I had invited Laline Paull to Mexico
for a pre-Christmas weekend. It was a relatively cheap
date for me because Jimmy Goldsmith, having just taken
delivery of his $40 million 757 Jetliner in Paris, was
stopping in New York en route to his kingdom by the
sea in Cuixmala. Not only could we hitch a very comfortable
ride to Mexico, Laline could continue on to London after
the weekend since the 757 would be flying there to pick
up 20 of Jimmy's Xmas guests.
Laline, an Anglo-Indian movie writer,
had not met Jimmy before, but the logistics had appealed
to her. When she published her account of that weekend
in The Guardian three years later (July 24, 1997), and
I compared it with my diary of it, I realized that she
was an acute and embarrassingly perceptive
That Friday morning was bright and
Sunny when we arrived at the private terminal in Newark
Airport. Jimmy was waiting impatiently. I knew he would
be disappointed since the real reason for his stop in
New York was not with us. That reason was Lisa. A month
before, Jimmy had been seated next to Lisa a dinner
party and was greatly impressed by her curiosity about
the world and also her great looks. He found this combination,
as well her charm, so irresistible that he invited her
to Mexico over Christmas. Here he used his favorite
"you choose" gambit, saying " My plane
will be landing at Newark at noon on December 16th.
If it would amuse you, and you have nothing better to
do, just be at the airport. No need to call me in advance."
It didn't work. Lisa, in the end,
decided to stay in New York that weekend and Xmas shop.
Jimmy hid his crushing defeat so well that Laline, knowing
nothing of the subtext of the stop over, wrote:
"I first saw Jimmy Goldsmith
standing beside his newly customized Boeing 757, one
cold and sunny December morning in New York, 1994.
He was larger than life, his hands folded royally
behind his back, his long black coat flapping in the
wind, watching us being driven towards him. He had
stopped en route from Paris to pick its up and take
us to Cuixmala, his Mexican palace, for a long weekend....
For the next three days, it would be Jimmy, Ed and
The airliner was divided into three
sections a dining room, which doubled as a small
movie theater, a bedroom for himself, complete with
a Jacuzzi bath, and a large salon for up to 20 guests.
Once airborne, we had a lunch of smoked fish and eggplant
caviar that had been prepared by the restaurant he owned
in Paris, Laurent. There was nothing on the plane not
under Jimmy's control.
Although I found him subdued throughout
lunch, Laline had a different impression. She recalled:
"Jimmy glowed with pleasure
in his recent activities causing a stir in
the European Parliament, completing the plane, and
his developing plans for the Referendum Party... I
privately classified him as a king crocodile - a vast
and glinting smile, a lazy gait and an impenetrable
mask of politeness But very, very dangerous."
Jimmy then chose the 1946 movie Gilda
for us to watch, but began getting phone calls and retreated
to his private quarters. Laline and I meanwhile watched
Gilda (Rita Hayworth) betray her lovers. Since the jetliner
was too large for Jimmy's landing strip, we landed at
Puerto Vallarta. We then transferred to the waiting
twin-prop Otter. Jimmy chartered this plane, which otherwise
gave tours of the Grand Canyon, to shuttle his guests
back and forth between Puerto Vallarte his twin estates,
Cuixmala on the Pacific, and Jabale, in the mountains.
The sun was just setting as we approached the blue and
yellow dome of Jimmy's main house at Cuixmala.
Since the landing strip had no lights,
we had to land before the sun set, like in some Dracula
movie. A convoy of SUVs was waiting, with Jimmy's bodyguards,
all former Federal police, to take us through the coconut
groves to his palace, which he named la Loma, (since
it was on a hill.) He had built it, and the rest of
Cuixmala, just six years ago in massive construction
projects which he financed advantageously by buying
abroad Mexican debt at a 50 percent or so discount and
swapping it for Mexican pesos.
Laline was impressed by this personal
Shangri-la. She wrote:
"What do you think it looks
like? he asked me, as we were chauffeured and bodyguarded
towards Cuixmala, its minarets and dome glowing above
palm tops in the last of the sun. Like a mogul palace,
I said, to his evident satisfaction."
She noted "He enjoyed the sight
of 60 servants lined up in welcome on the sweeping main
steps, and swept a rapid critical eye over the fountains,
the courtyard, the countless candles and lamps lit everywhere,
before pronouncing himself satisfied with his palace.
