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. 🙂

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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)

About Mél@nie Mélanie Bedos-Toulouse @ Facebook

Posted on 20 January 2015, in melanie. Bookmark the permalink. 65 Comments.

  1. I know the feeling; I visited the Robert Frost home in Vermont. It was closed by I was full of reverence. It was awesome. Thanks for sharing.

  2. An amazing, if troubled, man.

  3. I love Key West, most favorite stop when I worked on the Cruise Ships! 🙂

  4. Ah, dearest Papa! Yes, I do understand that feeling upon entering his home. It reminds me of my first visit to Atelier Cézanne in Aix-en-Provence!

    The house I had wanted to visit, perhaps you have, is a ‘bit’ south of there in Mexico. The small home of the artist Frida Kahlo!

    Once again, a great post my friend! 🙂

  5. What a fabulous recounting of the infamous Heminway’s life. Thank you! 🙂

  6. For good or bad the Keys with Key West are not what they used to be 20, 30, 50 years ago. Highly commercialized and very pricey. The smell of the ocean and the views from the bridges are unforgettable. Hemingway’s house left me with the impression of his love for cats. There are everywhere 🙂 He was a great soul with strange karma.

    • have you visited the Florida Keys and Hemingway’s home recently?… 🙂

      • I lived in Florida for 25 years from 1984 to 2009, The first time I went to Key West was in 1985, last time I visited there was around 2000. It was a different place. I much more prefer other places like Tampa Bay, St. Augustine, Captiva and Sanibel Islands and many others in Central Florida. They weren’t able to escape the changes that took place in SE Florida (including the Keys, Coconut Grove, Miami, etc) and Naples on the west coast. Florida is a beautiful land with its ocean of grass (Everglades) and paradise for birds, alligators and nature. Love, Wanda

  7. Reblogged this on Aquila et Infans and commented:
    A great post about Ernest Hemingway and his house in the Florida Keys. One day, I really want to visit that house.

  8. i loved reading your text and the photos are great, too. when i was a small girl, “the old man and the sea” was my initiation into the world of adult literature.

  9. Reblogged this on A Tale Unfolds and commented: This is a smashing post from Melanie. For the writers and historiy lovers among us.
    Pop over, if you have five minutes; grab a coffee and have a read.

  10. What a marvelous post. Great read. Fascinating – but sad – about his medical history. One could speculate for ever and a day if medical advancements had been available in his day whether his condition could have been arrested, at least for a while, and if he would have written more?

    • thanx, Sir and welcome to my playground! hereditary or genetic diseases(disorders) are often and unfortunately a true and heartbreaking “plague”… I can’t answer your question and I guess we’ll never know about this huge author, but all I can say is that I do NOT believe in all those “pilules du bonheur – happiness pills”, supposed to heal souls…

  11. Great to read your post on Hemingway! Very interesting indeed. A well known author in literature for his many books. 🙂

  12. It surely made me wish I was there and not just seeing it through your eyes. Magnificent view! Yisraela

  13. Love Key West. The best shrimp I ever ate was at a very informal seafood restaurant with plank picnic-type tables (don’t recall the name of the place – it’s been over 30 years). Drove a rental car down from West Palm and flew back in an eight-seater at low altitude over the mangrove swamps and Everglades. Breathtakingly beautiful! My one regret is that I saw the Hemingway house but didn’t get in (don’t remember why) – thanks for showing me what I missed.

  14. Frumoasă și educativă postarea ta Melanie! Mulțumesc! 🙂

  15. Stéphane Cassin Photographie

    C’est un vrai petit paradis, ça donne envie de partir!!!

  16. Ce interesant! Sunt multe lucruri pe care nu le-am stiut despre Hemingway. I love your title! 🙂

    • multumesc, Ana! în franceza se zice: on en apprend tous les jours… = zilnic învatam (ceva)… 🙂 din anii de liceu am iubit operele a 4 titani ai literaturii universale: St-Exupéry & Albert Camus, Hemingway & Steinbeck… 🙂 P.S. sper c-ai vizitat “cheile floridiene”(the famous Keys)… 😉

  17. Hemingway was certinly a man of his times. Leslie

  18. What a gift this post is! Thank you from the bottom of my heart…

  19. What an interesting experience for you, Dear Mélanie! I just returned from Cuba where we went to his bars in Havana “El Floridita” and “”La Bodeguita Del Medio.” They refer to him there as a Cuban who just happened to be born in the wrong country 😉 … Happy New Year and hugs to you! xo

  20. The most interesting man in the world. I’d love to read “The old man and the sea” but the resume in school ruin me forever to read it with the innocence of somebody who doesn’t know what is going to happen. Your words come from the heart Mrs. B 🙂

    • it’s kinda “boring” for a teenager, but read it as an adult, Mr FR… 🙂 some people use body language, I use heartfelt words… ❤

      • Well, I couldn’t read it not because I consider it boring (actually the plot is very intense and heroic), but because in literature class our teachers tell us resumes of historical oeuvres saying the whole plot, even the end without giving us the chance to discover by ourselves :S (similar to someone that tells you the end of a movie that you haven’t seen yet), ruining the lecture. Fortunately I could read a lot before school. But you’re right, I’m going to read it as an adult 🙂

  21. As soon as I saw the first image I knew you were in the Keys, I have been wanting to make this trip myself, it’s on my list. Great post… love the par about the cats.

  22. Ce mi-as dori sa pot vizita si eu casa lui Hemingway. E unul din scriitorii mei preferati.

    • pai, go Seb, go! 🙂 asa cum am precizat, am avut sansa de-a vizita casele a 2 titani ai literaturii americane si universale pe care-i iubesc din liceu… am o slabiciune pentru Hemingway caci a petrecut câtiva ani în Europa de se simtea “legat” visceral de Spania si de Franta…

  23. Thank you for sharing your visit of Hemingway’s home. Very interesting. But sad about all the suicides in his family.

  24. I really enjoyed this… like you, I have a passion for the Papa, ignited at an early age when I read The Old Man and The Sea. I knew he had taken his own life but not that he had despised his ‘weak’ father for doing the same. Pity the irony of the sins of the fathers. Suicide is the least painless of actions in my view and I was saddened to read this part but of course bi-polar is itself the most painful of conditions for the sufferer. Thank you as ever! 🙂

    • I’ve loved his works since my highschool years… you know he spent several years in Europe and he did feel European! I’ve been lucky to visit his home after Steinbeck’s place in California… avec joie et avec plaisir, F! 🙂

  25. Thank you for taking us to so many interesting places. 🙂

  26. Thank you for sharing this small tribute to the writer and the man. With all his troubles at least he had the ‘Royal’ and took to sharing his mind and his heart with us for all time.

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