By Simon Firth
It was an inconsequential week and similarly, Wednesday had started for me without any trumpet and fanfare; which is to say it seemed like any other day of the working week, full of hope and replete of opportunity. No outward signs manifested themselves to sign-post the glorious next few days.
My partner works as cabin crew for British Airways and as such various perks are afforded those who consistently maintain a position in their good graces. Most gratifying of which are staff travel tickets to various destinations based on availability of space on the aircraft. While discussing her work that evening, an idle review of the flights for her outbound and inbound flights highlighted oodles of space and the question was put forward, would I like to come to Nassau for a long weekend?
It was 8.00pm Wednesday and the flight left at 8.00am Thursday.
Having never been to Nassau and having the interest necessary to peruse these boards and on occasion offer occasional words, the answer was of course yes. Tickets were booked, work meetings thus shuffled to allow continual online presence and forward momentum, bags were packed.
The links between Nassau and James Bond have been much documented and with due deference to this particular audience, I will concisely say, they number Ian Fleming, Ivar Bryce and Kevin McClory, the book Thunderball, the ensuing court case contributing in turn to Fleming’s final heart attack, the film Thunderball, the film Never Say Never Again, the Daniel Craig film Casino Royale and of course any time a Bond film required under water scenes to be filmed, irrespective of where filmically the storied events were unfolding. To wit, You Only Live Twice, The Spy who Loved me, For Your Eyes Only, Licence to Kill and The World is Not Enough all had occasion to visit this lovely island. An encapsulation and expansion of the above can be viewed on the wonderful documentaries that accompany the 3-Disk Really Special Edition of Casino Royale.
The Bahamas are made up of 700 islands, of which only a handful are populated. North Andros is the largest island, New Providence is the most populated and on which we find Nassau, the capital, and just north of that sits Paradise Island over which so much fuss is made.
So, with but three days to play with, what does one hope to achieve? Hopefully a balance of the Bond and the general. A brief perusal of various Bond location sites suggested Largo’s House and The One and Only Ocean Club of Casino fame as being absolute musts. And to consider Life outside of Bond, tours, diving and sharks were also suggested.
We landed on Thursday night, and after a long-ish flight and a medium-ish drive to the Hilton Hotel, a short-ish walk for some food and a drink was about all we had the energy for. We favour the real as opposed to the glitz and thus we headed west on Bay Street to Fish Fry. A collection of colourful huts serving local food, we relished a couple of Bahama Mamas in one hut, and persevered with some fries and tasteless fried somethings in another shack; in the latter of which establishments, the serene water being highlighted by a setting sun more than compensating for the shortcomings of the food.
Friday morning saw my partner readying herself for a midday shuttle trip to the Caymans so we headed east briefly for breakfast on Bay Street and to surround ourselves with the colonial type buildings on either side of the street. Further reading of the Location sites educated me to the fact that there was a Thunderball scene filmed on Bay Street; namely, a chase scene between Bond and others wishing to do him harm during and through the celebrations of Junkanoo. And behold the wonder at the intersection of Bay and East streets, the arches of the background building was right there.
To be sure, as movie locations to discuss and consider it is really not up there with Piz Gloria and Golden Gun’s James Bond Island in Thailand, and indeed my partner really could not give a damn as she politely indulged me with a wry smile. But 53 years ago, Connery was here with Terence Young’s film crew. Pictures were taken.
My partner disappeared for the work day, and I popped into a restaurant bar at just the moment the monsoon season exerted its exhilarating personality on the population. While others dashed here and there, trying to, but not really succeeding in escaping the water, I enjoyed a Sands local beer and a Conch salad. ‘Conch!’, I imagine you interrupt. Conch chowder was introduced to Bond in the book Thunderball and is a tropical marine mollusc with a robust spiral shell and a flared lip, inform I, knowledgably. To eat it, it is rather like squid.
