IF you go to the Florida Keys, the home of Ernest Hemingway, is a MUST SEE. Back in December of 2016 when I was staying in the Miami area I got into my car and after four hours of driving, made it to Key West. [Warning, if you are allergic to cats, or phobic of them, this is NOT the place for you!!!]
(although some argue it is actually one of his lesser books, and that the wins were more for, For Whom the bell Tolls, which was also nominated for both but didn’t win anything, although everyone felt should have… hence his next hit won the prizes) …. And of course he is considered one of the great American authors, as well as one of the greatest authors of modern literature.
Part of what Hemingway was famous for was what was called the Ice-burg theory of writing, namely that it’s not only ok, but BETTER to omit everything other than the surface elements of a story … as he had needed to do as a journalist.
He believed any deeper meanings should always be implicit. That this helped to create a concentration of focus on the part of the reader, creating a sense of immediacy. The goal was to get the most from the least by pruning your language down to the minimum of the minimum.
There’s a 2012 movie … made for TV … Called Hemingway & Gellhorn, with Nicole Kidman, Clive Owen about his relationship to one of his wives, Gellhorn, a famous war journalist of her time, where you see him ripping out sheets from his typewriter, crumpling them up and filling a garbage can with them, all because he had used one word too many in a sentence … life was a lot harder for writers before the invention of the world processor
One of the things I learned while there was he also received a bronze star for his work as a war correspondent.
I had wanted to stay in the Keys for at least a week, but Airbnb’s seemed to be non-existent and hotel rooms were completely out of my price range…. so DROVE the four hours down, bought my ticket to see the house … its open 9am-5pm, 365 days a year. Admission for an adult was $16, which wasn’t horrible. The picture above was around 3pm when I arrived, the one below was folks still streaming an hour later … again a week day, and OFF season…
I was kind of seriously surprised that on a week day off-season I still had to book a tour, but the good news was they have them pretty much every 15 minutes, and I only had to wait about a half hour till the next open one….
That said, if your going ON season, or on a weekend, I’m thinking booking your tour in advance might be a good idea…. Did I mention I had to wait a half hour (2 tours had to clear) before there was one with space for me… on a weekday, OFF season…
The BAD news is because it is such a popular destination, 1) parking can be a bit difficult, 2) the tours are large, even in the off-season on a mid-week day, 3) they shuffle you through there pretty quickly, so there was no time for me to take any notes…. and I’m writing this thing in Feb of 2019… so like… at this point, I’m not remembering much.
The good news is There’s an app for that!!!! For $5.99 you can essentially see everything I did, and hear the tour I heard…
I do remember that this wall amused me somewhat… the center photo is of him, the four surrounding him are of his four different wives…. which made the next thing REALLY ironic…
The Hemingway Home is a REALLY popular locations for locals to get married
I mean, isn’t this a bit like using your divorced mom’s wedding dress? I.e, probably BAD luck for the longevity of your wedding?
Other than that, one of the big “attractions” of the place is the HUGE family (40-50 of them) of polydactyl six-toed cats,
The cats are everywhere in and around the home, which is their home, that you are only visiting… although most of them are either very friendly, or more than willing to be petted, as is their due
And the lives of each and every cat has been commemorated. They all have names, often those of Great writers or Hollywood stars…. although not always
And you will find them everywhere in the house… so for instance Hemingway kept a private writing studio in an apartment above his garage, that he had initially constructed a catwalk (get it?) allowing easy access to it from the 2nd floor of the house.
And even there (which is now only accessible via a staircase, I found a cat
SO, if you do NOT like cats, or have a sever allergy to them… Hemingway’s home is NOT for you.
After leaving the home, I wandered a bit… the other things I might have liked to see where already closed or closing soon at that point, so … like the light station, which closes its gates to new customers at 4:30pm
Apparently there’s also this cute little tourist choo-choo-train shuttle which tours tourists around the island… but that didn’t interest me, and it was getting time to do the 4 hour drive BACK to Coconut Grove, just south of Miami, where I was staying.
