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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Sunshine State

Wow, am I lucky. Not only do I live in one of the most interesting and colorful places in the world, but when I go on vacation, I get to head to a place that's nearly as good: Florida. Not Miami -- we're talking real Florida here. Alligators, Spanish moss, boiled peanuts, tornados, mobile homes and men who really do call themselves things like Bud and Bubba. It's a nourishing feast of sight and sound for a world-weary soul.


Well, maybe that's a little strong. But I haven't been in Russia for weeks, and, so far away from my grim, mercurial muse, I have no choice but to deal with the sunny, down-home reality I see before me.


Actually, Russians and Floridians aren't totally dissimilar. They both drink a lot of tea -- although here in Florida it's iced, of course, and we all know how most Russians feel about ice in their beverages.


Then there's the basic distrust of outsiders -- odd, because Florida, like Russia, is composed primarily of outsiders. And neither cares much for highfalutin foreign names, no matter how fashionable they might be. Here a town scandal recently erupted when officials in Destin renamed a local street Rue St. Jean de Luz, which fell immediately out of favor when people realized they couldn't pronounce it. The officials considered several more palatable suggestions -- Dancing Fish Way and No Nets Drive, for example -- before returning it to its original name, Two Trees Road. Yury Luzhkov would have approved.


But here politicians have a truly creative skill for making their appeal stick. Boris Yeltsin might do well to pay slightly closer attention to the winning styles of politicians in other parts of the world, before it's too late. Florida was one of the few states to survive the Republican crusades last November, with incumbent governor Lawton Chiles beating out Jeb Bush, the son of former president George Bush. Chiles won his first term of office by labeling himself "Walkin' Lawton" and hiking up and down the state in a meet-the-people campaign.


This time around it was a little more tricky: Jeb is a smooth, good-looking guy, just like his daddy, and he and Lawton were neck and neck for most of the race. The crucial moment came during a televised debate when Walkin' Lawton suddenly came up with this oratorical gem: "The he-coon walks at dawn." Nobody knew what it meant, but the crowd went wild. And so, having likened himself to a male raccoon, Chiles coasted to victory. After his swearing-in ceremony, he decked himself in raccoon pelts, downed a fortifying bowl of he-coon stew and threw in another walk, for good measure, surrounded by fellow he-coons and she-coons. Now, a walk across Russia is probably not a great political tactic, but what about the he-coon rhetoric? Yenot gulyaet rassvetom. It's got a great ring to it.