Vacation, of course, means the act of emptying, and boy did I need that last week, after a particularly grueling deadline. I had had it up to here. So I did the right thing and booked a villa at Goldeneye, Chris Blackwell's resort in Oracabessa, Jamaica, W.I.
This was not a shot in the dark. I've been going there for more than twelve years and I knew that it was exactly the place to go to empty the bilges and clear my head. I would do absolutely nothing except eat, sleep, read, and… nothing. And it's easy to do that at Goldeneye because you don't have to do anything else. I didn't even register until I was ready to leave. You can eat in your villa. You don't have to see any of the other guests—it's a private world. And unlike many places in Jamaica, nobody is going to try to sell you anything. You're not in a touristy area, but you're also behind walls and nothing intrudes unless you want it to. Here's my villa:
When I first went to Goldeneye it was still a private home, the residence of Chris Blackwell, the brilliant man behind Island Records. The visionary who brought us Bob Marley and the Wailers, among a host of reggae artists, as well as acts such as Traffic, Marianne Faithfull, Grace Jones, Tom Waits, and U2, to name but a few. Chris, a Jamaican-born Englishman, has homes in New York, Miami, the U.K., and the Bahamas, but Goldeneye seemed to be his heart's principal residence.
Goldeneye was originally the home of Ian Fleming, and he wrote his James Bond novels there. Chris's mother Blanche lived just up the road at Bolt House, and up the hill from Blanche was Firefly, the residence of the great Noel Coward. This little corner of Jamaica was and is a perfect escape. It's out of the way and not easy to get to.
Here's the main house:
In the old days a trip to Goldeneye wasn't exactly easy. The road from the airport in Montego Bay was a mess, and it could take three hours to drive the twenty-six miles. It was so bad that it was better to take a small plane or helicopter from Montego Bay or Kingston.
I like arriving by copter. I remember the first time I came in at night and we landed on the tennis court. I remember driving in the night from Mo Bay on a moonless election night and almost hitting a black cow in the middle of the road, then driving through a town where the entire population seemed to be standing in the road celebrating the election by firing guns into the air.
But no matter how crazy it was getting there, it was always worth it. The house and grounds were beautiful. The beach was private, the water perfect, the food the height of masterful Jamaican home cooking. Fish fresh from the sea, fat chickens running around the grounds, exotic fruits dropping from the trees. And there are trees and bushes and vinces everywhere. The big change I noticed on this trip was how much the place had grown, literally. The property was always lush, but decades of planting have made the place a jungle garden of incredible diversity.
During the years I worked for Island Records it was nothing to hop on Chris's jet and go to Goldeneye for the weekend, so I was there. The first time I took my wife down Chris invited us, as is his custom with favored guests, to plant trees in the garden. I planted a Bombay Mango and Gina planted a grapefruit tree. Gee, that was twelve years ago. That little clump of dirt with a shoot rising from it. It was like waking up one day and suddenly discovering the kids have all grown up. And Gina was happy that her tree is bigger than mine. Well, we'll see about that in the long run. But it's great to wake up in the morning to a glass of fresh orange juice and a plate of incredibly perfect exotic fruits which come from trees planted by the likes of Princess Margaret or Michael Caine or Larry Mullen, Jr. There are papayas, pineapples, mangos, the purple starapple, the brown cinnamony naseberry, the sweetsop.
The Fleming house is sizeable, especially by Jamaican standards, but it has only four bedrooms. So some years ago Chris began building smaller structures around the property—a villa for himself, one for his mother, one for an office. Soon there was a little village, fronting on the sea and on an azure, river-like lagoon, and it was probably the layout of the place, as much as anything, that gave Chris the idea of opening Goldeneye to the public. A factor in the decision, of course, was the fact that he had another house on the island, a very special farm in old plantation country, a magical spot that's a bit like Africa and a bit like Ireland.
Each villa has its own place to swim, and its own garden and verandas, and its own personality. Each has a name taken from a Bond girl. We were staying in Honey Chile, which is actually two little houses connected by a roof. There's a big bathtub in the bedroom and a fantastic outdoor shower with a serious water flow. The other building is basically a living room and a kitchen, and Oscar slept there, loving the idea of a house to himself. Other villas have two or three bedrooms. I remember spending time a few years back at Domino, watching my friend Hooman play backgammon with Dickie Jobson, a legendary local playboy, for thousands of dollars. The secret of their game was that nobody ever paid off, but it sounded good when one of them was up twenty grand.
Every time I turn a corner at Goldeneye there's a funny memory. Rita Marley drinking Goldeneye cocktails after debarking from the giant bus she uses to travel the island in; Naomi Campbell calling Chris "Daddy"; Martha Stewart heading out for a dancehall in Manolo Blahnik high heels with Dickie Jobson in pursuit; Anh Duong going for a nocturnal skinny dip; and walking by the villa of Chris's ninety-year-old mother and discovering a copy of the Breakfast at Tiffany's film script, with Audrey Hepburn's signature on the the cover, just sitting on the veranda.
After a few days a Goldeneye I was feeling nice and chill, and it was time to go back to New York and enter the fray once again. The main house, which had been occupied by guests during our stay, was empty, and so I had a chance to show it my son Oscar, who had never been there. He has a vague idea who James Bond is, and no idea who Ian Fleming was. He hasn't even seen the film version of Fleming's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang yet, but he loved the décor of the house, the crazy giant Asian carvings that Barbara Hulaniki decorated the place with, and he thought the Fleming bedroom's bed was spectacular. It is incredibly massive, made from giant bamboo. It's so massive you have to give it a wide berth, and one night when I was staying in that room I sleepwalked toward the bathroom for a pee and smashed my little toe on the bamboo. I remember at breakfast looking at my swollen, purple little piggy toe and saying to Chris, I think I broke my toe on that bed. "Oh," he said, with interest. "Princess Margaret broke her toe on that bed!"
I returned to New York refreshed, with no injuries, but a little sunburn. I knew I was strong again. I survived the return trip on Air Jamaica, on a flight that was three hours late and with flight attendants who seemed to have gone to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Charm School. The last time I wrote a letter to the chairman of Air Jamaica, after they tried to seat my two-year-old by himself, it began, "Once Aeroflot was the worst airline in the world…"
Anyway, my Goldeneye vacation made me ready for anything. And now I'm saving for my own jet.
The mileage from Montego Bay to
Golden Eye is a lot more -
yes a lot more - than 26 miles.
Pls get stats right! I am a Jamaican- and the gentleman you refer to as 'well-known playboy'...
no he is not. I know him very well.
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