Immaculate servants padded silently like pink-clad ghosts,
their dark enigmatic faces making his booming voice
and vast sprawling body language all the more emphatic.
They never looked up, and they never met your eyes."
In fact, there were only about a
dozen servants, and Jimmy, who spoke Spanish, was on
a first-name basis with most of them and knew an amazing
amount about them. But Laline, perhaps because he was
Anglo-Indian, saw him in the image of some Eastern despot.
"This was a man who loved
to be king, his domain bordered by pristine jungle on
one side - as far as the eye can or, he old, and on
the other, a rough and crashing sea too dangerous to
swim in," she wrote. Jimmy lived in the domed palace
we saw from the air. In area, it was the size of the
White House. It included three outdoor dining rooms
under thatched roofs, or a"Palappas", a huge
circular library, a theater (with bad projection TV
and even worse acoustics), a cloister and a living room
organized with giant pillows like a sultan's harem,
it had no spare bedrooms for guests. They were quartered
in six pavilions on another hill. Between the two hills,
there was a labyrinthine jungle of bougainvillaea.
The three of us had dinner in the
papilla overlooking the lagoon. Jimmy, a great host,
focused his attention on Laline. As she recalled:
"Jimmy pointed out
we were enjoying delicacies from Cuixmala's sea, soil
fields and gardens, and that due to the expertise
of Cuixmala's master chefs, haute cuisine of the globe
was only a whim away. He was a genial perfectionist,
an absolutist and a performer, radiating a slight
field of impatience until the conversation returned
to him, and he relaxed again, leaning back in his
chair, legs spread wide."
She was, to say the least, ambiguous
about this projection of power, noting:
"I found him magnetic rather
than charming, and imposing rather than charismatic.
He was particularly voluble in his appreciation of
women as the great nurturers and civilizers of men
and children, whose greatest fulfilment was in this
role, and professed a belief that when a man was interested
in a woman it was because that woman had on some level
invited him to be."
There was a phenomenon that I had
observed with every woman who had visited Cuixmala,
whether happily married or single, mature or barely
legal, poor or rich, they are found Jimmy both attractive
and scary. Laline was no different. She found:
"He was generous, imposing
and powerful, and he played his vulnerability. I believed
him when be said that if he should find himself alone
in a strange town, unmarried, it would be a matter
of a few hours before he would remedy that terrible
situation, and that he honestly could not imagine
existing without woman."
His art was another matter. There
was very imposing bronze animals in and around the house
had been a result of his lifelong friendship with John
Aspinall. Aspinall had sculptures made of his ape, rhino
and other animals in his private zoos, and Jimmy acquired
(or was gifted) many them. Laline took them as evidence
of his affinity with predators,
"Jimmy's taste in art ran
to colossal modern bronzes of fighting panthers ,
a giant-tusked elephant on the beach, and a gorilla
at the main entrance. All served to reinforce the
feeling that our host saw himself as a grand and fierce
The guest pavilions were lavish
one-bedroom structures. Jimmy had rejected the architect's
idea of providing them kitchens because he wanted all
his guests to dine at the main house. It was more social
that way, and he could do their placement. Laline was
concerned that there was no maps to orient her. "I
wondered if there were no guest maps of the estate because
of the security risks, but also because Jimmy liked
to keep the maximum psychological advantage," she
wrote, "such lavish hospitality could be as much
a weapon as a gift."
I didn't tell her about the scorpions
that had once infested Cuixmala-- and the entire Costa
Careyes. When Jimmy had first visited Costa Careyes
in the mid nineteen-seventies, his companion,h Annabel
Birley (who he married in 1978), was stung by a scorpion.
Although the bite was not serious, Jimmy did not like
having his vacation interrupted by an insect. So when
he built Cuixmala, he went to great lengths to make
it inaccessible to scorpions. I played a role by stumbling
on two ecologists from the University of Mexico, who
then devised a series of tiny moats and other elaborate
barriers that actually worked. To make sure no scorpions
remained in the moats, a two man patrol checked them
throughout the night with ultra-violet light. So there
were no real scorpion danger, but these lights looked
eerie as they slowly circled each guest house. After
a long flight, Laline noted: "Strange ultra-violet
lights moved in the darkness."
Who could blame her?