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In 10 years, at a cost of millions of dollars, Karim proposes to build or to permit the construction of a truly colossal development, including some 35 hotels and 9,000 villas and homes. An estimated 50,000 vacationers will eventually use the 80 beaches, two golf courses, polo field, skin-diving, hunting and horseback-riding clubs, restaurants and bistros.
Karim intensely resents articles that have described the future resort as a "playground for playboys" or "millionaires' heaven" or "the next St. Tropez for jet-setters."
"Nonsense," he says. "We are already building homes which will cost as little as $10,000. There will be many in the $20,000 to $30,000 bracket. A $40,000 villa will be the exception. These are not extravagant prices today in the Mediterranean basin. Besides, we are not foolish. We realize that there simply are not enough millionaires or playboys to make a 35-mile resort area prosper. There will be houses, restaurants, nightclubs, shops and sporting facilities for wallets of all sizes."
To make certain that Costa Smeralda does not turn into another Mediterranean eyesore, the consortium has set severe architectural and zoning standards. Buildings must blend into the mountainous landscape and not clash in style with Sardinian rural dwellings. Pastel colors are preferred, white is banned. Before the consortium set forth these rules, the former Paris fashion model Bettina, who was Aly Khan's constant companion, built a large white villa. It is quite conspicuous, and there will be no more like it.
Begun two years ago—"from nothing," Karim reminds visitors—the resort is today a series of busy construction sites joined by dirt roads that are soon to be asphalted by the Italian government. One hotel, the Cala di Volpe, is already open to the public, and the yacht harbor should be finished by late summer.
Karim had invited a group of Parisian friends, including Miss von Mehks, to spend the week with him in Sardinia, and they saw more of Sardinia than of Karim. Three times a day he inspected the construction site at Porto Cervo; he lunched with engineers and architects; he held nightly work sessions at the hotel from 7 to 10 while his resigned friends dined alone. When Karim gets enthusiastic about a project, the world can entertain itself. His friends are all accustomed to this purposefulness.
One day, however, the Aga Khan suggested a cruise on the Amaloun to the spot that pleases him most, the yacht harbor at Porto Cervo, four miles down the coast from the hotel. A few hundred yards from the port Karim turned to his guests and said: "I'll bet you can't find the harbor from here." No one could. "It is extraordinary," he said. "The entrance is only 320 feet wide. It is a kind of pirates' cove. We've forbidden any construction on the shore to preserve the hideaway character. The water is 45 feet deep in the middle, and along our 1,060-foot quay it is 21 feet deep. It is such a large harbor that we are building three separate series of moorings. Last year we had only a pontoon, yet 120 yachts tied up in August, more than at Portofino. Eventually Porto Cervo will be one of the finest ports in the world, and civilized, too. I mean, nobody will throw tomatoes at the boats, anchor lines won't get tangled and a yachtsman will not feel he is an animal in a zoo."
Rowing himself and friends ashore, Karim made immediately for the chief engineer's shack. Speaking Italian, he discussed a blueprint of the quay with the engineer and several construction bosses. Twice he contradicted the Italians about the height of quays on a neighboring island. "I know," he said. "I sailed there yesterday to check it." The Italians may well have thought the Prince was a young man with too much money, but they respected his ability to read blueprints, speak their language and measure quays.
Actually, Karim is one-fourth Italian. He was born in a Geneva clinic on December 13, 1936 to Prince Aly Khan and Joan Yarde-Buller, who was previously married to Loci Guinness, of the banking, not the beer. Guinnesses. As Aly was half Persian and half Italian and Karim's mother was English, the leader of the Ismailis is one-quarter Persian, one-quarter Italian and half English. His looks suggest that he could come from any of half a dozen countries—European countries. He stands just under 5 feet 11 inches and weighs 178 pounds. Although he keeps in superb physical trim, eats moderately and drinks nothing alcoholic, he tends to put on weight. He has a strong, straight nose, hazel eyes that at times seem greenish, straight brown hair and the receding hairline that runs in the family. His soft manner of speech sounds, to American ears, like English English. And he is, as he puts it, "shortsighted." Actually, he is so nearsighted that he usually wears contact lenses. "I had 20-20 vision when I entered Harvard," he says. "I don't know why, but my eyes deteriorated there rapidly."
At the outbreak of World War II, Karim, then a child of 3, and his younger brother Amyn went with a nurse to Lebanon, presumably a safe spot. But when France fell, the children were bundled off to Egypt. In 1941 German and Italian troops drove dangerously close to Cairo, and it was thought wise to take the boys to Nairobi, Kenya, where the family owned a home. The house in which (he future Aga Khan spent his boyhood is now the residence of Kenya's leader, Jomo Kenyatta.