During my last week in Key West, I’ve been trying to do some of the touristy things I haven’t bothered with before: conch train ride, shipwrecker’s museum, that sort of thing. Today I spent several hours wandering through the Hemingway House. I hadn’t planned on going . I’ve been on a tight budget and it seemed silly to pay $20. But as things so often seem to happen in Key West, a new friend down here arranged for me to get in, and this morning I hopped on my bike and rode over.
And I am so glad I did. Not only did I get to see original furniture and a well-preserved house, but the tour guide was a wealth of Hemingway facts and gossip. I learned a great deal about Hemingway and his women, Hemingway and his cats, Hemingway and his pool, Hemingway and his writing. And I actually got a little chill peeking into the study where he wrote, geek that I am.
So now I’ve seen where he worked, I’ve seen where he slept, and I’ve seen where he drank. You really can’t go anywhere in Key West without running into some reference to him.
There are many other writers and artists’ that have made Key West home, at least for a while. Tennessee Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, Shel Silverstein, and currently Judy Blume. Even Robert Frost wrote here in the winters. But Hemingway is the name you most often hear associated with Key West. And the name tourists associate with the island. Which sometimes causes debate among the locals. One night some people I met got into a great discussion over whether Hemingway was as talented a writer as Tennessee Williams. It was a fun and lively argument, and the men were well read and knowledgeable, much more knowledgeable than I am about either Hemingway or Williams. As things became more and more heated, I mostly listened. My horse ain’t in that race, as one of the guys said.
I don’t remember if anyone conceded victory, but listening to the smart, passionate arguments on either side, I thought, what a wonderful town, where the late night fighting is about the virtues of one (dead) writer over another. Where but in Key West?