A chat with the lady behind the bar introduced me to a tour guide taxi driver. After calling him for me, he popped up, eventually, and my instruction was, ‘I don’t mind where you take me, so long as we go to the Thunderball house at Rock Point.’
The rains having abated for now and the air somewhat and temporarily fresher, the tour was splendid. Emanuel was a lively chap with much to say and if this was for a general audience we would be discussing Parliamentary issues, Governors, slave-built forts and fly fishing. But, staying on topic, we finished the tour at The Moorings, as Largo’s house Palmrya is now known. Largo’s house, also on Bay Street West as it happens, is a low slung affair with a couple of pools at front. One for people and the other for sharks.
I should say at this point that in the UK I too have two pools, and my other one keeps marlin…
It is privately owned and it juts out on a little point. Not much of the house can be viewed from the east side but if you find yourself athletic of nature, and ignorant of signs informing you that ‘Nice dogs eat awful people’, pop round to the left, clamber up some cement protective blocks, over the rocks and you can look at the house from the same vantage point as the film. Veracity dictates I should say I was disappointed. Not one but both of the pools have been filled in and, judging from the amount of sand that had built up against the balustrade wall and had spilled over, one could imagine why. Also, the variously parked boats, the modifications and the additional blue awnings on scaffolding supports had detracted hugely from the magic. Perhaps I should have called ahead.
The aforementioned dog had heard my disappointment and its barking filled the north shore. I took a couple of pictures and beat a hasty retreat just as it appeared. This thing was huge. I think it could have eaten the wall before devouring me. I jumped to the sand from the cement blocks just as a Greek woman appeared. The dog was calmed and she informed me that her father had bought the house in the 1970’s and was subsequently responsible for the filling in of the pools. I believe this filling in might have been done quite recently as another location site makes mention of a statue in the middle of one of the pools.
Disappointment aside though, one cannot underestimate the excitement of being in this location. Connery, Celi, Paluzzi and Auger were all present here in ’65, and of course, it is home to the coolest exchange over clay pigeon shooting between antagonist and protagonist.
‘You know a lot about guns?’
‘No, I know a little about women. Perhaps you’d call one for me. It seems terribly difficult.’
Bond spins and fires from the hip, ‘No it isn’t, is it.’ Leaving a look of utter disdain on Largo’s face.
And utter joy on ours.
During the tour, Emanuel was keen to impress upon me that Sean Connery had retired to New Providence island. To be frank I thought he was still in Marbella next to the golf courses but a few other people I met also seemed to corroborate such information. He resides in Lyford Cay in a wealthy gated community on the west of the island. A quick and subsequent search confirmed I was roughly 19 years out of date and by now you are probably wondering as to my credentials for writing such a report.
To further such possible ruminations and upon my return to the British Colonial Hilton Hotel, my searches also informed me I was staying at the very hotel that featured in Never Say Never Again. To my defence, I should reiterate I had absolutely no time to research my trip and such was this lack of time, I did, it seems, quite randomly fall into various sites. Adding to my defence is the fact that the hotel renovations, hurricane inspired or otherwise, have changed much of the lobby and coast-side exterior where respectively Fatima watched Bond’s comings and goings, and Bond’s delivery of his Dry Martini lines, thus making it quite difficult to experience that moment of illumination and recognition.
Saturday was a new day and a full day. We were driven out west, past the aforementioned Lyford Cay (my word!) and to Stuart Cove’s dive business that afforded snorkelling around a variety of little reefs. Duly inducted, flippers fitted, and waiver forms signed that would guarantee my life away if confronted with sub aquatic danger, we were spirited out into the seas. Having arrived at the first site and the anchor dropped, I gazed. I do not have the lexicon to describe the clarity of the waters in the Bahamas, nor the ability to express the wonder of the sea’s colours when reflecting the sky’s piercing blue purity. Standing over the side of the gently rocking boat, and looking into the sandy depths, I have never felt so invited into the sea’s cleanliness and transparency as I had then. Only when submersed does it become clear why all under water scenes are filmed there over and above anywhere else in the world.
