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Friday, December 28, 2012

25th Wedding Anniversary - Nassau

I first experienced the Bahamas with my uncle almost 50 years ago; a half century has somehow slipped under my feet! He had a wonderful ketch of forty-five feet, the “Tamatoa,” berthed at the Nassau Harbor Club.

Some history; in 1959 Huntington Hartford, the A&P supermarket heir purchased what was then known as Hog Island. It is just north of New Providence Island and the city of Nassau; the water separating these two islands formed Nassau Harbor. Hartford changed the name from Hog to Paradise Island; building the Ocean Club, Cafe Martinique, Hurricane Hole, the Golf Course, among other island landmarks. He also acquired and installed the Cloisters, a 14th-century French Augustinian monastery originally purchased in Montréjeau and dismantled by William Randolph Hearst in the 1920s; it forms a majestic backdrop to the Ocean Club’s Versailles Pool. A bridge was constructed to connect the two islands.
 The opening of Paradise Island in 1962 was covered in Newsweek and Time magazines; Hartford hired the staff from Eden Roc at Hotel Du Cap to work off season at the Ocean Club. This was an exotic destination at the time; I didn’t realize I was rubbing elbows with such glamour.
But summers here for me were mostly about the relaxed yacht culture, out-island exploring and the ocean. I have fond and lasting memories of this time.

I was next back in December 1987 to marry my wonderful wife Judith on Christmas Eve. We stayed on Paradise Island and at the Ocean Club. Some of the shine was already off the place, but it was still elegant. By this time the island had been sold to Donald Trump (well known for his exquisite taste), and then to Merv Griffin; plans were hatching to more fully exploit the island’s resources. Still, we had a happy and pleasant few days here.

Fast forward yet another twenty-five years to 2012 and Judith and I were back to celebrate our 25th Anniversary. By this time the Atlantis Resort on the western end of Paradise Island had been fully developed. The Ocean Club was expanded from a cozy and relaxed fifty rooms to over one hundred; three villas, a themed “star-chef” restaurant. The aspect of the original building had architecturally spun 180 degrees; the old entrance transformed into a very tony spa. The hotel was now managed under the upscale moniker of the “One & Only.”
After his purchase of the island from Griffin in 1994, South African hotel magnate Sol Kerzner bulldozed most everything and in addition to expanding the Ocean Club, built a series of monstrous hotels, water rides and other attractions; fully obliterating the former natural landscape of the western stretch of the island with his new “Atlantis.” The result is a gigantic land-based cruise ship for all intents and purposes.

Until this time, there was a small canal that ran from the western end of the island through to the harbor. I well remember passing along its banks in our Boston Whaler, the tender of the Tamatoa. In the 1965 James Bond movie “Thunderball,” the home of Largo, the arch villain of “SPECTRE,” was along this canal, filming took place at the villa of the wealthy Sullivan family. Who can’t recall the shark pool scenes? Near the outlet to the harbor, the famous Café Martinique’s restaurant and patio serenely blended with the water and the landscape.
 Sadly, the Atlantis development obliterated all of this. There is nothing left of the canal; in its place is “Atlantis Marina” village, a smallish dock area with yachts totally out of proportion to the scale of the place and a soulless replica of Caribbean life re-imagined in a Disney-esque bad dream. The embodiment of this bleak metamorphosis is the reincarnated Café Martinique, placed in the fake and perfectly cobbled walkways. The former was a “one-of-a- kind” venue with an inimitable vibe; now a disguised Outback Steakhouse or other some such franchise.  Jean-Georges Vongerichten has lent his good name for a pound of silver; I never liked his fusion cooking style that much; now I like it even less. The wine list used to be boundless; now the vintages aren’t even listed for most bottles. The captain told me it was too much trouble to keep changing the list. Our food was terrible, service amateurish with a certain air of misplaced superiority. Clientele were matched well with this; our dinner was set among flip-flop melodies from passing persons in their flip-flops; shorts, even one sleeveless undershirt. The only things that remained at a high standard were the prices.

It’s curious that the 2006 Bond flick “Casino Royal” was shot in and around the Ocean Club – Daniel Craig was good, but to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen: “Daniel, your no Sean Connery.” Like the movie, the Ocean Club and Paradise Island had become a ghost of something past; something that was more real, more natural, and more of the moment.
Luxury is “a state of great comfort or elegance, especially when involving great expense,” “an inessential, desirable item or service which is expensive or difficult to obtain;” “a pleasure obtained only rarely.” True luxury had been replaced by mass luxury; which deprived me of the sumptuousness I desired.

Even to myself as I write, I sound like a crotchety old fart. I am a fossil complaining about the modern world, longing for the past of my younger days; of memories made more enchanting by the sentimental mist of time.

There was, of course, one saving grace: Judith. With her I enjoyed the sun, reading, swimming, walking, making fun of the atrocious food and service, discreetly mocking other guests, lamenting the sprawl and soullessness and, yes, other miscellaneous whining. We had a good time with each other, we always do. It was a pretty good seven days; the weather sure beat London’s or New York’s.

   Actually it’s hard to complain, but as you can see I still manage quite effortlessly.