Sunday, July 9, 2017

#95 Visit Ernest Hemingway's Home

Hemingway House
This picture sums it up.
Ernest Hemingway. The man. The myth. The Legend. Chances are you have read at least one of his literary works when in high school. If not, may I recommend The Old Man and The Sea? It is one of the greatest books I have ever read. There are many significant lessons and experiences in this book that can parallel to just about anyone's life in one way or another. It's a book about going after a dream, achieving that dream, fighting to keep the dream a reality, and ultimately losing the dream but....did you really lose your dream? It's all about perspective. It's about age and wisdom. It's about toughness and desperation. It's one of Ernest Hemingway's greatest literary pieces.

But this man is so much more than written word. Whenever I see a Dos Equis commercial featuring "The Most Interesting Man In The World.", I always think of Ernest Hemingway. The man even looks like an elder Ernest Hemingway. Yes, I am quite fascinated with Hemingway. He seemed to live a very spirited life. He was a carpe diem sort of fella. So visiting his home in Key West was an adventure I could not pass up.

The Hemingway House in Key West is a privately owned home that is open to the public. Hemingway spent most of the 1930's living in this home with second wife "Pilar" aka Pauline Pfeiffer. Pilar was her code name as he was still married to Hadley Richardson and living in Paris when he met Pauline. Pilar was also the name of Hemingway's yacht. He purchased it in Coney Island, New York from Wheeler Shipyard after receiving an advance from Esquire for some stories he agreed to write. It was brought down to Key West and officially christened as "Pilar".

Hemingway House
The Pilar's wheel.

As for the house, Pauline's rich uncle bought the house in Key West for the couple as a wedding gift. It was one of the first houses on the island to have indoor plumbing and an upstairs bathroom. It also had a very rare basement. Not many properties in Key West have basements because it is only 3 feet above sea level. To this day, that basement has never flooded either. I live like 8 million feet above sea level in the Pocono Mountains and my basement sometimes gets flooded. WTF is up with that??

Anyways, back to the gorgeous house. Pauline had done most of the decorating in the house. She had a very nice eye for detail and the very stylish chandeliers in the house were all chosen by her. Although Key West was a tropical island and gets quite hot and humid, Pauline chose to have all the ceiling fans in the house replaced with beautiful chandeliers from France and Cuba. She was not a fan of the ceiling fan look.

Hemingway House

The gorgeous chandeliers.

Most of the furnishings in the home are the furnishings used by the Hemingway family. Beautiful, ornate cabinets throughout the house display many of Ernest's possessions including some of his typewriters, favorite books, and pictures from his life and travels. Oh how I would love to write just one of my blog posts on a typewriter used by Ernest Hemingway. I would probably need about 7 ink ribbons, a case of white out, and a can of WD40 in order to accomplish such a feat though. While I am a fast typer I am a sloppy typer who never really learned how to type properly. I tend to make a lot of mistakes. It would be completely worth the utter frustration I would have with myself though.

Hemingway House

The marble and tile in the bathrooms was stunning.

Hemingway House
One of Hemingway's typewriters.
It was an absolutely gorgeous property. The gardens and courtyards were filled with various palm trees, African tulip trees and many other exotic plants and flowers. The house itself with it's white, limestone walls, tall windows, and summery green shutters was so beautiful. It was the epitome of a Caribbean beach house but definitely had some Southern flair to it as well. The house reminded me of New Orleans to be honest. The second floor had a wrap around balcony with gorgeous views of the island as well as the grounds below.

Back then though, the island was still pretty dry so all the lush and beautiful foliage on the property was not originally there when Hemingway resided on the property. It wasn't until the Navy installed a waterline from Florida City to the island that the more tropical plants were able to be added. By then, Hemingway was already living in Cuba with his third wife Martha Gellhorn, a woman whom in one biography written about her was said to have no problem conducting sexual affairs and ruining relationships. She herself had once stated she did not enjoy sex but did it because it made her feel wanted.

Hemingway House Gardens
Hemingway House Gardens

Hemingway House GardensHemingway House Gardens

Key West LighthouseHemingway House Gardens

Hemingway House

The grounds and the home was so stunning and tropical. I would love to live here! Could you imagine having a lighthouse in the backdrop?? So cool!

Yes. Hemingway loved many things in life. He loved to write. He loved boxing. He loved sailing. He loved to travel. He loved to drink. And he loved women. He definitely broke more than a few hearts in his time. He also broke his own heart a few times as well. Rumor has it that his split from Pauline was very painful for him as well.  Love the man but in the end, was the affair worth the disintegration of his marriage to Pauline? His third and shortest marriage to Martha was very volatile to say the least. Heartbreak and pain are all part of the romance of living and loving though isn't it? As a society I think we tend to romanticize heartbreak even more than love itself nowadays. That's not healthy. It's quite sad to be honest.

But I digress. Back to my tour of Hemingway house. The stunning and very large in-ground pool located at Hemingway House has a story behind. While Hemingway did want a pool for the property, he was not at all looking to spend a small fortune on it. Pauline had found out about Ernest's affair with Martha Gelhorn while he was away doing correspondence for the Spanish Civil War. So, she decided to alter the design of the pool to be installed on the property just a little. LOL!

Hemingway House pool
The infamous swimming pool!
When Ernest came home and saw the pool, which cost $20,000 back in the 1930's ( That would be $330,000 by today's standards), he became furious and threw a penny at her. He stated that she might as well have taken his last red cent. At the time he was unaware that Pauline's wealthy uncle had actually paid for the pool. Pauline later had that very penny embedded in the concrete by the pool where it became a conversation piece at parties she held on the Key West property before she passed away in the early 1950's.

