- To the Keys
- Highway 1
- Big Pine Key
- Key West 1
- Key West 2
- Coral Castle
- Lake Okeechobee
- Vero Beach
Florida: Key West 2 - Seeing the Tourist Sights
Hemingway House. One highlight of our trip was a visit to Ernest Hemingway's house where he lived from 1931 to 1940 and wrote many of his masterpieces. It's a charming house with grand old furniture and beautiful grounds. Also Hemingway and his wife (this was the second wife, Pauline, who was a fashion designer) kept many, many cats. Something in the range of 40, all of whom, they claim, were 6-toed cats. So the grounds now have many, many, many cats (61 at last count), most of them 6-toed. One gorgeous calico, Princess, has six toes on each front foot and eight on each back foot! They claim all these cats are related to Snowball, the original 6-toed Hemingway cat. But Sheila thinks they just go to the pound and get all the 6-toed kittens there. I agree.
Well, back to the start. We bought our tickets from an artfully unshaven 75-year-old, the Key West version of Big Daddy in a Panama hat and suspenders, the collar a little shabby, the accent firmly in place. If you think he was the best character of the day or even the morning, you would be mistaken. Of the five guides we observed -- one we had and four others we eaves-dropped on -- four were also artfully unshaven 50+ males in rumpled khaki shorts, kinda smirky, vaguely dissolute, vaguely attractive; the bad boy gone to seed. The Richard Burton defrocked priest character in "Night of the Iguana." Hmm, maybe they had their authors mixed up? Anyway, we were about to mount an Affirmative Action investigation when the last guide we found was a 35-ish woman, tidy and mainstream. But still, what are the odds?
All of these guides told stories about the same furniture, artifacts, plants, urinals, etc. But the stories were fairly often more than a bit different. We forgave them; it must be boring to run the same routine 16 times a day, 5 days a week. One set of stories had to do with how hot it is in the house because Pauline decided that all of the ceiling fans should be replaced with chandeliers. They're all expensive, but pretty hideous. Pauline was a designer, not an interior decorator. Bah-dah-bing. Another was about the swimming pool which Pauline had installed while Ernest was away in Spain reporting on a war. Not only did she remove his boxing ring to make room for it, she spent $10,000; a LOT of money then, for a working journalist/author. Story is Ernest handed her a penny, saying that since she had spent everything else, she might as well have his last cent. She took it and planted it in the wet cement (conveniently there???) in the patio next to the pool and bragged after they were divorced that she was the only wife who had taken his last cent. We got to look at the penny, too.
Oh, you want to know about the urinal? The story there is that Ernest brought it home from his favorite bar when they were remodeling. Pauline was not happy to have a urinal sitting in her lovely garden beside her new pool and disguised it with some nice tiles and an enormous Spanish olive jar, turning it into a fountain. Said fountain is now a nice kitty drinking bowl.
We also had a good time strolling through the grounds, where along one overgrown garden wall, we were stopped by a peculiar, irregular sound, somewhat like a bamboo water chime, but much louder. We poked around, walking back and forth and could not locate where the noise was coming from or identify what it was or what triggered it. After a while it got a little scary; if it was an animal, it sounded like it weighed 50 lbs. Do armadillos make noises? Do armadillos get that big? Do armadillos live on Key West? No, no, more piggy-sounding. Well, eventually another brave tourist came along and poked a little deeper into the brush, uncovering a pond and scaring up three bull frogs. I could have sworn it was a herd of wild boar. (Actually that would be a sound of boar, appropriate, don't you think? See this information on animal group terminology.)
Sunset Celebration. The world-famous Key West sunsets were pretty, if fairly ordinary, the nights we were there. The sun sank nicely behind a key, silhouetting a classic palm tree, but there wasn't much color and no green flash. I think the reputation of the Key West sunset is pretty much built on an excuse to sit outdoors and drink margaritas, which we did at the Sunset Pier. It was very pleasant, about 60 tables strung along the pier with live music, a guitar player, an Otis Redding sound-alike and a drum machine on the land side and the sunset on the gulf side. Little kids danced; after a few margaritas, their mothers danced with them. We eaves-dropped on a few conversations: One young man to another, "Oh, man, and I don't even drink!" The friend, "Don't worry about it, it's just this place."
The other part of the Key West sunset reputation is of course, built on the Sunset Celebration, a street fair (dock fair?) of amateur and not-so-amateur entertainers. We saw a young man getting tied into a strait jacket preparing to be tossed into the Gulf of Mexico; a tumbler; a fire-breather; several jugglers; a tight-rope walking dog; and lots of musicians and mimes. The dog deserves a little more coverage. She was a Golden Retriever, named Moe, who sat patiently on her platform five feet off the ground while her partner worked up the crowd, using a volunteer and silly patter. Eventually, on cue, Moe walked across the tightrope (well, two tight ropes, one for each set of paws, right and left) and then turned around and walked back. Then she circled the crowd, taking the offered dollars and dropping them in a bucket. A couple at our B & B told us that the man also has a cat that leaps through a hoop, "just like a tiger." I wish we'd seen that too.
We saw quite a few other things in Key West -- beautiful wooden sailboats, the beach where dogs are allowed to swim, loads of rude t-shirts, gorgeous brown young men making palm baskets and jewelry at the beach, hundreds of empty parking places before noon, displays of dead butterflies mounted and organized to match any decor, and so on and so on. But if you want to know about these, you'll have to buy one of us a glass of (grape-based) wine.
Back up Hwy 1 toward Key Largo, we made a lunch stop, at the Cracked Conch Cafe in Marathon. After listening to them pounding away at the conch in the kitchen, we skipped the conch steak and had the grouper. Excellent.
We also made a gawking stop at the World Wide Sportsman at the Bayside Marina on Morada Bay. (Thanks for the suggestion, John.) This store has everything a sports fisherman could want and other attractions for the non-fisher. In the middle of the store is a fishing boat -- the exact twin and sister boat to Ernest Hemingway's "Pilar." You can take your picture in it, but we didn't. There is also the Zane Grey bar, which is full of memorabilia and just beautifully outfitted, the wood work, door pulls, furnishings. Like how I imagine a very fine gentlemen's club, well worth a stop. There is a photo gallery here at the bottom of the page that shows the boat, bar, etc.
The also have clothes. When we walked into the women's department we were faced with racks and racks of Columbia Sportswear. (For those who don't know, this is a Portland OR based company.) So we also know they have good taste.
Next, the Coral Castle in Homestead.