As part of the morning, we swam with Carribean Reef Sharks. Stuart Cove himself had wrangled sharks for both Never Say Never Again and For Your Eyes Only – a fact known to me only through post-experience web site reading. I am not sure how big he is on self-promotion but I saw nothing of this at his place of business, his shops or BBQ area. While the experience of seeing sharks when scuba diving is more exhilarating, I am told, as we were only snorkelling, we were asked to slide gently into the sea from the back of the boat, holding a rope on one side only and to remain calm while below, 10 or so sharks swam beneath us. A neighbouring tourist aside whose nerves were clearly getting the better of him leading to burbling through his snorkel and excessive shaking on the rope, I was mesmerised by the calm and serenity of the sight; a feeling that strongly impregnated and imposed itself upon both my partner and me. The sharks, completely unperturbed, lazily moved around each other, manifesting minimal propelling movement, absolutely the masters of their environment. It was utterly beautiful, thoroughly hypnotic and perfectly sublime.
Moved beyond all comprehension, we travelled back to reality, past the hotel and headed to some more sea shacks, this time near the bridges to and from Paradise Island and to where the fishing boats moor after completing a day’s work. These shacks were smaller, less colourful but not one wit less fascinating as they served us a further Bahama Mama in one shack and some conch lunch in another. Bahama Mama’s are a perfect island drink and since I am feeling both educative and expansive, this is what they involve. Combine regular rum, rum with coconut flavouring, grenadine, orange juice, pineapple juice and crushed ice in a glass, and serve. Some say they blend the whole concoction into a slush puppy form but having had only the ice cube version, I say I prefer this. Try them.
Having returned to the Hilton, swum, refreshed, and appropriately attired ourselves, we headed via taxi to the One and Only Ocean Club of Casino Royale fame. The Ocean Club sits on the north shore of Paradise Island and to the east of Atlantis. The Atlantis complex is the monolithically proportioned pleasure palace construction in front of which Daniel’s Bond landed by helicopter in Casino Royale. Paradise Island was bought in 1959 by the much lauded American business man, Huntington Hartford. He appropriately and commendably changed the name from Hog Island and set about building the Ocean Club. In 1962, he opened for business. His then wife, Diane Brown, had small cameos in both Thunderball (‘You’re mad!’) and Casino Royale. Ours was to be a short stay at the Ocean Club due, not unsurprisingly, to the fact that ocean view rooms and suites per night go for $1.3k and $2.3k respectively. Arriving at the beautifully appointed colonial entrance, noted for Bond picking up Solange for a quick spin around the front garden, and walking through the sumptuous lobby, we headed to the Dune bar for cocktails. Located on the sea front but raised on a slight hill, the soft warm sea air wafted in through the bar’s colonial shutters and was gently moved by the softly rotating ceiling fans. Across the way you could see the suites where Bond chose action over amour with Solange, and the gardens where her body was later to be found draped in a hammock.
Further joy was provided by a chance meeting with a lovely couple from Illinois, the gentleman of which related his experiences on the film set of The Shawshank Redemption as Morgan Freeman’s stand-in for the entire run of filming.
Sated by pineapple mojitos, margaritas, and, for me, a vodka martini, the following day, after a further Thunderball book-inspired Negroni, we said goodbye to the Bahamas. There is a very nice vibe to this island, and I daresay all the other islands. There seems to be a healthy respect between the super-rich and the real folk as people go about their business with old world charm and impeccable manners.
As for the Bond location reportage, upon returning to the UK, I fully immersed myself in the On The Tracks of 007 type websites to see that people have done a far better job of locating and reporting on locations, helpfully pinpointing all the sites with Google Maps GPS pins and offering historical knowledge far surpassing what has gone here. To be sure, and apologetically, this was the result of a hastily organised, whirl wind trip to a destination of a lifetime.
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