by Mary Jo
I've long believed that much of the impetus behind the British empire was a desire to own lots of warm, sunny real estate. And very successful they were, too! Jamaica was one of the earliest possessions, taken from the Spanish in 1655.
The island is rich and fertile and beautiful, and it became the world's greatest producer of sugar for a very long time. (With all the evils of the slave system that produced that sugar, but that's not the subject for the day.)
For this year's winter sunshine break, the Mayhem Consultant and I wanted to go somewhere easy: only one flight so we wouldn't experience the many colorful transportation problems that can happen. (Once we emerged from Tortola to find that our airline carrier had declared bankruptcy and stopped flying. Exciting times!)
On the advice of an excellent travel agent, we rather warily decided to try Jamaica. Warily because long ago we spent a week in Jamaica, and no sooner did we start our first beach walk when a local poled up his boat and offered us drugs. ("No, thank you," we said politely.)
The low point of that trip was when I took an over the counter drug for an upset stomach, and half an hour later passed out on the breakfast table. The MC thought I'd died and the restaurant owner thought I must have drunk way too much the night before.
Neither of these things were true. I discovered that the fifth listed ingredient was laudanum, which is how I learned I was hypersensitive to even the faintest trace of opium. So much for being a Regency lady quaffing bottles of laudanum!
But the Jamaica Inn looked gorgeous and the agent assured us that all her clients loved the place, so we decided to give it a try.
Indeed it was wonderful (that's our veranda on the left)--and very, very British. What better place for a Regency historical writer to relax? Because not only is Jamaica beautiful, warm, and sunny, but it's lavish with history.
Built in 1950 and presumably named after the Daphne DuMaurier novel, the Jamaica Inn quickly became an elite destination. As in, Arthur Miller brought Marilyn Monroe to the Jamiaca Inn for their honeymoon. (!!!)
Even more, it became a hangout for other distinguished Britons. Our room was right next to the White Suite, the best suite in the inn--and Winston Churchill had stayed there.
WINSTON CHURCHILL!!! I had some serious fangirl moments. It was easy to imagine him lounging on the veranda, smoking a cigar and drinking, though I'm having trouble imaging him in shorts and a polo shirt. And I'm pretty sure he didn't go for rum drinks with fruit on sticks. <G>
Churchill, Noel Coward, and Ian Fleming all drank at the bar there, quite possibly at the same time. Churchill, an accomplished artist, taught Coward how to paint.
On a visit to his pal Ian Fleming's estate Goldeneye (where Fleming wrote his first James Bond novel), Noel Coward fell in love with a ruined limestone building with a magnificent view. It had once belonged to Henry Morgan, the seventeenth century privateer, pirate, and later lieutenant-governor of Jamaica. He used the property as a lookout, and you can see why.
Morgan was to some extent the inspiration for Captain Blood, the Sabatini novel and movie that made Errol Flynn a star. Forbes magazine rated Morgan as the 9th richest of historical pirates. These days, a romanticized image of him is used to sell that fine Jamaican product, Captain Morgan Rum. As I said, history is everywhere!
Noel Coward bought his piece of paradise for £150 and built the Firefly Estate as his winter vacation home. It's a surprisingly simple hilltop house with amazing views. Despite the simplicity, he had A-list guests, from the Queen Mother to QEII herself and Sophia Loren. In fact, he died at Firefly and is buried on a hill looking over the bay. A wryly amused bronze statue of him sits on the lawn and contemplates the view he loved.
Luckily, it isn't necessary to be rich and famous to visit Jamaica, or the other islands of the Caribbean. But I must say that I like visiting a place that has some history. Do you enjoy that, too? What unexpected pieces of history have you found while traveling?
Mary Jo, showing the lovely towels swans the maids left on the railing of our veranda. Do you blame us for heading south? <G>