counter the inbreeding of British lions over the centuries.

I took this photo on January 23rd this year and put it on Facebook with the following caption:
“This lion is called ‘Bailey’ (wild animals should not be named) the only male lion at Colchester Zoo. He was born on June 27th, 2007 at Woburn Safari Park. His father, ‘Shane’, was born at Knowsley Safari Park in June 1997, and his mother, ‘Tamby’, was born at Woburn on October 13, 1998. All these lions are descended from those brought into the UK from Uganda by Jimmy Chipperfield, of Chipperfield’s Circus, to counter the inbreeding of British lions over the centuries.”
(Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

I myself fell under the aesthetic spell of lions aged nine –thirty years ago – in London and Colchester Zoos, joined and raised funds for the WWF from that point on, went up to Oxford to study Zoology under renowned Africa ecologist Dr. Malcolm Coe, and myself visited the Hwange Reserve almost twenty years ago where I followed the pride made up of the grandparents, and probably parents, of that lion, whom I photographed at the time.

Following the pride in Hwange National Park (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

Following the pride in the Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe in 1996 (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

[Read more…]

From Spain, the Centre of the World, to Africa, the Heart of Darkness

Estoy en mi chaqueta de rayas en la plaza de toros de Pamplona, 13 de julio de 2015. A mi derecha es Lore Monig, Presidenta del New York City Club Taurino, a mi derecha, el chef celebridad y torero práctico de México, Carlos Manríquez (Foto : Jim Hollander)

In my striped jacket in the plaza de toros of Pamplona, 13 of July 2015. To my right, Lore Monig, President of the New York City Club Taurino, to my left, the celebrity chef and amateur bullfighter from Mexico, Carlos Manríquez, beyond him Peter Remington, publisher of Modern Luxury Houston magazine and his brother (Photo: Jim Hollander)

 

Having come out of the delights and dangers of Pamplona’s feria de San Fermín running with bulls – already described in the abstract on ‘The Pamplona Post‘, also detailed with a more purist slant on the blog, ‘The Last Arena‘ – I was particularly pleased to see my more cerebral, less visceral side represented in my review of Dr Robert Goodwin’s magnum opus, Spain: The Centre Of The World, 1519-1682 (Bloomsbury Press) in The Spectator. In summary, my view of the book is:

What distinguishes Goodwin from other historians of the period is the sheer multiplicity of his perspectives. He is erudite and concise in covering familiar ground, while full of original insight when it comes to the motives and actions of the key players…

…it is [his] passion that removes Goodwin’s learned book from the shelves of academia, giving it breadth and breath. The most notable effect on this reader was an urge to return to Spain, especially to Goodwin’s beloved Seville, that ‘deeply religious and very beautiful provincial backwater’, with ‘its quiet lanes and courtyards’, its ‘grand monuments’ and its ‘ghosts’. After all, it is not enough to bring truth to history. One must also bring life — and this book has it in golden abundance.

(The review is available in full online here.)

Now I must turn myself to the contentious issue of Big Game hunting for the same magazine in the light of the death of the aged male lion some Oxford biologists rather tastelessly and unprofessionally anthropomorphised with the name Cecil. (Cecil Rhodes was the colonial overlord of Zimbabwe, hence its colonial name of Rhodesia.)

This is an event my own former zoology tutor at Oxford – who has worked hand-in-glove with both the Kenyan and Tanzanian governments on conservation over the decades – referred to in his email as “murder”. He also ended the email, “suffice it to say that I am on the side of the large mammals of Africa excluding the destructive Homo sapiens.”

I do find his response a little ironic, as I remember in my interview with him in ’93 he asked me which of the Pleistocene megafauna had most caught my interest. (It was my time in the Kruger Park in South Africa that inspired me to go and study under him.) I answered unequivocally “lion”, to which his response was how boring they were to study as they spend most of their time asleep. Later I would end up in the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, from where Cecil came, following what would have been his grandparents and great uncles and aunts.

 

Following the pride in Hwange National Park (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

Following the pride in the Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe in 1996 (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

 

Sub-adult lion, Hwange National Park

Sub-adult lion, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe in 1996 (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

 

Anyway, given that I can count among my friends both professional hunters and conservation biologists, and have myself no immensely strong views about the death of animals lower on the cognitive ‘chain of being’ than elephants – a notion of moral status outlined for Prospect magazine, and derivative from my time with Great Apes described in the Financial Times – I hope I’m in a good position to write the piece in a way that lives up to my description in today’s Daily Telegraph magazine: “he is a stone-cold pragmatist with a poet’s soul.”

However, as a child, my best friend was this cat, so in the end, I’ll be on the side of the predators. The question is: which ones?

 

The author and his first cat

Alexander Fiske-Harrison and Shantallah Millionaire, a name rather more fitting to the beast than Cecil (Photo: Barbara Gail Horne)

 

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

 

P.S. Blunt, Bryant and Brando

Further to my post below, I just published this in The Spectatorhttp://blogs.spectator.co.uk/culturehousedaily/2015/01/blunt-is-right-being-posh-in-the-arts-is-career-suicide/ I wonder whether anyone cared about the background of Welles (family of money), Brando (poverty), Nicholson (poverty) or Ordóñez (family of bullfighters). AFH

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,701 other followers