Oh, look! It’s another holiday photo.
I know, I know. You thought I was done for the season ― so did I ― but then I found this photo. I took it two years ago almost to the day when I was exploring Key West, Florida. I liked the incongruity of the various bits of greenery in this shot.
‘Listen,’ I told him. ‘Don’t be so tough so early in the morning. I’m sure you’ve cut plenty of people’s throats. I haven’t even had my coffee yet.’ ― Ernest Hemingway, To Have and Have Not
Once upon a time, a Canadian twentysomething was registering for her senior year at a small liberal arts college somewhere in the American Midwest. Her timetable was jam-packed as she tried to squeeze in all the required courses she needed in order to graduate. When her advisor told her she had to fit in at least one American literature course (“you are not going to graduate with an English major from an American college without studying American literature!”), she was annoyed. Reluctantly, she registered for the course.
When she showed up to class, she discovered that the prof was a bore, the reading list a snore, and, to add insult to injury, every Friday afternoon she and her classmates were subjected to a reading quiz. A reading quiz?? What was this? High school?? In protest, the college student didn’t read any of the assigned novels. She managed to pass the course, albeit with the lowest grade of her academic career.
The summer following her college graduation, this college student (now college grad) picked up the unread American novels she had lugged back home to Canada. Since she was intentionally unemployed (as she called it), she had lots of time to read. So she read them all.
And that is how one Canadian college grad discovered Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway!! Who knew? For many years afterwards, she fervently declared to anyone who asked that For Whom the Bell Tolls was one of the best novels she had ever read. She was chuffed when a writing teacher once praised her work as being “just like Hemingway’s!” (She didn’t believe him, but she was chuffed.) And when the college grad (now editor and writer) found herself many years later on holiday in Key West, she made a beeline for the Hemingway Home and Museum.
Ernest Hemingway lived on and off in Key West from 1928 until 1940 with wife # 2 (Pauline Pfeiffer). They bought the 3000-square-foot house in 1931; it was, and is, the largest residential property in Key West. In 1937, after Hemingway took off for Spain to report on the Spanish Civil War with the woman who would become wife # 3 (Martha Gellhorn), Pauline built a swimming pool over his beloved boxing ring. After the divorce, Pauline continued to live in the Key West house with their two sons until her death in 1951.
The Hemingway Home and Museum opened in 1964. For the past 50 years, knowledgeable and affable guides have taken tourists and book-lovers alike through the home and garden, which is still furnished much as it was when the Hemingways lived there. Of particular note are the cats that live on the property; there are over 50 of them, all well fed and well looked after. Descended from a six-toed cat given to Hemingway by a sea captain, about half of them have six toes on their front paws.
Hemingway’s Key West period was his most prolific. In spite of the amount of time he spent fishing and drinking, he was able to write two novels, To Have and Have Not and For Whom the Bell Tolls, and many short stories including “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.”
They say Key West is “New Orleans meets the Caribbean.” I have yet to travel to the Caribbean, so I can’t fully speak to that comparison, but I was definitely reminded of New Orleans’ French Quarter when I finally reached Key West at the terminus of the Overseas Highway. And everywhere you go in Key West, you’re constantly reminded that you’re at the southernmost point of continental USA ― which puts you closer to Havana than Miami.
The great thing about Key West is how walkable it is. If you go along Duval Street ― the Old Town’s main drag ― you can literally (no, really!) walk from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico in half an hour.
Duval is the part of Key West that made me think I was in New Orleans, and happy hour is when the party most decidedly gets going. At the Gulf-of-Mexico end of Duval Street is Mallory Square, where everyone gathers at sunset. Buskers entertain you while you enjoy your sundowner and watch the cruise ships leave port.
The other great thing about Key West is that when you tire of the crowds of people, all you have to do walk over a block or two, and all becomes quiet. You have only the chickens that roam the streets of Key West for company.
There are lots of cute houses. Like this one.
Some of them are well maintained …
… while others could use a bit of paint.
If walking isn’t your thing, you can get around town in one of these …
… or on one of these.
And if you’d rather spend the day at the beach, that’s an option as well.
My only regret about my stroll through Key West is that I didn’t have more time. As I drove away, the sunset in my rear view mirror caught my eye. I pulled over to soak in a few more minutes of the Key West vibe, and then, reluctantly, got back in my rental car and drove away.