One of the things that sort of amused me was that not a block away from the Hemingway House I discovered that apparently locals are allowed to keep pet chickens, and they are NOT required to keep the penned up… or at least that was the impression…
Based on the number of really fancy looking roosters I saw running around free. After that I drove the four hours back….(No I was not listening the audio book of old man in and the sea while doing it). That said, I stopped at a place called the Key Largo Fisheries on the way back, which a friend whose family goes down to the Keys regularly suggested to me as a MUST stop (closes at 8pm, so I really had to make time in order to get there early enough to have a meal)… That said it totally lived up to the promise of VERY fresh fish cooked simply
I LOVED this place! Sitting right on the National road (Also called the Cumberland Road, or route 40), is the boyhood home of one America’s great poets, James Whitcomb Riley, sometimes known as the Hoosier poet, because of his connection to the Hoosier state (Indiana). Now I admit a personal connection because his most famous poem, Little Orphant Annie, was one of the few poems I ever memorized (for school), and as Riley is one of those writers who wrote what he knew, all of his poems that stem from his childhood experiences lovingly reference specific details of this home.
With respect to his poetry: for those who don’t already know this, Riley and Mark Twain were both part of the same movement in American literature to elevate and appreciate the “authentic” phonetic voice of the American people when writing, rather than to use the “Formal” voice of educated society. Hence the “Orphant” is NOT a typo, it’s how the word orphaned was pronounced in 1885 by the average person then living in the Hoosier state (Indiana), and this technique is used through the whole poem (most of his poems actually) so that if you carefully read it OUT-LOUT, but AS WRITTEN you can’t but help but switch into something approximating the accent intended (which is different from how Twain had Tom or Huckleberry sound, as the accents in the deep south were different).
Little Orphant Annie [first stanza only]
Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,
An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,
An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,
An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep;
An’ all us other children, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun
A-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about,
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you
To this day I have an image indelibly marked into my brain as my grade school English teacher stood before the class and recited Little Orphant Annie to us, using a completely different accent than she normal spoke in… and then assigned for us to memorize it so that we could each recite it in class the following week. I LOVED that poem and can (pretty much) still do a decent job of recalling it to this day (so that the fact that the docent was reciting various stanzas of the poem, as she took us through the house, made it doubly meaningful for me).
One of the things to be aware of before heading here is that the museum building closes at 4pm, and the last tour of his childhood home, which is the adjacent home (and you are NOT allowed to enter it without the docent guiding you) begins at 3:15pm. I arrived at 3:25 (immediately after a group of three other women) only to be told, “we’re sorry, you’re too late for the tour, please come another day).
The museum, which is where you enter via an adjacent house (the main house is locked up at all time, except for when the docent allows you in) is sort of major non-event in my opinion, and NOT really worth visiting. It’s mostly a holding area should more people arrive at once than the available docent can safely escort through the home next door. It has a tiny little excuse for a gift shop located in a back room of the house alongside the offices for the docents. (It has some books on CD, magnets, a few toy type things — this one shelf is pretty much it)
And then in the main “living room” are cases holding some first editions, and pictures of his life POST when he lived in his childhood home (his adult home was in Indianapolis).
The reason his photo (below to the right) was drapped in black was because I visited the house on July 21st, 2018, and we were approaching the 102nd anniversary of his death, July 22, 1916
You then are led to sit on some folding chairs and watch this short video of just under nine minutes, the highlight of the museum, which I found was also available on YouTube (so you don’t need to drive there to see it)
while researching for this blog piece I found this 20 minute documentary about Riley was on YouTube, it seems to be made by a person who visited the house (apparently more than once), and contains parts of the tour as well as a load of biographical information about Riley
Before we sat down to watch the video I had loudly commented on how sad it was that we’d JUST missed the last tour window. How much I LOVED Riley, and had even memorized Orphant Annie in school… and then recited bits of it out loud… and how sad it was that I’d driven ALL the way from Chicago only to miss the window by 10 minutes, and how I’d probably not pass this way again. I think this had the desired effect because half way through the movie the manager of the place said that even though we’d arrived late, she’d stay a bit late and give us the tour herself (which she normally never does, as she’s not a docent).
[To paraphrase the movie Wall Street, “guilt, for lack of a better word, is good” — guilt & greed, they both work as motivators. Another great motivator would be sexual desire — somewhere in the Talmud there’s a comment that but for sex no man would build a house or plant a seed — but I dont’ think I was her type. (Joke)]
So she took us outside to the home next door and let us in. A very cool point that the docent comments on repeatedly is that Riley’s father,
who was a lawyer by profession (and had been the town mayor at one point), was a member of the historic fraternal organization of The Freemasons (so-called because of claims of connection to the Masons of the medieval periods who, because of their specialized knowledge of masonry, were alone of the working classes free to wander Europe, going from castle or monetary building site, to site as needed or wanted) …
… his father took the group’s history seriously, to the point of designing and building (by HAND) not only a lot of the furniture in the house, including a “partner’s legal desk” AND chairs for his legal practice which he worked from his home office (it’s a two-sided desk — she noted how at the time there were no law schools, you studied law by working with an older lawyer… so the ‘apprentice’ or Jr. Lawyer, would be on the far side supporting the older lawyer who would see customers)
This chest was also one he built by hand; it has no nails, but rather is put together like a puzzle and then glued. It’s very beautifully carved, and the docent said that various woodworkers who’ve come through the house have commented on how, even with today’s tools, making a chest like this is VERY hard. That it exemplifies just how skilled of a woodworker he was.He also built these rocking chairs and did the caning himself. The docent particularly like the way you could see how the hands had worn over time, and would imagine the family members sitting there, maybe rocking a baby to sleep.
