Of our two days in Key West, one was ridiculous and the other, thankfully, sublime. Duval Street in all its seaminess was already a distant memory. We awoke our second day with a new plan: Hemingway and Heaven.
Ernest Hemingway lived in Key West from 1931-39. It is said that he appreciated his home’s location on Whitehead Street because it stood across the street from the lighthouse, which was the landmark by which he found his way home after boozing it up in the Duval Street bars.
He wrote To Have and Have Not as well as The Snows of Kilimanjaro and The Green Hills of Africa in Key West during his marriage to his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer.
Hemingway was a complicated man of enormous appetite for life, travel, liquor and women. Oh, and for cats. His Key West home features a cemetery for the most beloved of his famed six-toed felines, including “Marilyn Monroe” and “Kim Novak”. Forty-five descendants of his original pets currently roam the premises. Few of them deign to interact with visitors, preferring to lounge in the deep shade of the garden, but I did spot one napping in a bedroom and another preening on an etagere in the museum bookstore.
Just as I felt a sense of kinship with Thomas Wolfe after visiting his home in Asheville, N.C., I somehow felt that I better understood Hemingway as I strode through the rooms of his gracious Key West home. Most of his books are held hostage in Cuba, but family photos line the walls of the home and you can visit the detached studio where he wrote. And whether you like Hemingway the man or not – Zelda Fitzgerald, incidentally, loathed him – Hemingway, the writer, is as good as it gets. He was truly the voice of the “lost generation” and a national treasure.
From Hemingway’s Key West slice of paradise, we walked a few blocks and went straight to heaven – Blue Heaven, that is – the famed local restaurant and watering hole where you can enjoy a languorous Sunday brunch communing with the chickens that roam in the deep shade of the restaurant’s tropical garden. I’m not sure how they work it out with the health code and the powers that be – maybe the chickens are grandfathered into the Conch Republic constitution.
I would go to the ends of the earth to see chickens; luckily, I only had to go to southernmost point of the continent. Flocks of Cubalaya chickens originally brought over by emigrating Cubans who couldn’t leave their taste for cock-fighting behind now roam the streets of Key West and are known as “gypsy chickens”. They are more attractive and orderly than the birds I saw in Kauai and, for that matter, than most of the people I saw on Duval Street.
We ended up enjoying our stay in Key West so much that we held back a few things to see on a future visit. Next time we hope to check out the Audubon House and Harry Truman’s Key West winter White House. For our two-day visit finale, we boarded a boat for the short jaunt out to Sunset Key, where we dined at Latitudes and watched the sun set on a perfect Key West day. Heavenly!