The Displaced Nation

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In search of 007th heaven: A travel yarn in three parts (Part 2)

GoldenEye collageWe welcome back Sebastian Doggart for the second in his three-part travel yarn about his attempt to infiltrate the Caribbean retreat called GoldenEye, where Ian Fleming composed all the Bond books. In Part 1, Sebastian reports on his arrival on Jamaica’s northern coast and admission at the gates of the compound that marks the birthplace of James Bond — newly remade into a resort for the super-rich. Stay tuned for Part 3, where Sebastian continues his Bond-worthy quest for traces of Fleming elsewhere in Jamaica.

Alighting from the car, I was greeted by Jenny Wood, GoldenEye’s English general manager, whose plummily cheerful efficiency had echoes of Miss Moneypenny. She welcomed us warmly and introduced us to a Jamaican employee called Henry, who would take us to our friends, the Usmanovs.

As Henry led us down a stone path, I asked him about visiting Fleming’s house. He said that, the week before, Bono had been staying there, but that it was now vacant.

Thrillingly, Henry promised he would get a key and take us to see inside.

He took us through a wooded area, where the trees had all been planted by a celebrity guest. Handwritten signs showed a tamarind planted by Princess Margaret, a royal palm by the Clintons, a lime by Harrison Ford, an ackee by River Phoenix, a cinnamon by Willie Nelson, and a guava by Johnny Depp.

Surely, this was the most eco-friendly example of name-dropping in the world.

Shaken, not stirred

We came to the luxuriously simple main restaurant, which also housed a bar in the very gazebo where Fleming would do some of his writing. Henry informed us that, when British Prime Minister Anthony Eden visited in 1956, he used this as a command post.

It was a perfect spot for a quick drink. I eschewed the obvious choice of a dry martini, shaken not stirred and ordered instead Bond’s own creation, a Vesper. Named after his Casino Royale lover Vesper Lynd, it’s made of three measures of Gordon’s gin, one of grain vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet, all shaken until iced cold, and served with a slice of lemon peel in a champagne goblet.

Energized, we walked on to a wooden bridge, over an emerald waterway that drifted into the sea, through a maze of discreet wooden buildings, each bordering a lagoon, to our friends’ own villa.

They welcomed us with a rum punch, made from Blackwell’s own self-named brand. We sat on the back deck, listening to the resort’s own reggae-oriented radio station, and savoring the sweet scent of marijuana wafting from the neighboring cabana. I slipped into my bathing suit and leapt into the cool water.

On the other shore of the lagoon nestled the spa, described in the resort guidebook as a place where guests have “a license to chill,” and where Bond himself “would willingly put down his guns, girls and gadgets to lose himself — and find himself.”

I went back inside my friends’ cabana for a shower. The bedroom smelled of fresh cedar and was immaculately decorated. The bathroom, adorned with new Villeroy & Boch taps and a craw-feet tub, was outside — shielded by a bamboo fence and festooned with bougainvillea.

I hope you can swim, Goodnight.

Soon after, Henry returned to honor his promise to take us to Bond’s actual birthplace, and we said goodbye to our friends.

Henry led us to the private beach where Fleming used to don flippers and a diving mask (but no snorkel) to look at parrotfish and snapper, and to spear lobsters and octopi for his dinner. A glass-bottomed boat is now available for guests to peer for barracuda.

On the shore, hotel lounge-chairs broke the natural rhythms. A rock pool that Fleming built for his son, Casper, teemed with black crabs — the same beasts that Dr. No used to torture Honey Rider. I wondered whether Fleming and his “Jamaican wife,” Blanche Lindo, might have indulged in some related zoologically erotic games.

Overlooking the beach was a charming sunken garden which Fleming had hallowed out for dining al fresco. Shaded by a proscenium arch of almond trees, he and his illustrious chums would sit here feasting on ackee, curried goat, and grilled salt-fish.

Henry took out a key to show us inside the complex known as “The Fleming House.” The renovations have expanded Fleming’s own modest footprint to embrace four houses, all built around a new, sunken swimming pool. The main building is an enlarged version of Fleming’s original bungalow, and there are three neighboring villas, which contain guest rooms and a private cinema.

Time to face gravity!

To stay in the Fleming House is beyond most mortals’ spending power: it rents for between $7,000 and $21,000 a night, depending on the season.

To put that in context, Henry, whom Chris Blackwell was paying $60 a week, would have to work seven years — and incur no other expenditures — in order to take his family to the Fleming House for just one night.

My first impression on entering the main building was similar to that of Noël Coward,
who, in a teasing ode he wrote to Fleming, complained about the hard furniture and the airless rooms.

Totemic African statues stared threateningly down into the cavernous living room. Paintings of a conch shell and a sea-view looked as though they had been bought from the local market. The floor was made of cold, pale stone.

The master bedroom was where Fleming did most of his writing, but this too was disappointing. Below a framed black-and-white photograph of Fleming stood a bullet-wood corner desk, but Henry admitted that it was a replica.

There was no sign either of the Imperial typewriter that Fleming used to write most of the Bond novels, or of the gold-plated Royal Quiet DeLuxe portable that he later purchased from the Royal Typewriter Company in New York. (The Royal, I learned later, had been sold to Bond actor Pierce Brosnan for a reported $75,000.)

As Henry led me back to my car, past a lime tree planted by Yoko Ono, the whole place suddenly felt fake and exploitative. It seemed more a celebration of celebritocracy than a tribute to the creative spirit — more akin to Scaramanga’s island than to Fleming’s original Goldeneye.

And as the iron gates clanged behind us, I suspected that, if Fleming had a chance to see how his erstwhile 007th heaven has been transformed, he would feel that Chris Blackwell has leapt on an ugly Bondwagon — and, like Auric Goldfinger, may be suffering from a deadly Midas complex.

img: (top to bottom) Fleming’s private beach; Fleming’s sunken garden; GoldenEye villa outdoor bath; GoldenEye villa bedroom — all by Sebastian Doggart.

STAY TUNED for Part 3, in which Sebastian continues his search for 007 on the beach where Ursula Andress appeared, in evil Doctor Kananga’s limestone caves, and in Dr. No’s lair on Coral Key. And before that we have tomorrow’s post — an interview with Random Nomad Vicki Jeffels, who answers an Alice question.

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3 responses to “In search of 007th heaven: A travel yarn in three parts (Part 2)

  1. awindram June 21, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    License to chill? Their copywriter needs Rosa Klebb-ing!

    Shame they haven’t done more to the original bungalow. Bond seems underrepresented in this respect of having an interesting and well curated museum. The James Bond museum in Keswick which I stumbled upon a while back was disappointing, more about fetishising cars and movie props than anything else.

  2. ML Awanohara June 21, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    “Fake and exploitative” — that’s soooo depressing! As someone who loves haunting writers’ haunts and homes — if I’m in Atlanta, you’ll find me at the Martha Mitchell House, if in the Berkshires, at Edith Wharton’s country estate — I abhor the idea of Ian Fleming’s Jamaican home being ruthlessly remade into a celebrity hang-out. But I suppose a businessman will tell me that I’m being foolish. Jamaica needs a boost to its economy, and what better way to provide it? Also, how else can we guarantee the preservation of the Fleming property? Have I got an alternative plan? etc.

  3. Pingback: Goldeneye’s Midas Touch | Artistic License Renewed

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