Visiting Mrs. Nabokov: And Other Excursions

Visiting Mrs. Nabokov: And Other Excursions by Martin Amis

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Authors: Martin Amis
couple will never stray from the premises, except on some Jolly Roger Buccaneer Bar 'B' Q excursion or chaperoned shopping tour. After lunch it's Limbo Demonstration by Vince; before dinner it's Reggae with Ronnie. Against an attractive spattering of palms, they sit and drink by the pool, frowning at buxom paperbacks or miming along to the canned pop. How can they afford the five-star prices? Are they all betting-shop nabobs or coin-op kings? Have they scrimped and saved for that 'holiday of a lifetime' canvassed in the brochures? After a while I developed the fantasy that they were all highly successful criminals. I moved among train-robbers and jewel-thieves, among industrious burglars. I imagined that an extradition agreement between the UK and the West Indies would, at a stroke, bring the tourist business to its knees.
    Cunard La Toc, near the capital of Castries, has recently spent $6 million to 'redefine luxury vacationing in the Caribbean'. This costly redefinition, it turns out, is an attempt to emulate the 'villa' holiday that has effectively preempted the role of the big hotels. The main difference is room service. Anyway, the experience has the authentic torpor of brochure prose. Your suite, ideally designed for comfort, offers plunge pool, personal bar and a panoramic view of the ocean setting. In the restaurants you sample genuine Creole or continental cuisine, together with the island's finest entertainment. Here sports abound: snorkelling, tennis under the sun or the stars, golf on a challenging course cooled by easterly tradewinds. An oasis of natural beauty, created for those who want to 'get away from it all', to relax and unwind ... In the meantime you wonder whether Paul Theroux would be satisfied by this elegant breachfront resort set in over 100 acres of unspoiled magnificence. Would James Fenton or Bruce Chatwin? Would V.S. Naipaul?
    Time to travel, or to attempt it. Shrugging off the beach fatigue, bidding farewell to Regis and Bently, my wife and I were driven through Castries to Vigie inter-island airport, to collect our hired car. Castries is described in the brochures as 'bustling'. The people lying flat out on the main street seemed to be questioning this epithet. Also, a not particularly restful-looking spot was signposted 'NO IDLING. NO SLEEPING'. There were, at any rate, two men beneath the awning. One was sleeping. One was only idling. At Vigie, despite all kinds of reservations and confirmations, there was a mood of mission-impossible at the car-hire kiosk. The two uniformed ladies, Denise and Michelle (I would later see Michelle in a Castries bookshop, purchasing a Western), squabbled like love-hate sisters over our voucher, which lay there, scorned, gestured-at. Suddenly I was told that we would need a St Lucian driving licence. I saw myself taking St Lucian driving lessons in Castries, or at least joining a queue in the bustling town hall. My wife and I experienced our first panic attack, our first wave of hotel-need. Regis! Bendy! We told the girls to forget it. We demanded rehotel-isation. A few dollars later, though (the licence was no more than a levy), and the car was ours. Having read that there were 'as yet' no traffic lights on the island, I groped for my seatbelt. There was no seatbelt either, as yet. We drove on to Vigie Peninsula — a distance of about fifteen yards - and parked. According to the brochure, the Peninsula 'boasts one of the finest beaches on the island'. The boast was an empty one. It didn't look nearly as nice as the beach at La Toc, where I now saw myself reclining, with Bently hurrying towards me over the smartly raked sands.
    But it transpires that St Lucia, for now, is both beautiful and innocuous, like its people. In the small towns (and small towns are the only kind of towns there are here) you sense a strange air of poverty and prettiness. Most of the 'traditional' timber houses, while inconceivably tiny, are primped, made much of, tirelessly adorned. You

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