This ladle and bucket were also and made, the ladle is special as it is made from a coconut shell. Think about it, this is the mid 1800’s, coconuts were incredibly rare delicacies. But the position of the home directly on the National road meant that at least there were (according to the docent) an average of 90 vehicles passing a day, many of which had goods to trade. After eating the flesh of the delicacy, James’ father had the foresight to make use of the shells.
So we know that Riley’s father was a highly creative and artistic master furniture maker; but get this, he also built the ENTIRE house by himself… (although I’m sure he had help with the multi-man jobs like getting the framing for the walls up, etc.)
and this was INCLUDING the stairway!!!!
The docent spent a lot of time telling us about how he constructed it, how he soaked and twisted the wood of the railing by hand, and put the shape of musical note at the bottom to symbolize a harmonious household. She also told us how “Orphan Annie” otherwise known as Mary Alice “Allie” Smith, had thought the staircase was the most amazing thing she’d ever seen, and had fancifully named each step.
Interestingly, the poem had originally been “Little Orphant Allie’s come to our house to stay”, Allie for Alice, but the printer hadn’t been able to make sense of Riley’s handwriting and screwed it up. By the time Riley discovered the error too many copies had been printed, and the poem was already a major hit, so it stayed as Annie.
That said, if you know Riley’s poetry visiting this home is something of a treat as he references it often in his poems.
Little Orphant Annie [continued from above]
Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn’t say his prayers,–
An’ when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an’ his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An’ when they turn’t the kivvers down, he wuzn’t there at all!
An’ they seeked him in the rafter-room, an’ cubby-hole, an’ press,
An’ seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an’ ever’-wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found wuz thist his pants an’ roundabout:–
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
An’ one time a little girl ‘ud allus laugh an’ grin,
An’ make fun of ever’ one, an’ all her blood-an’-kin;
An’ wunst, when they was “company,” an’ ole folks wuz there,
She mocked ’em an’ shocked ’em, an’ said she didn’t care!
An’ thist as she kicked her heels, an’ turn’t to run an’ hide,
They wuz two great big Black Things a-standin’ by her side,
An’ they snatched her through the ceilin’ ‘fore she knowed what she’s about!
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
An’ little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue,
An’ the lamp-wick sputters, an’ the wind goes woo-oo!
An’ you hear the crickets quit, an’ the moon is gray,
An’ the lightnin’-bugs in dew is all squenched away,–
You better mind yer parunts, an’ yer teachurs fond an’ dear,
An’ churish them ‘at loves you, an’ dry the orphant’s tear,
An’ he’p the pore an’ needy ones ‘at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
[Note: When looking at where Annie slept, while working at the Riley home, it’s important to remember she arrived after the Civil war had started, and James’ father was away fighing. She had been staying with relatives, but their father was also going away to war and the family didn’t feel they could afford to support her during that time. She was brought to the Riley home, as they were one of the richest families in town. Mrs. Riley
said she couldn’t afford to pay her, as her own husband was also away at the war, but could provide free room and board. BUT, since Mr Riley was away, there was no one to build Annie a bed to put her mattress upon.]
A BACKWARD LOOK
Away to the house where I was born!
And there was the selfsame clock that ticked
From the close of dusk to the burst of morn,
When life-warm hands plucked the golden corn
And helped when the apples were picked.
And the “chany dog” on the mantel-shelf,
With the gilded collar and yellow eyes,
Looked just as at first, when I hugged myself
Sound asleep with the dear surprise.
And down to the swing in the locust-tree,
Where the grass was worn from the trampled ground,
And where “Eck” Skinner, “Old” Carr, and three
Or four such other boys used to be
”Doin’ sky-scrapers,” or “whirlin’ round”:
And again Bob climbed for the bluebird’s nest,
And again “had shows” in the buggy-shed
Of Guymon’s barn, where still, unguessed,
The old ghosts romp through the best days dead!
