There’s something eerie and exciting about walking through the home of a writer you admire. I recently returned from a family vacation cruise and our first port of call was Key West, where both Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams created significant works in their oeuvre. Many other writers lived there at one time or another too.
Williams first visited Key West in 1941 and lived at the La Concha Hotel on Duval Street. He later bought a house that remained his home until his death in 1983, although he traveled and worked in many cities. In Key West, he wrote Streetcar Named Desire, Summer and Smoke, Night of the Iguana and The Rose Tattoo. The 1956 film of Tattoo was filmed in Key West with many residents acting as extras. It wasn’t possible to see the room where Williams wrote, so we passed the hotel on our trolley ride around the island.
Hemingway lived in the house in Key West from 1931 to 1940. (See my photos of the house exterior, coach house and his office.) A knowledgeable docent led us on a tour of the house, describing the art work Hemingway collected (including a painting of a cubist cat given to him by Pablo Picasso) and the heavily carved Spanish furniture that he had sent from Spain.
Yes, the six-toed cats are thriving at the Hemingway House. There are dozens of them, all descendants of Hemingway’s original polydactyl cat named Snowball. Cats named after famous authors prowl and lounge about on the patio and in the many little cat houses.
Hemingway turned the second floor of the coach house into his office. After touring the house itself, we were able to walk up the stairs of the coach house and peer into his office, which is restored to the way it was when he wrote there. Shivers down my spine. I felt just as I did walking through Carl Sandburg’s office on the second floor of his old farmhouse outside Asheville, NC.
During the Key West years, Hemingway spent time in Spain as a reporter covering the Spanish Civil War. That experience resulted in his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, about an American fighting with the Republican forces in Spain.
If you’re not familiar with the Spanish Civil War, get thee to a bookstore or a website and read about it. To me, it was the last great war involving political passion. That’s why, without any support from their country, some 3000 Americans went to Spain to join the International Brigades and fight fascism. Because the US and other western powers refused to support the democratically elected Republican government, the fascists were able to take over, massacre thousands of Republican freedom fighters, and ensconce Generalissimo Francisco Franco is power for the next 30 years.
Hemingway also finished A Farewell to Arms in Key West and wrote To Have and Have Not, The Green Hills of Africa, Death in the Afternoon, and many short stories there. He moved to Cuba in 1940, where he spent almost 20 years. In 1959, he bought a house in Ketchum, Idaho, where he committed suicide in 1961.
About me and the Spanish Civil War. Please check out my essay about how I came to be so interested (dare I say obsessed?) with this war. Also see the website for the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, an organization dedicated to ensuring we remember the Spanish Civil War.
”¡No pasarán!” Two of the three Pussy Riot activists are still imprisoned in Russia for protesting the suppression of free speech. Here they are before their trial; Nadia (Nadezhda Tolokonnikova) is wearing a shirt commemorating the Spanish Civil War slogan, ”¡No pasarán!” They shall not pass!
Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer. I wrote about this documentary on the Russian protestors a few months ago. They are activists who use art to communicate and bring about political action and they are among the many political prisoners around the world. (Of which more later, in my next post.)
I don’t know what it is about the Spanish Civil War. Did I participate in it in a prior life, as a nurse or photographer? I was born just about the time the war was heating up, and I find it hard to believe in past life stories, no matter how fanciful and charming. However, that war and events surrounding it have always fascinated me.
Always is too strong a word. I never learned anything about the Spanish Civil War in history classes at Harriet E Sayre Elementary School or Steinmetz High School in Chicago, or at any of the universities I attended (Drake, UIC and Mizzou). It’s shocking how few Americans know anything about this part of our history. I’ve had people say “Do you mean that time in the 1890s when America sent boats into Cuba?” No, that was the Spanish-American war. Kinda different. Read the rest of this entry »