Synergy in the Florida Key West Tropics by Bruce Bishop
Closer geographically to Cuba than Miami, Key West is perfectly off the beaten path
Vacationing at the tip of the United States on the island of Key West affords the most spectacular sunsets. They’re so strikingly beautiful that people sit on the beach nightly and applaud the celestial handiwork in the multihued western sky.
The city of Key West also attracts visitors who might describe themselves as more than a little individualistic, which is an apt description of the destination itself. On this island, you’ll find all manner of wanderers and mavericks, hungry for a party, a quick buck or new experiences.
I surprised myself by engaging the services of a Hindu palm reader in a kiosk on touristy Duval Street, after he appeared annoyed that I had disturbed his text-messaging. But as his reading became eerily accurate, and he named without prompting the mother of a dear friend in Trinidad and Tobago as someone he knew, Key West’s odd synergy began to take effect.
Maybe Ernest Hemingway felt things came together for him in 1928 when he purportedly wrote A Farewell to Arms while living above an auto dealership in Old Key West, and three years later became the proud owner of a beautiful home on Whitehead Street with his then wife, Pauline.
The island doesn’t feel as if it is part of the United States. This may be due to an influx of Cubans and Bahamanians, and even the British, over the past few centuries. For the country-hopping Hemingway, before his divorce in 1939, he wrote or finished work on Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Snows of Kilimanjaro while living on Key West. Indeed, today when one tours the Ernest Hemingway House, one is reminded of how noteworthy the home and grounds would have been during the Depression.
It was one of the first homes to have indoor plumbing on Key West and the grounds also contain the first in-ground swimming pool on the island. Even the tall brick walls surrounding the property have that Hemingway touch: he ordered them built in 1935 when the local visitor office included his home in a promotional brochure.
Today, one can’t help notice the multi-toed cats roaming about the estate (as well as a host of gravestones depicting the names of the departed felines), which are said to be descendants from Hemingway’s own cats. However, others have been quotes as saying that only peacocks graced the lawns during Hemingway’s time on the island.
Across the city in New Town, someone who would become equally famous in literary circles, playwright Tennessee Williams, bought a home on quiet, tree-shaded Duncan Street in 1949. Although he had been a regular visitor to the island since 1941, the purchase of this almost innocuous bungalow would become his home until he died in a choking accident in 1983.
Williams was apparently one of the first local celebrities to publicly witness the evening sunsets on the beach with his friend Rex, martinis in hand. It is said he wrote an initial draft of A Streetcar Named Desire in 1947 at the La Concha Hotel, which has been around since 1926. It’s now iconic — and a popular Crowne Plaza branded property.
Unfortunately, Williams’ home is not open for viewing, as it is now privately owned. Instead, one can drop in to the Gay & Lesbian Community Centre and peruse a wide variety of mementoes from the playwright’s life, including playbills from The Glass Menagerie and Suddenly Last Summer. To get a feel for the Key West of Tennessee Williams’ prime writing years, see the film version of his play The Rose Tattoo, which was filmed on the island in 1956.
While Key West seems to offer synergetic experiences for those lucky to enjoy the sights and sounds of this tropical isle, apparently the uber-masculine Hemingway and the dramatic and often depressed Williams did not socialize on their common adopted ground. Instead, legend has it that they only met each other once, at one of Hemingway’s other haunts – in Cuba.
Text and Photos by Bruce Bishop, a freelance writer/author who lives in Nova Scotia. His PR company, Bruce Bishop Communications Ltd., is at http://www.brucebishop.com
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