BRIDGETOWN - Spring has come to Russia, but I am pleased I have missed at least part of it by taking a holiday in Bardados. This is the time of year when you understand why the Russian language has five different words for mud. This is the season when you learn the second meaning of the word 'snowdrop'. In Moscow police parlance, it refers to the corpse of a long-dead drunk uncovered when the snow melts. Now is the moment when, if it is at all possible, you should leave the country and I make no apology for writing today's Out of Russia from Barbados.
To anyone arriving from the grey cities of Europe or North America, let alone Russia, 'paradise' is a feeble word to describe this vibrant Caribbean island. The senses are bombarded with stimuli. The ear rejoices at the sound of calypso music from live steel bands, the whistle of the cricket in the coconut palms at night, the surge of the surf on the rugged Atlantic coast and the gentle sing- song of the Bajans saying: 'No problem mon]'
For the eyes and hands, the island is a feast of colour and texture. And oh the smells of fried flying fish, frangipani blossoms and clean toilets even in the remotest villages. And oh the tastes of fresh bananas, coconuts and pineapples, mahi mahi fish steaks cooked in lime marmalade and daiquiris brought on a tray by a broadly- smiling cocktail waiter saying: 'Enjoy mon]'
The Lithuanian-American owner of the Mango cafe in Speightstown says that tropical ennui can set in and you can get very bored in a country with no seasons where the temperature never drops below 80F yet the heat is always tempered by the gentle trade winds. Unfortunately I do not have the necessary length of experience in the tropics to comment on that.
New arrivals, of course, go straight to the beach and it was here, three days late, that I learnt President Boris Yeltsin had declared a state of emergency in Russia.
The news was kissed off in a brief agency report on page seven of the Advocate, which preferred a story about would- be Bajan emigrants to Canada being ripped off by a con-man, Sexy Sue's advice column warning that you cannot tell a lesbian just from her appearance and a tale about a local woman possessed by a duppy (evil spirit).
I immediately began to panic and feel guilty about my colleagues back in Moscow until the young man offering rides round the bay on a motorised inflatable banana said: 'Cool out mon] Why you worry? Worryin' doan change nuffin.' How right he turned out to be about this latest Russian non-event.
Contact with newsprint had, however, taken the edge off the pleasure of merely lying in the sun and I hired a jeep to explore the island. Barbados is a paradise for a tourist but for the locals it is just life and quite a hard life at that. Since the decline of the sugar industry, tourism is the mainstay of the economy and those lucky enough to have jobs are mostly serving the visitors.
Barbados has been independent from Britain since 1966. In the past, of course, life for the majority black population, who were brought as slaves from Africa, was sheer hell. You can visit the sugar plantations where they laboured, some of which are still working and still in the hands of white owners, although they now have to pay wages since slavery was abolished in 1834.
But remarkably, considering this painful colonial past, Barbados has virtually no racial tension and the Bajans are so proud of the English element of their cultural mix that they call their island Bimshire or Little England.
On Sundays the Anglican parish churches are full of festively-dressed women worshippers. And in the rum shops, which the men tend to prefer to church, the drinkers crowd round the television to watch cricket which is the real national religion.
Just about the biggest event which could ever happen in Barbados is a Test match, which is why few European newspapers bother to keep a permanent correspondent here. But despite (or perhaps because of) the pseudo-drama going on in Moscow, I believe I was in the right place at the right time on this island in the second half of March 1993. After all, news should occasionally be about happiness as well as interminable problems.
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