From the gardens and the house, you could see the Key West Lighthouse looming directly across the street. Back in Hemingway's days on the island, it was not nearly as built up with structures as it is today. Back then, it was a little more difficult to navigate the island, especially after drunken nights at Sloppy Joe's bar. It was the Key West lighthouse that Hemingway would often use as a focal point in finding his way back home when a little too inebriated.

Hemingway's last red cent and some kittens recreating Mann's Chinese theater. 

And speaking of Sloppy Joe's bar, Hemingway's favorite haunt, there is actually a piece of memorabilia from that very bar on the property. Pauline had a beautiful Cuban water jar displayed in her garden. It was quite large too. Like I said, she had a beautiful eye for decor and detail. Her husband Ernest decided to add his own piece of decor to the garden as well. When Sloppy Joe's bar was remodeling, Ernest Hemingway asked for the urinal in the bar since he pissed away so much money there. ( What a sense of humor on this man!) Well, they gave it to him.

Hemingway House Cuban water jar
The Cuban water jar and a cat sipping from the drinking fountain.
Pilar was not at all pleased with the urinal lying in her garden. But, being the sassy woman she was, she decided to allow Ernest to keep his prize. She even added her own personal touch to the urinal. She had it refurbished with mosaic tile to make it pretty. Today, the Cuban water jar and the Sloppy Joe urinal have been utilized together to make the perfect cat drinking fountain for the home's live in residents to enjoy. We even got to witness one of said residents enjoying a little afternoon slurp from the fountain.

And since I brought up the cat drinking fountain we might as well get to the "celebrities" of Hemingway House, the Polydactyls cats, aka Hemingway cats, aka six toed cats. Most cats have 5 front toes per paw and 4 back toes per paw. Polydactyl cats have six, sometimes 7 toes. Sometimes in both the front and the back. This anomaly isn't unique to a specific breed either. This phenomenon can happen in any breed of cat really. It all depends on the DNA.

Hemingway was a superstitious man. On the docks of Key West he met a famous shipwreck and salvage captain named Harold Dexter. Captain Dexter always sailed with his six toed polydactyl cat Snowball. I had no idea until I visited Hemingway House that cats are considered a a maritime good luck charm. Hemingway was fascinated with Snowball and also wanted good luck. Captain Dexter gifted Hemingway and his boys with a polydactyl kitten from one of Snowball's litters.

The boys named the kitten Snow White. Hemingway used to joke that where there was one cat, more were sure to follow. He was right of course. Today, most of the cats that reside in Hemingway House as well as many wandering around the island of Key West, are polydactyl descendants of Snow White. And while some of these cats are born with the normal amount of toes, they carry the polydactyl gene and often times give birth to kittens that do have six, seven, even eight toes.

Hemingway cats
How the Hemingway cats came about. Snowball.

Hemingway cats
A sleepy Polydactyl. So neat. So sweet.
Hemingway cats
This little gal wanted her belly rubbed. My son and I obliged.
Hemingway cats
Maine Coon polydactyl. Beautiful but he must have been sweltering.

Hemingway cats

The kiddos chilling on the bench with a Hemingway cat. She was sweet and calm. 

Hemingway liked naming his cats after famous people and that tradition is still practiced today when new kittens are born at Hemingway House. You could tell these cats were well loved and well taken care of. We were allowed to pet the cats. If one jumped up on our lap, that was okay as well. The only actions we were not permitted to do were to either pick them up or chase them. And while there were some shy cats on the property, most of them were either really friendly or completely oblivious to our presence.

You could tell the Hemingway cats were used to people. We got to meet Betty Grable in the master bedroom. She was sound asleep on Hemingway's bed. It is one of her favorite spots. And while I did not catch the names of the other kitties on the property, we did encounter some really sweet and funny cats. One walked over to us, circled the ground, then flopped over on his belly so we could rub it. Another cat shared a bench with us. Another one followed us up one of the garden paths.

Hemingway cats
Betty Grable's favorite haunt, Hemingway's original bed.


Betty Grable did not even flinch. She was fast asleep. That must be a cozy bed.

They were everywhere. And yes, many of them had six toes. I had never seen a cat with six toes before so it was way weird but equally cool to see such big mitts on some of these kitts. We even saw some Maine coon cats. They were gorgeous but had to be sweltering in this heat. My son adores cats so this was probably the biggest thrill for him of the entire trip. He spent a lot of time searching for and petting all the cats.

Hemingway cats
Hemingway cats

In memorium. Many Hemingway cats have come and gone long before our visit.

Hemingway cats
A portion of the pet cemetery at Hemingway House.
We also paid our respects at the cat cemetery located near the carriage house. It was a very sweet tribute to all the former residents of Hemingway House. And Hemingway's love for cats reached across the Florida Strait into Cuba. His home in Cuba is also home to many cats as well as his yacht, Pilar. One day I would love to visit there as well. I have a feeling there will be a lot of price gouging on travel to Cuba for awhile though so I have no plans of visiting there any time soon. It is on the list though.

As we said goodbye to Betty Grable, the Hemingway Cats and the home of a literary legend, a feeling of accomplishment and contentment came over me. No, my dream career of being a writer, or even a better, a travel writer may not have come true, but I do write. I do indulge in my passion. Just because I do not get paid to write does not mean I am not a writer. And no, I have not been all over the world having adventures but I have been to so many different places and have had countless adventures with good friends and family. I am constantly trying something new and fun while enjoying my tried and true favorites as well. Visiting here, listening to the stories and seeing the sights has inspired me in so many ways.

I guess I am a Carpe Diem kind of gal after all.

If you are in the Keys and would like to visit Hemingway House, click here for information.


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