Saturday, December 09, 2006

Living the Heming Way.

I got to Key West WAY too late.

That's the sense you get walking around this island paradise, past the rows of schlocky t-shirt shops and musty barrooms and all the open-air cafes that are just a touch too pretty, too plastic. It must've been a hell of a spot back in the day. Back when it was an island of rumrunners and boozy artists and the characters we wound up reading about, it must've been amazing. It's a place that, like New Orleans, you can FEEL the history during an early morning stroll. It's easy to see why it became such a font of inspiration for so many. Natural beauty, and great weather. If you're suffering for the sake of your art, at least suffer internally, in a gorgeous setting.

Naturally, there's the tourist joints named after Ernie Hemingway, the shops and cafes that try to entice the families from Pittsburgh and Iowa to plunk down a few bucks to Have or Have Not a cheeseburger, or latte, or bumper sticker in the name and spirt of ol' Papa.

But if you choke down the nausea induced by the tackiness and venture through the gate of the Hemingway home and museum, you can live it a little bit. You can picture Ernest rambling around the house, padding out to his office on a rope ladder in the early morning hours to bang away on his typewriter. Having visted former homes of Ernest AND Mark Twain in the last year, I've often wondered who will make our generations' cut, whose homes will become shrines in future years? Who are the indelible characters, the men's men? Part of the appeal of the Hemingways and Twains was their manliness, to the point of political incorrectness. The rugged spirit of the wanderer, the adventurer in all of us that is still drawn to hear tales of the authors' past travels and travails. Will people flock to see Michael Crighton's study, or James Patterson's desk? Will anyone care to see how Eggers or Franzen lived? Stephen King, probably.

I lagged back from the tour group in Hemingway's "Writing Room", looking for something. Just to feel it, to try to get a sense...I think a lot of people that visit places like that do the same thing. We want to see how the great ones lived, see what they experienced that brought out the expression that we so admire. But the truth is, often times it's already inside them. Sure, the setting can often help a little, but the prose, or poems, or lyrics, or vision...that's organic.
You can't plunk down eight bucks and get there. And that's the beauty of it, I suppose.

As I was getting ready to head downstairs, and out to the lush landscaped grounds of the home, the next tour group was trickling up the stairs and into the room. The first couple in line were taking it all in. The smallish table used as a desk in the center of the room, the very spot he sat. The Old Man and the Sea. To Have and Have Not. Birthed right here, in this very room.
"If only these walls could talk..." said the man to his wife.

They already have.


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