Ernesto, mi amor…
Hemingway Home, 907 Whitehead street, Key West, Florida…
Before I stepped in, an intense emotion overwhelmed me – completely different from the one I experienced when I visited Steinbeck’s house in California. I’ve always had profound weakness and genuine affection for Papa Hemingway – a passionate and fascinating man, a giant of world’s literature. I spent 4 days @ the Blue Parrot Inn, in the heart of historic Key West, Florida – 3′-walk from Ernest’s house. He lived here with Pauline, his 2nd wife for about 10 years. I visited his office where he wrote “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories” before getting the Nobel Prize in 1954 for “the Old man and the sea”. His home was opened to visitors in 1961, after his death, for his heirs got rid of it immediately, with no regrets. While I was walking in, I imagined Ernest’s daily life in this mythical and legendary spot, his universe and the atmosphere that reigned over a decade. Memories and objects recall THE great Hemingway: furniture, pictures, photos and newspapers “yellowed” by time, a porcelain cat under a glass bell(glued several times!) offered by Picasso, and 6 toe-kitties – THE real “stars” of the villa! I was told they were 44 – all descendants of Hemingway’s own cats, one was sleeping on his bed ignoring the visitors! 🙂
All are looked after, fed and a vet checks them out every week; their names were funny: Chaplin, Duke (Ellington), Simone (de Beauvoir), Ivan the Terrible. I stared for a while at one photo: Ernest looked so proud of his huge swordfish(marlin) next to Joseph Kennedy, JFK’s dad. An Italian helmet and some medals – concrete evidence of his participation in WW1, as an ambulance driver; he was injured there, which inspired him “Farewell to arms”. Formerly, there was a footbridge between the house and the annex where he had his office, but it was removed and replaced by a wooden staircase that I slowly took as if I was heading for his “altar”… I stopped by his desk: his “Royal” typewriter was still there – the same one he’d used in Spain during the civil war. His favorite books, a few hunting trophies upon one wall and a small ordinary painting. I took long looks at each object asking myself whether I was dreaming or not, saying to myself: Ernest Hemingway did live and did write in this very room. He used to start writing around 6am until noon, afterwards he would go fishing, and he would come home at night – from the famous Sloppy Joe’s bar. 🙂
The guide related an amusing story: the bar owner decided to remove its urinals, he told Ernest about it, and the writer brought one into his frontyard and had it installed by the pool! His “snobbish” wife was terribly mad as she had just replaced the ceiling fans with very expensive European chandeliers! To get even with her, Ernest purchased a Spanish oil amphora, he set it close to the urinal, and turned it into a fountain for his cats! The pool is filled with salty water and it’s surrounded by lush vegetation(I loved his mango tree!) – it was the first one in Key West, it cost $ 20,000 – a tremendous sum for that time, while his villa had cost only $ 8,000! One day, Ernest was extremely short of money, he searched inside his pockets, he found a single cent and told his wife he was broke, but she did insist to get the pool built. He threw that cent in the wet cement at the foot of the green pole, currently visible – just like the sign on the door of his cellar where he used to keep his bottles (temporarily!):”his wife is a connoisseur and he’s a consumer”! 🙂 After the visit, I asked the guide about Hemingway’s descendants and he explained to me that NONE of them had ever come back to Key West after the death of their famous ancestor – “sic transit gloria mundi”!
I learned that Ernest had returned to the US from Spain and Cuba in September 1960 because he felt ill, both physically and mentally: diabetic, heavy smoker, alcoholic, impotent(at 58!), obsessed with the loss of sight caused by diabetes. He’d been chronically depressive and bipolar all his life, but his mental troubles got worse, he was considered “nuts(crazy!)”, hospitalized at the well-known Mayo Clinic, and treated with electro-shocks for 3 months. End of June, he went back to Ketchum, Idaho and he shot himself on July 2nd, 1961 – born and dead under the same sign of the Crab(cancer), RIP. Ironically and paradoxically, he’d despised and blamed his “coward” father, who had also committed suicide! Ernest’s medical record was publicly released in 1991 and it did confirm his diagnosis: hemochromatosis – an incurable genetic disease that causes physical damage, severe psychiatric and neurological disorders, which might explain suicides in the Hemingway family: his father, his brother, his sister. He never tried to add years to his life, but rather to add LIFE to his years, knowing that “a man can be destroyed but not defeated…”(The Old man and the Sea)