And again I gazed from the old schoolroom
With a wistful look, of a long June day,
When on my cheek was the hectic bloom
Caught of Mischief, as I presume—
He had such a “partial” way,
It seemed, toward me.—And again I thought
Of a probable likelihood to be
Kept in after school—for a girl was caught
Catching a note from me.
— James Whitcomb Riley
In addition to Orphant Annie, one of the other poems of Riley that even students today are sometimes taught is this one:
I spent a full month living in Victoria, a popular port-of-call for cruise ships, and liked it so much that it is now on my list of favorite cities on the planet (and I’ve been to most of the good ones) … so much so that I could almost see retiring there, if the Canadian Government would allow it.
So … as an explaination of WHY I like it much, let’s start with with a seemingly insignificant fact ….. no bugs — seriously! And this lack of annoying little critters extends to all of the Island, not just British Columbia‘s capitol city, Victoria.
Now, granted, of course there are bugs, there wouldn’t be life if there were not bugs… but not so much that you’d notice; and more to the point, other than chiggers (out in the woods) not much in the way of bugs that bite. I was on Vancouver Island for two whole months and only suffered ONE … seriously… ONE mosquito bite. And it really doesn’t seem to matter what time of day we’re talking about. Granted this may seem trivial, but after having spent a few months in places like Florida or parts of the upper midwest — where you’ll be eaten alive at certain times of day; and when you are bitten you run the risk of things like zika and other nasties … 24 hours a day; and let’s not forget to mention myriad places on the North American continent where if you drive at dusk, within miniutes your car will become so THICK with dead bugs that you’ll have to get it washed, and the job will HAVE to be by hand, or you won’t to get rid of them all (and if you don’t … you’ll have the pleasure of watching other bugs swarm your car to feast on the carcasses of their dead friends. So, really, you learn to appreciate ‘no bugs.’
Beyond that, let my list the other reasons why I love Victoria so much:
As my pictures will show, it is a visually GORGEOUS city; the local government has put laws into place that require that all historical buildings be maintained (at the very least their facades) and/or restored. The result is panoply of colors and designs to delight the eyes. Architectually it’s buildings range from Stuart influenced Victorian British and early 19th century Americana, to a smattering of modern glass and steel on the outer edges of town.
Victoria it is a city that with British zeal embraces and honors it’s history in a myriad a ways; if you pay attention, stop, look and read, you almost don’t need a tour guide to learn about the place; and it’s not allways done via obvious things, like this memorial to Captain Cook,
The plaque below it reads:
Capt. James Cook, R. N. (1728 – 1779)
“After two historic voyages to the South Pacific Ocean, Cook was cruising the waters of the Pacific Northwest on his third and final voyage, with his two ships, Resolution and Discovery. He was searching for the western exit to the legendary Northwest Passage. In March 1778, they put into Nootka Sound for repairs and to trade with the native people. With him on the voyage were Mr. William Bligh as master of the Resolution and midshipman George Vancouver.
This statue was commissioned by the Victoria Environmental Enhancement Foundation and unveiled by The Honourable William Richards Bennett, premier of the province of British Columbia. July 12, 1976.”
Rather, in Victoria you really need to pay attention and look, because the place is RICH with historical documentation, but it tends to go overlooks; for instance, one of the things I noticed (during my month long stay in Victoria where I passed this statue almost daily) was that MOST tourists never seem to stop and take notice of is the LONG line of smaller plaques all along the wall located right behind that statue (see picture above), and all along the dock which memorialize all the notable ships that docked in her port (below are just a few example, but they line the whole dockside):
Another example is that there is ample evidence and explaination regarding the location of the original fort on the main shopping street in Victoria, but if you don’t stop and look (as the Asian tourists who were being led by a professional guide — the guy in the red shirt — are doing in the picture below) … you’ll miss it:
And then every single historic building that’s been renovated and repurposed (and there are LOADS of them) has attached to it a sign explaining the history of the building. Below for instance is a bank building that is now a bar.
And then Victoria has different districts, and again, if you stop and look you’ll find plaques, and the like, explaining the area’s past.
And then in the front of the Government building, there are little vignettes, describing the history of the city, performed by the Parlimentary Player’s, a group of young actors dressed in historiacal garb that try to ‘bring history to life’ in a way that might be more appealing for those who don’t enjoy reading — including one playing the role of Queen Victoria herself. After which, you can enjoy a enjoy a tour of building itself (either self guided with a pamphlet, or led — for a fee, see my blog post).
