Sunday, July 21, 2013

Hemingway's Birthday

It is a good and necessary thing when you live in a tourist town to find ways to bring people into said community in those times of the year which could reasonably be described as low season. This is the time of year Key West momentarily resembles Pamplona and bearded men dress in white with red neckerchiefs to honor the late great San Fermin. Why? Because it's Hemingway Days of course!

This year this day would have marked Ernest Hemingway's 114th birthday and so it is that today wraps up the annual Hemingway Days festivities in Key West, a week of silliness that as one winner of the lookalike contest was rumored to have remarked, is the only way left for an old guy to get a girl's attention. Personally I prefer beareded anonimity to being seen pushing a papier mache bull round the block but I'm just a spoilsport when  it comes to dressing up... perhaps the remark had basis in reality:

I have not fully plumbed the reason for Key West's fascination with the writer who spent a more or less unhappy decade in Key West with a wife he was apparently not suited to and in the midst of a tourist  turmoil he attempted to keep at bay with the famous brick wall he had built around his home which is the city's major attraction to this day:
The fact is Hemingway loved fishing off Key west and the pictures we have of him from that time in the 1930s he did not look one bit like a fat onld man with a beard. Quite the opposite in fact.

Hemingway left Key West just as the old railroad was converted into a highway in 1938 bringing the promise of an end to the island's isolation. He went to Cuba and settled into his favorite residence of all Finca Vigia (Overlook Farm in English) on a hill above Havana. It is kept in apparently identical condition to when he left the last time though the Cuban government ha snot spent the money needed to keep the museum in perfect condition according to friends who have visited the place. Kathy went to Cuba on some authorized cultural exchange and brought me back a treasure trove of pictures  from  Finca Vigia.
That was where he apparently started to get "the look:"

None of which is intended to diminsh Hemingway's connection with Key West but sometimes I do feel it is rather overplayed. Consider how many other writers have made their temporary winter homes in Key West, none of them perhaps as butch and manly as "Papa"  Hemingway but valued writers nonetheless. I find it hard to imagine Key west celebrating Elizabeth Bishop Days or Tennessee Williams Days with the same ferocity that the old man from the sea seems to require...His writing room on Whitehead Street:

Yet what we do have is some real history, an arrival, a forced stay, a building appreciation for the city, stories, writing and the puchase of a house thanks to his father-in-law's help. A few years ago the city had a community reading event where everyone was supposed to get into the novel that was written in and of Key West, and though I am not a great fan of his urgent abbreviated style I joined the effort. And indeed the novel does carry a peculiar disjointed plot but that nevertheless offers some portraits of life in key West during the Depression that resonate today. The more things change, the book says, the more they stay the same. The public read went off like a damp squib but reading seems to play second or third place to drinking and fishing in the Southernmost City.
All of which may go a long way to explaining why Hemingway is Key West's Big Kahuna of the Arts. Mario Sanchez, Key West's nationally recognized folk artist paid tribute to Papa in his renderings of life as it was in key West, seen here in his striped matelot shirt giving away surplus catch to his neighbors, before he put up the brick wall around his home:

And so nowadays we live in a town where bars argue over which one really represents Hemingway's favorite, as though that matters. Apparently it does evemn though I cannot imagine Hemingway choosing to drink in either one that claims a connection to him.

All that aside Hemingway Days is a chance for some silly fun, Hemingway has long since gone to his reward so I doubt he very much cares about what happened in his wake and his grandchildren can often be found in town expounding on their connections to the Nobel Prize winner. Mind you, if you asked me much about my late lamented grandfather I have very little idea what I could say that would be of much use. esepcially if my grandfather were as studied analyzed and written about as was Ernest Hemingway.  Happy birthday I guess is all that's left to say.

And I hope everyone that needed to made the necessary buck.


Danette Baltzer said...

Well, I'll say the unpopular thing which is that the U.S. has an unhealthy fascination with Hemingway in general so it's not surprising to me that Key West is fascinated by him. He's NOT the greatest writer of his generation and in fact I would say that Fitzgerald stood head and shoulders over him but Fitzgerald didn't have the manly manliness of Hemingway and Fitz didn't go OFF TO WAR. And he wasn't the bully that Hemingway was. Hemingway was more adventurous and certainly lived a colorful life (and I don't know that there were any wives other than Hadley, his first, who he was really contented with and he ruined that because he couldn't keep his hands off Pauline- K.W. wife) but largely it was just his life that made him a fascination. He didn't have bestsellers with every book- and they weren't critically acclaimed he just lived a life that made the papers at every turn. I'll take Tennessee Williams any day- he was a colorful character. And did you know that Robert Frost had a room in Key West as well?

Conchscooter said...

Actually I'm trying to make time to criss cross town and take pictures of the writers' homes in Key West, Bishop Williams Frost and a few others. None of them seem to garner any interest except hemingway's...tomorrow it's Suzy dePoo.
I figured it might be a summer project for me.
I never much did like hemingway's writing style, it leaves me feeling breathless. Oh well.

Lynn said...

I am not much of a reader, so I'm not at all familiar with Hemingway or his writing. Sounds like his life and lifestyle may have been more interesting than what he actually wrote. Maybe I will check him out.
While on vacation, I went to his house, just to take a picture of it. Didn't do the whole tour thing. But I was fascinated with the house and the grounds. It was quite pretty. Like a peaceful and calming place to live in Key West.
His writing made you feel breathless?

Robert Wilson said...

I visited Papa's house when I was in Key West a few years ago. It's a beautiful home and overrun with 6 toed cats as well know. I think what Hemingway did was lead a life that many of us can not dream of. Was he the greatest writer of his generation? I think so, and unlike so many other's Hemingway was willing to get into the muck.

Anyone that wants to write needs to make a pilgrimage to Key West.

Conchscooter said...

I got a burr up my butt and I am planning to check out some other writers homes around key west. you'd be astonished how little they seem to matter.
Key west as a literary nexus seems odd to me.erhaps I will understand more later.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you couild include Allison Lurie who won a pullitzer prize. She had a home at 1116 Stump Lane.

Conchscooter said...

Noted. Thank you.