By Franck Fernandez Estrada
It is very nice to be able to travel and walk around Florida. The attractions are innumerable, in addition to the fact that it is the paradise of consumption. One of the greatest tourist attractions of this state of the American Union in the rosary of islands is introduced in theFlorida Channel , channel that separates this country from Cuba. For many years, these islands have been linked by a great bridge until reaching the best known of them all,Key West
, Key West in English. It is also the southernmost island and it is the southernmost point of that country.
During the 19th century, many Cubans settled in Key West, dedicating themselves mainly to the manufacture of cigars. They brought the Creole lemon or lime, a fundamental ingredient of the typical dessert of the state of Florida, the South Florida Key’s Lime Pie. Important was the commercial relationship between the port of Havana and the port of Key West. That was many years ago, before the deterioration of relations between the two countries. This contributed to the installation of a ferry line between the two destinations, so that visitors could visit both countries accompanied by their car.
Across the Atlantic, by the end of World War I, a devalued French franc caused many Americans to periodically travel or settle in France. The 1920s were known as “the famous crazy years”. Those years were particularly crazy in Paris. It was from this time that a young American settles in Paris, where he marries another American. I am talking about Ernest Hemingway who was destined to become a great writer. Ernest’s marriage to Hadley Richardson soon turned into a love triangle, as wealthy heiress Pauline Pfeiffer became adamant about keeping the handsome American heartthrob. After a divorce with Hadley, Ernest and Pauline got married. When the second wife became pregnant, they decided to return to Iowa, together with the family of the happy mother, passing through Havana. They intended to reach Key West by the famous ferry and cross the entire United States by car to Iowa. The initial idea was to stay only a few days in Key West, but they found a beautiful property that was for sale and decided to buy it.
Like almost all houses in Key West, the house in question was an all-wood house, built in 1851. Pauline’s generous, wealthy uncle paid the $8,000 that the property cost, and after the birth of their first child, Patrick, came to the little piece of paradise they had found in the south of the great country. Hemingway had a habit of being confused with the natives of the place where he lived. Key West was no exception. He had a strong work discipline. He woke up at 6 in the morning, had a quick breakfast and started working all morning until lunchtime. Then he would take the afternoon off, fishing a lot, but also visiting Sloppy Joe’s on Duval Street. The Sloppy Joe’s in Key West was the natural continuation of the famous Sloppy Joe’s in Havana, just a few steps from the Central Park of the Cuban capital, which is located on Zulueta Street. It was reopened not long ago, after untold years of indolence and neglect.
It was in this Duval Street bar that he met Martha Gellhorn and fell in love with her. Pauline realized what was happening. It was at that time that Ernest Hemingway decided to go to Spain where the cruel Civil War was taking place from 1936 to 1939. That trip was the official excuse that he was going to Spain as a war reporter. Actually, what was happening was that Martha Gellhorn was already waiting for him in Madrid. The years 1931 to 1939, in which he lived in his house in Key West, were the most productive years professionally speaking. Within its walls he wrote his well-known novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls”
which was later wonderfully made into a film starring Ingrid Bergman and Gary Cooper. During her time in Europe she also took the opportunity to go on safari to Africa to hunt animals. Meanwhile, Pauline was alone with her sons, Patrick and Gregory, the second son. She thought that if she built her husband a swimming pool in the gardens of her property (the first in Key West), she would reflect on her husband and they would return to a happy family life.
However, Pauline’s plans were disrupted. When Ernesto arrived and learned of the enormous expense incurred in the construction, there was a great dispute. The point is that at that time there was no running water in Key West. A special seawater purification system had to be made to feed the controversial and very expensive pool. These jobs cost $20,000, when the property itself had only cost $8,000 a few years earlier. The fight was big. He claimed to want to take from her every last penny. She took a penny out of her pocket and yelled at him: -If you want my last penny from me, here it is. She then threw it on the floor. Pauline picked up the coin and decided to embed it in the concrete, at the edge of the pool, under a glass plate. It is still there. Another unique thing about this house is the descendants of a cat that Ernest Hemingway had. The cat in question was calledSnowball
. He was adopted into the Key West home because these animals have always been good at keeping unpleasant visits from rats and mice at bay. The particular thing is that Snowball and his descendants have six fingers, it is what is called polydactyly. Snowball came to the town because Key West was a very important port of passage for ships and for sailors, having a cat with polydactyly on board was like a good luck charm.
Later he would marry Mary Welsh Hemingway, also a journalist like the preceding ones. With her came the years of residence in Cuba, south of Havana, in the town of San Francisco de Paula, in Finca La Vigía, which is what her Havana paradise is called. Hemingway also worked there with great discipline, always leaving his afternoons for rest, sports, visits to famous bars and, in particular, deep sea fishing. With the deterioration of relations between his native country and the country he had adopted as his own, the Hemingway family had to leave Cuba. It was a terrible blow for Ernest to leave his house, Finca La Vigía, which was paradise. From that moment he fell into a great depression that, together with his unfortunate illness, led him to commit suicide. It was in La Vigía where he wrote his best-known work, El Viejo y el Mar. This novel earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953. In this novel, Hemingway narrated the experiences of a fisherman from the small town of Cojímar, east of the Havana city.
If you want to see in person the gold medal that Hemingway received in Stockholm, all you have to do is go to the Hermitage of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, near Santiago de Cuba, where, like many others, the famous American-born and Cuban writer From his heart he gave it as a votive offering to the Patron Saint of Cuba.
I invite you to visit my art history channel on YouTube. There you will find other themes with music, movies and photos. They find me as “Franck Fernández History”.
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Franck Fernandez: Ernest Hemingway and Key West