KEY WEST – A safe haven for old pirates

Experiencing quintessential Key at Hemingway House

If someone asked me why I love Key West, I am not sure I could explain it. If you asked me what are my favorite things that I have done in Key West, I could reply: I bought an overpriced perfect white dress that made me feel like a princess, I visited the home of a confessed alcoholic womanizer, I chatted with a knowledgeable aging hippie, and a swam in the pool of an old-fashioned hotel. And let us not forget tasting the original key lime pie and staring across the sea into the island of Cuba.

As sort of cool as all of that may sound, it doesn´t remotely begin to express the bliss of those Key West afternoons in the sun.

One of those blissful afternoons, I wrote a little thing, sitting on one of those old-fashioned benches on the sidewalk, taking in the sunshine and beauty of the Key West Spring:

UPON A KEY WEST FLOWER

Like peacocks shut
and waiting for the bloom

a myriad needles
piercing the song
sung by the House fool
as he walks his dog

or it walks him
nobody knows

the tips of yellow
all that you can see

A summer breeze
a fall of dew

something awakens
purple from the blue

the peacock feathers rise
the flowers bloom

 

The first thing to know about Key West is that you should never fly in there; car hire is the way to go if you don´t wanna miss the spectacular ride along the 7 mile bridge.

Coming from Miami, Key West will present such a dramatic contrast, that you will surely agree with me that no Florida holidays are complete without a taste of the Keys, and especially Key West. Miami is all so plastic and big, and you have to ride freeways to get places, it´s noisy and crowded and sort of hip depending on the location. By contrast, Key West is tiny, relaxed, friendly, full of graceful old architecture surrounded by lush tropical vegetation. In a way, it has the best of Cuba and the best of Miami, all in one place.

Hemingway´s typical Key West

When I visited Key West on a cruise, I would first stroll down Duval Street. I love the fashion stores there. My absolute favorite is a hats` stand. Key West is the land of fashionable hats. I have never tried on such glamorous hats in my life, and I still regret not having bought a couple of them. In terms of shopping, Key West in Florida is like Santorini in Greece: a bit more expensive, but you´ll find just such beautiful things, it´s hard to resist.

I can´t seem to locate some of my Key West hat pictures, but, if you want a taste of Key West style glamour, try the Madhatter Key West online store.

Now, into the less mundane, you can´t miss a visit to Ernest Hemingway´s glory of a Key West home and the lesser known Robert Frost cottage. Frost´s Heritage house, which has recently closed, had a charming exhibition, and it hosted poetry events, including the yearly Robert Frost poetry contest. Still open to the public, Hemingway´s house makes for a fabulous tour. You can see everything preserved exactly as when Hemingway lived there, including his bliss of a writer´s studio, the pool, and dozens or maybe hundreds of cats (all direct descendants of Hemingway´s cats).

The visiting-card decorated ceiling at old Sloppy Joe´s

I visited Hemingway´s house on a full morning Key West tour, which also included a stop at the original Sloppy Joe´s, a pub Hemingway used to visit, and some visits to haunted houses, complete with macabre stories about men who lived with embalmed women and dolls for years as a couple, and what not, if I remember right.

But the best thing about my guided tour of Key West, aside from the Touch of Heaven Key lime pie tasting included, was my guide. If you walk around Key West, you will see these old hippies, these people who chose Key West, because they could be free there, in a more relaxed, less controlled society where petty moralities and formalities were unimportant; they even created a naked bar called NAKED LUNCH; but that didn´t take… There is a harmony on the streets of Key West that one seldom encounters anywhere in the world, and my guide´s stories were representative of that particular laid back Key West style.

I was so impressed that I ended up writing a poem about this man. If you take one of those tours, perchance you´ll meet him; of

Hemingway´s dream of a writer´s studio (with a view)

course, he is always wearing a fashionable straw hat. Other than that, I used to pay five dollars to swim in the pool of this old hotel by the Southernmost point, and I used to stare out into Cuba, with tremendous nostalgia for the place, where I had spent two beautiful months the year before. It felt very strange to be so close, and yet so far away from my beloved Cuba, where I had also visited, by sheer chance-while hitchhiking to the beach, the place Hemingway used to sail out off with the famous old Cuban fisherman of the novel.

Magic is a good word to describe Key West. As further proof, below is the poem about my retired hippie-turned ghost tour guide typical Key West man. Enjoy the Keys! and don´t believe everything those histrionic guides tell you, Key West is full of friendly ghosts.

Taste of a different time at Southernmost Point guest house

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Odd ode to a Key Westerner (Key West, March 2009)

He was a tall dark man

the name of a president

in a Hawaiian shirt
and he had a knack for telling stories
His golden chain glared against
the suntanned chest

He was a New Yorker from Texas
or so he said
“Back there when you turned 10,
you got a gun.
That´s how I knew
I had to move out”

He turned to Broadway
and managing stars
and 20 years ago
he moved to Key West

He had the name of a president
but not the fame

and after all those years
still strong
in all that agelessness
he told tales for a living
to people passing
through Key West

He showed us the home
of a German count
who slept with his dead bride
for seven years

I´m not so sure
about the point
where he was found dead
inside a coffin
but who cares
about the truth
when stories are so good?

And as all women
whose beauty caused a war
her name was Helena

Looking at him
telling his stories
you couldn´t guess
he did this everyday

I imagined he would
tell the stories differently each time
finding a different twist

All his Hemingway stories
were the best
the young man
being carried home
in a wheelbarrow
after nights of excess

lead by the lighthouse
across the dark

Such was Key West
a hatch of storytellers, poets
and lost souls

a secret hiding place
for forlorn dreamers
and all the dreams they hone
without a purpose

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