Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Ambling Of The Bulls

The endless loop playing through my head was asking the question: "What would Hemingway think?" The answer for a sceptic like me is "Not much!"


Let's face it, before we go any further, the 32nd Annual Hemingway Days in Key West celebrating the late writer's 113th birthday yesterday is about nothing quite so much as having a good time.


In Key West the innocuous phrase "having a good time" generally devolves to a party, quite likely an outdoor event or a street party accompanied by alcohol, costumes and buffoonery.


On those terms Hemingway Days could I suppose once again be termed a rip roaring success this weekend.


Ostensibly the struggle is to find a white man with a white beard who most closely resembles the elderly "Papa" before his suicide in 1961 in Idaho. That he was a strapping man in his prime when he lived for most of a decade in Key West has nothing to do with the image portrayed here.


This is the old man Hemingway that drove the former big game hunter and deep sea angler to his premature death, apparently in fear of the loss of his faculties.


Nothing daunted the candidates are required simply to resemble the Old Man, there is no general knowledge quiz about the man his lifestyle or his books.


It is, naturally for Key West, an event that raises money for various good causes chief among them scholarships of the Florida Keys Community College, and on Friday they had an elimination round of lookalike judging at the headquarters of the event. Then they had some kind of inaudible charity raffle in the crowded bar, the one that carries the namesake of Hemingway's fishing companion and erstwhile good friend, Sloppy Joe Russell.


Another way to raise money is to induce women to sit astride the bull holding a sign "I survived Hemingway Days Key West 2012" and cough over some cash for the privilege.


The uniforms of the participants harken back to the original and actual bull running event in Pamplona. It is a true running that sees a few participants killed every decade and several injured each year in Spain.


The red scarfed costume is in honor of the Patron Saint of Navarre, San Fermín who was martyred in France in AD 303.


It Is said he was beheaded, hence the red scarf, and dragged through the streets by bulls hence the bull running theme. It's all a bit vague as early Christian martyrs' biographies tend to be, but it all makes for a jolly good time in Pamplona July 6th and equally in Key West.


And so, after the fundraising and the drinking and the gathering of Hemingways on Greene Street in front of Sloppy Joe's Bar, the racing begins.


The crowd cheers the runners on as they get organized into teams around their bulls, because unlike Pamplona, here the bulls are propelled by the participants.


There are apparently cliques working to get candidates elected and not just at the political level:


But the center of attention are the bull runners.


It was a hot afternoon Saturday and let's be honest, expecting these elderly paunchy out of shape old codgers to do anything more than amble gently around one small city block would be expecting far too much.


It was a good show of cigars, beer and boxing gloves...


...all taken at a gentle stroll in the hundred degree heat.


They stumped along reminding me of nothing quite so much as my elderly Labrador (far from the madding crowd yesterday afternoon) stumping along and sweating profusely.


It's a way for old graybeards to get some youthful admiration, I guess.


There was plenty of that as they cruised up Ann Street to Caroline and started back toward Duval.


Hemingway made the original bull running popular among English speakers through his novel The Sun Also Rises which I read years ago, through a sense of obligation more than admiration. Hemingway's style using short sentences leaves me breathless and while I honor his Nobel Prize I prefer other authors.


Hemingway's great love was his farm in Cuba, which loosely translated means Overlook Farm, set in the hills behind Havana. It's an unhappy truth in a time of embargo against the island by the US, in a town that makes hay from piracy and Hemingway to draw tourists. Pirates in Key West are a myth and Hemingway's time in Key West was but an interlude in a long life lived mostly elsewhere. For pictures of his Cuban home check this out:
Finca Vigía


But facts are irritating things to paraphrase John Adams, especially when all you are trying to do is throw a party.


At that, Key West excels.



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