Saturday, March 25, 2017

Hemingway's Cats

25 March 2017

Our final stop of the cruise was Key West, which is a lovely, quaint, and just a little touristy spot in the Florida Keys.  Really pretty, with beautiful sandy beaches and bright aqua water.  Streets lined with huge old trees, and full of all sorts of beautiful old houses and cottages in wood, with gingerbread trim (I love gingerbread trim!) and interesting weather vanes.

Just a really pretty place to visit.

But Key West is also the location of Hemingway House (also called Hemingway Home), home of Ernest Hemingway.  He lived here for nine years, from 1931 to 1939.

During that period of time, Hemingway wrote 70% of his major works:  "A Farewell to Arms;"  "Death in the Afternoon;"  "Winner Take Nothing;"  "Green Hills of Africa;"  "To Have and Have Not;"  "For Whom the Bell Tolls;" and "The Fifth Column and the First Forty-nine Stories."  (You might recognize the names - many of these were made into major motion pictures, as they were called in their day.)

Even after no longer residing in Key West, Hemingway would visit, both to write and also (or mostly) to fish - for big game fish, such as the sailfish featured in "The Old Man and the Sea." 

So instead of shopping, or going to the beach, I decided to visit Hemingway House.  And the cats.

Hemingway's cats were average tabbies and calicoes.  But they were also polydactal.  Meaning having more than the usual number of toes.

Yup, Hemingway's cats seem to have six or even seven toes on a paw or two.  Usually the front paws.  But sometimes on the back paws.  Or even on three or all four paws.

The better to type with, maybe?

I walked down to Hemingway House, an easy mile on level ground, past those lovely homes and cottages and gardens.  I paid my entrance fee, and wandered on inside.  

And there, on the bed where Hemingway slept, with a lovely carved headboard and a white counterpane, there was a huge fuzzy tabby with six or so toes on each front paw.  Contentedly sleeping, and ignoring all the visitors petting him/her, or those of us taking his/her photo.

Because this seemed to me to be the essence of Hemingway House - Hemingway's personal effects, and the great-great-great-grandchildren of his cats, residing together as they have since 1939.

It was just classic.  Perfect and classic.  The essence of the man and his passions: writing and the cats.  Well, and fish photos and knickknacks around the place.

There was even a catwalk from the huge bedroom to the writing studio, although this has now been taken down for safety reasons.  Yes, Ernest Hemingway walked on a narrow elevated rooftop path each morning as he headed over to his studio to write his classics.  One wonders what went through his head as he walked; perhaps visions of his cats, or the lions he saw (and shot) in Africa, or practice for running with the bulls in Pamplona.  

Some facts and figures:  There are currently fifty-eight cats living here, both older cats and a group of kittens.  They eat about 80 to 90 pounds of cat food each week.  That's 35 to 40 kilos of cat food for my metric friends.  There are multiple cat feeding stations scattered around the property.  And yes, each cat has a name.  The big tom greeting visitors on the front porch is named Hemingway.

The pea-soup green color of the shutters on the doors and windows, lower and upper floors, is the original color.  I asked, because it truly is a horrendously horrible color, and there is a whole lot of it across every façade and both levels.  Horrible color!  The paint was originally purchased from Sears Roebuck.  But this color is no longer available, and must be specially mixed each time the shutters are re-painted.

The property seems to be about a full square block, with a pool, a stream, a bridge, and plenty of room for roaming cats (who know they're the real owners of the place).  There's a brick wall surrounding the estate.  Story is that the streets were once brick; when the city decided to re-pave the streets, they tore up the brick and piled it on each street corner.  Hemingway was being bothered by visitors and tourists, so he collected all the brick and built the wall around his land.  The city charged him $18 for all of this brick.  At least, that's the story on the island.

I had a great time just walking around, imagining Mr. Hemingway walking in the same spot, looking for kitties, and patting their heads just as I was doing.  Pounding out his masterpieces on his portable typewriters with one of these cats on his lap, or sitting on the desk and batting at the paper as it rattled around.  Maybe sitting on one of the benches, again with a cat, smoking a pipe or cigarette.

It felt like a pilgrimage.

Of course, I eventually had to leave.  Met up with Richard and wandered around the more touristy shopping areas, and had really great key lime pie.  (Well, one place had mediocre pie, so we shared a piece at another place and that pie was fantastic!)  And then boarded the ship, and headed back out to sea.

The cruise in general was great.  We both had a good time visiting the various places in Brazil as well as the various Caribbean islands, and made new friends on the ship.  

It definitely was a different way of travelling - much easier in general, and maybe less adventurous.  Or at least it seemed as if we had fewer adventures.  But it was nice to unpack for seven weeks and not need to repack.  And to have our room and meals available and ready whenever we needed to access them.

We also saw some sea creatures that was don't get to see very often - one day at lunch, someone shouted "dolphins!" and I looked out and there they were, two dolphins playing in the wake of the ship.  And another day, at afternoon tea, the cry went out: "whale!"  We all raced to the windows and there he (or she) was, a young whale, possibly a humpback from the looks of it.  It would leap halfway out of the water at maybe a 45 degree angle, pause a moment mid-air, and then fall back into the water with a huge splash.  Might have been spyhopping, though from my view it seemed to be at more of an angle than the usual vertical spyhopping.  I saw the whale do this leap and fall maybe five times.  And then, the clincher:  it lay on its side with one fin raised up, and sort of waved at us!  Rolled over, disappeared a moment, then up was the waving fin again!  As if it wanted to say good-bye before swimming away as we sailed onwards!

Absolutely thrilling!

However, the downsides of cruising:  wifi is problematic (and pricey!) on cruise ships.  And the average age of the passengers on our ship was 77 years old.  Yeah, I've never met so many people who were 90+ before!  But good for them for still travelling around, right?!?  

So we'll keep cruising in mind for our future - maybe when we're 90 or so we'll continue our travels by cruising versus our usual land travel.
 Oh, and we travelled 4579.5 miles from Fort Lauderdale to Rio (with travel around the Caribbean to a few countries), and another 4579.5 miles from Rio to the Amazon, up the Amazon, back, and the return to Fort Lauderdale.  That's a total of 9159 miles in 48 days!  (I think that's 15,365 km!!!  Wow!!!)  Plus I looked up the distance from the Atlantic Ocean along the Amazon to Manaus - that's some 1500 km, or almost 1000 miles.

I'm including two maps, one of the entire cruise and then a more detailed map of the second half of the cruise, Rio to Fort Lauderdale.  

Next blog:  Cartagena, Colombia!!!  Yup, that's were we are as I write this!  The adventure continues!

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