Benedict Thielen "The Bahamas-Golden Archipelago"

Holiday December 1964, pp. 62- 73, 135-140

championship golf courses and marinas. For this reason I prefer to leave the description of these wonders to such an authoritative publication as the Bahamas Handbook.

Physically Grand Bahama, with its flat dusty miles of pine woods, is like chunk of inland Florida chopped off and set afloat sixty miles offshore. Except for the closer presence of the sea you might as well be in the outskirts of Orlando or Ocala. Since much of the land development taking place on Grand Bahama is being done by the same American interests as are transforming the state of Florida into a single super-Levittown, the resemblance between the two grows daily more disquieting.

In addition to industrial development and home sites, Grand Bahama offers gambling. For twenty-four hours a day there is a busy shuttling back and forth between the mainland and the Miami-Beach-baroque corridors of the Lucayan Beach Hotel. Its gambling casino is a handsome thing of yellow damask walls and crystal chandeliers. To spend your winnings you have a choice of La Mer Lounge, the Club La Perruche, the Monaco Bar and several restaurants whose prices are scaled according to their gastronomic heights. When they first reported for duty on Grand Bahama the Bunnies of the Lucayan Beach Hotel were understandably bewildered by the frontier-town atmosphere of the town. They have since become adjusted, reconciled to such events as the expected arrival, on the day I was there, of a five-hundred-man convention of insurance salesmen from Missouri and Kansas.

When you fly between Nassau and Grand Bahama, you pass directly over the Berry Islands. The sea to the westward of them is shallow and its colors, instead of the clear blues and greens of the exumas, are pale pastel shades of pink, olive and cloudy mauve. The sand banks roll like waves, rise and dip like ranges of bare hills, flowing and changing shape as the high-piled cloud masses sail across them with their shadows and shafts of light. There is something unreal, too, about the islands rooted in their hazy depths.

"Lotta money around here," said the man with the attaché case who sat next to me on the Grand Bahama plane. "See down there? Wallace Groves' place. Fellow who started the whole project, Freeport. Owns the whole island. Little Whale Cay, they call it."

I looked down at what appeared to be a resort hotel with an Olympic-sized pool set up in the middle of elaborately landscaped grounds.

"Nice setup," the man said, drumming on his attaché case. "Place we just passed belongs to a fellow named Francis Francis. Got his own police force, Designed their uniforms himself. Dresses for dinner every night, Drives a Bentley. Place up ahead, Whale Cay, belongs to his sister, half-sister or something. Miss Carstairs. Quite a character, I understand."

A few days alter and a few minutes after meeting Miss Carstairs I decided that of all the understatements I had ever heard this was perhaps the most memorable.

Short, erect as a drill sergeant in khaki shirt and trousers, Miss Marion B. Carstairs rules her island domain with the cool authority of the absolute monarch. Signs placed along the roads built under her supervision conclude with the reminder, clipped as her own speech: By Order, M.B.C.

At various stages of her sixty-four-year career Miss Carstairs has been a front-line ambulance driver in World War I, a speedboat champion, a racing-car driver, an aviator, and the commander of her own three-hundred-man / island army. She has been sued for piracy and has smoked—mostly cigars—since the age of eight. Her tattooed arms—the souvenir of a a hazily recollected evening with some Spanish sailors in Honduras at the age of twenty-four—handle a billiard cue with the deadly accuracy of a Willie Hoppe. To judge from the skins of wild animals, the hides of boa constrictors and the heads of record-breaking tunas and marlins that decorate the walls of her house or of her museum next door, they do the same with a rifle or a fishing rod. For two months of the year she turns over a part of her island to the poor children of Nassau for a summer camp. By the lighthouse at the island's tip are the flagpole and plaque which she put up as a memorial to President Kennedy.

"Islands are dangerous places," she said as she slammed the stick-shaft of her MG down for a racing turn. "You have to keep busy."

During the two or three days I spent in Nassau, recovering from my visit to Whale Cay, I remembered this advice. Instead of / lying on the beach drinking rum punches and reading light novels I read a history of the Bahamas. Since the particular volume I had chosen was admirably detailed and consequently rather dull, I feel I can render a public service by summarizing the history of the Bahamas in a single word.

The word is violence. Until tourism set its soft Midas touch upon the islands, all the most succulent fruits of the Bahamamian prosperity have grown from the seeds of violence. Privateering, piracy, wrecking, seizing American vessels in the War of 1812, supplying Confederate blockade runners in the Civil War, rum-running during Prohibition gave the islands their finest financial hours. One one occasion pirates removed the governor and roasted him on a spit. In later, more restrained days, three hundred guests at a blockade-runners' ball held in the Royal Victoria Hotel consumed three hundred and fifty magnums of champagne and set off fireworks which blew up a number of servants. Before the party was over, according to an eyewitness account, "Three gentlemen were injured, two by be raking each other's nose in an unfortunate quarrel and a third by having his hand hurt during an impromptu gun-firing contest in the garden."

Violence and rugged individualism go hand in hand. Ten years ago there was not a single auditor in all the Bahamas/ Even today a businessman can say, "Keep books? Why should I? I don't want everyone to know what I'm doing." /

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