That said, it is STILL worth your while to invest in one of the many historically themed walking tours, because they will often add more information than the signs and plaques, not to mention point out little historical tidbits that city has overlooked — or chosen not to — document… for instance, as you walk along Fan Tan Alley in Victoria’s China town you might easily walk right by this little piece of history which links back to the active opium trade that used to exist in the area.
What the picture doesn’t show (or at least well) is that across the alley from the door are two peep holes in the opposite wall. From here, guards would check the alley for cops, and if they gave the all clear, the metal door would open, handing a customer his or her opium.
In addition to the history that exists in historic parts of town, There are more historical spots, just on the outskirts like the Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site (see my blog about it), which host historical events, Craigdarroch Castle (again, see blog), and Christ Church (ditto).
Public Art is visible almost everywhere you look; be it street art, murals (government sanctioned or otherwise) that either celebrate the city’s history and rich cultural past — or simply decorate boring buildings, sculptures that range from monuments to famous people involved with the city’s history, to the more esoteric and fanciful, Victoria almost doubles as an outdoor museum.
Mother Nature, Natural beauty:
Although one could argue that Victoria’s proximity to the ocean is such an incredible an asset, that the aforementioned, massive investment in public art, is “gilding the lily” just a bit …
And in addition not only have the Canadians inherited the British love of gardens, but they the almost perfect weather for a wide variety of flowers and plants. The weather is SO good (not too hot, not to cold), that it is considered to have a mediteranian climate (PALM TREES growing outdoors, north of Seattle, REALLY!).
To that effect, a short drive away (maybe 20 minutes) is the world famous (see my blog post on) Butchart Gardens, which not only hosts musical events, but also serves up a very nice afternoon tea
I was really impressed by the shopping in Victoria. The prices for pretty much everything are low (well, at the exchange rate at the time, that could change); And there is great shopping from high fashion to antiques;
The guy who owned this store, which was stocked with stuff that made my history major heart swoon, said that he USED to have significantly more WWII era stuff, but that the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. bought out most of his best items a few years ago.
This next store was probably the coolest of of the MANY gaming stores I found in Victoria, as in one every few blocks — apparently gaming is a popular activity there. You could come with friends, or join up with other folks already there, play board games, etc., and buy them if you enjoyed them… plus it was a cafe.
The owner of this next, historic store, which is the oldest contiuously running store in the city, said he was worried now that US and Cuban relations were about to normalize, as a large chunk of his business was selling Cuban cigars to Americans tourists who couldn’t get them at home.
Once many years ago, while in the UK, I accidentally purchased a t-shirt made of hemp, found it to be an amazingly comfortable, sturdy, and breathable fabric, and have been looking for clothes made of it ever since; hemp clothing was difficult to find in the US, till quite recently, because of it being a variety of cannabis plant, i.e., marijuana).
So when I saw this store, I got excited; Now, granted, there wasn’t much I could buy — since living out of the trunk of a car limits one’s closet space, but since I was supposed to attend the orthodox Jewish wedding of an old friend a month later, and didn’t have anything appropriate to wear, I had a reasonable excuse to buy myself a really nice formal (yet informal) dress made from hemp.
From the perspective of a girl from Chicago, Victoria has an impressively low crime rate (see happy homeless people for part of why that is) so that as a single woman I felt completely comfortable walking around alone, even at night;
There are no shortage of really great resturants, (see the blog post about my favorite, the Ferris Grill) all of which have fresh from the ocean seafood obtained from the local, and more importantly working, (see my blog post about) Fisherman’s warf; so that I got spoiled with buck-a-shuck amazingly fresh oysters, most of which were HUGE… and then keep in mind the exchange rate, so that from my viewpoint it was actually cheaper than $1 each. While there is a China town, I was not overly impressed with the Chinese.
Music and Art:
There is an active music and arts scene! (Although, sadly, not much in the way of Theater) For instance, there are free concerts almost every week day in front of the city hall, not to mention orchestral presentations at the local cathederal, and a plethera of street performers.
From a straight tourism point of view, there’s relatively little in the way of “tourist trap” attractions (which is not necessarily a bad thing). There’s the aforementioned fisherman’s warf area, there is one really good museum (see my post about the Royal British Columbia Museum) which hosts really impressive traveling exhibits, and a few small ones. There are also in addition to the aforementioned historically themed walking tours a few tour different bus tour companies, whose offerings are for the most part, the same (I took two of them).
of the multiple tours the most amusing one I spoted (although not for me as I don’t drink) was the rolling pub tour.
And, as a Jew, I was very excited to see an active Jewish community (albiet a tiny one) that was active in the city