Florida Road Trip, Part 6: Hemingway and Heaven in Key West

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.

Ernest Hemingway's home in Key West (image from hemingwayhome.com)

Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West (image from hemingwayhome.com)

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.

Ernest Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, at their home in Key West. (image from jfklibrary.org)

Ernest Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, at their home in Key West. (image from jfklibrary.org)

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.

This calico was one of the few cats willing to greet guests to the Hemingway Home and Museum.

This calico was one of the few cats willing to greet guests to the Hemingway Home and Museum.

Little black kitty takes a snooze in one of the bedrooms.

Little black kitty takes a snooze in one of the bedrooms.

So bored with it all: this cat condescended to mingle with visitors to the bookstore.

So bored with it all: this cat condescended to mingle with visitors to the bookstore.

Let sleeping cats lie: I only saw five toes on this kitty; maybe it's a stray?

Let sleeping cats lie: I only saw five toes on this kitty; maybe it’s a stray?

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.

The CE next to a portrait of Hemingway.

The CE next to a portrait of Hemingway.

The upstairs veranda at the Hemingway Home and Museum.

The upstairs veranda at the Hemingway Home and Museum.

Family photos line the walls of the home.

Family photos line the walls of the home.

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.

Blue Heaven is a must-visit in Key West.

Blue Heaven is a must-visit in Key West.

Lobster Roll + Bloody Mary = Brunch Heaven at Blue Heaven in Key West.

Lobster Roll + Bloody Mary = Brunch Heaven at Blue Heaven in Key West.

It was even more heavenly with hens and chicks underfoot.

It was even more heavenly with hens and chicks underfoot.

Papa rooster watched over the flock while the rest of us enjoyed brunch.

Papa rooster watched over the flock while the rest of us enjoyed brunch.

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.

Crossing the street, of course. Don't ask why...

Crossing the street, of course. Don’t ask why…

Handsome Key West fellow.

Handsome Key West fellow.

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!

View of Sunset Key from our hotel

View of Sunset Key from our hotel

Looking back at Front Street from the boat headed to Sunset Key

Looking back at Front Street from the boat headed to Sunset Key

The CE relaxes at Latitudes after a long day of touring Key West.

The CE relaxes at Latitudes after a long day of touring Key West.

About polloplayer

Empty nester searching for meaning of life through the occasional chicken epiphany.
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4 Responses to Florida Road Trip, Part 6: Hemingway and Heaven in Key West

  1. dizzyguy says:

    Definitely agree with the Key West poultry outclassing the average stroller of Duval Street. But the visit to Hemingway house and the great meal at Blue Heaven afterward was more than enough to give us fond memories of this place; the reputation of which is so much bigger than the town itself. We had a fine time, and a good time, and although there were no bullfights, a proper Papa experience.

  2. Katherine says:

    I could sense the heat of the day just by seeing the way the cat lay on the tile. It was good. I was sorry for the lobster but happy for the free chickens. I thought: “I like to drink cold drinks with the CE. I bet it’s even better by the shore.”

    (That was my pseudo-Hemingway in case it wasn’t obvious…)

    • polloplayer says:

      Bravo! There was a hand-lettered sign hanging on the bookstore wall that read “It has been said that fully half of U.S. writers tried to copy Ernest Hemingway – and the other half tried NOT to.” Guess we know which half you’re in…

  3. Mrs. G says:

    Cats and chickens from around the country! I think we might head down to Key West in October!

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