Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Take An Ernest Hemingway-Inspired Trip to Key West

Back in 1978 I ventured to Key West, Florida with some friends. I was lured to the Keys as I love the sea, swimming, scuba diving, boating, drinking in island bars and tropical weather.

I was also keen on visiting Key West as I was and am a Hemingway aficionado. I grew up reading Ernest Hemingway’s novels and short stories and I wanted to see his old Key West home, which is now a museum.

I brought along my paperback copy of Hemingway's novel, To Have and Have Not, a crime and sea story set in Key West. 

I had a wonderful time in Key West and I’d love to visit again with my wife.

So I was interested in a piece by Kim Brown Seely at on Key West and Hemingway. 
“In the early winter of that year I rented a flat in a town that looked across the sea and the Gulf Stream to Cuba. In the front yard of the flat there were palmettos and palms, tall and thin in the sun, and the shade was cool and quiet and lovely in the heat. Bikes went by the house and down the road and the riders' voices stirred the leaves on the trees. There were chickens in the road and small white lights on the fence and the bikes scattered the chickens not to mention the cats,” Ernest Hemingway.

You will start writing like this (and thinking like this and even dreaming without commas), I discovered, rereading Hemingway in Key West. It's a lovely experiment. Hemingway says things are lovely a lot, and they are. "It's the best place I've been any time, anywhere," he wrote of the Florida Island. "Flowers, tamarind trees, guava trees, coconut palms … Got tight last night on absinthe and did knife tricks."

Lured by the myth of the man, I packed up The Old Man and the Sea and took a sort of reverse literary pilgrimage from my home near Ketchum, Idaho (where Papa spent his final days), to the southernmost tip of the continental United States, where he lived from 1928 to 1939. Like legions of writers before me, I packed books, notebooks and pens, shorts … but mostly books. Seeking traces of the colossal writer, I rented a cottage with a 1930s vibe, including lazy ceiling fans and a vintage 1939 palm garden framing mustard yellow shutters. After I traded snow boots for flip-flops and had some coffee at the table in the garden while turning pages that felt like old friends, I remembered why I've always loved Hemingway.

RELATED: The 15 Best Things to Do in Key West

Hemingway wrote all or part of five books, a play, and two of his most famous short stories in Key West. It was also here that he forged his macho image: fishing, drinking, carousing. What is it about this laid-back subtropical town? I wonder, happily walking the few short blocks from my cottage to Salute! On the Beach, a funky shack alleged to be a writer's hangout. I don't see any writers (at least none I recognize), just boisterous lunchgoers at open-air tables drinking mojitos. The view looks straight to Cuba, 90 miles across the Straits of Florida, and sitting here it's easy to envision Papa fishing aboard his beloved Pilar or, later, writing at his desk at Finca VigĂ­a, the home he built outside Havana when Key West grew too crowded for him.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

You can also read my Philadelphia Inquirer review of Hemingway's letters below:

And you can read my Crime Beat column on Hemingway and crime via the below link:

Note: You can click on the above photos to enlarge.

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