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Hemingway’s Key West: How to Travel like a Literary Icon

December 2, 2011 in American literature, Hemingway in Key West, Key West Travel

  “Then we came to the edge of the stream and the water quit being blue and was light and greenish and inside I could see…the wireless masts at Key West and the La Concha hotel up high out of all the low houses”  – Ernest Hemingway, To Have and Have Not

If you are planning a trip to Key West, there are plenty of hotels to choose from, but for the literary traveler the choice is easy.  Dating back to 1926, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the La Concha not only provides you with luxurious accommodations amidst the excitement of popular Duval Street, but it also gives you access to a lush history without even leaving your hotel room.  The La Concha boasts a rich past, with former guests running the gamut from Harry S. Truman to Al Capone, and of course, literary legend, Ernest Hemingway.

At only seven stories high, the La Concha is the tallest building in Key West and one of its best known features is its rooftop bar and observation deck, which offers incredible views of the infamous Key West sunsets.  It is easy to picture Hemingway tossing back a daiquiri against a backdrop of dusky island ambiance.  In fact, he started work on his 1937 novel, To Have and Have Not, in a suite at the La Concha.  The novel, set in Key West, pays homage to the hotel, noting its prominence on the horizon as the protagonist, Harry Morgan, leaves Key West for Cuba.

Hemingway initially made the move to Key West with his second wife, Pauline, at the suggestion of fellow writer John Dos Passos.  In 1936 he met Martha Gellhorn at his favorite watering hole, and present day hot spot, Sloppy Joe’s.  If the walls of the La Concha could talk they would tell tales of their affair, which ultimately led to his third marriage.  For the true literary traveler, a stay in Hemingway’s suite at the La Concha is a very real possibility. While in Key West you can definitely walk a mile in his shoes, but why not kick off those shoes and spend a night in his suite?

While the literature aficionado and history buff alike will take pleasure in sitting where Hemingway sat as he penned his classics, a warning to those looking to stay in the room where he wiled away his days.  According to a chapter on the hotel in Greg Jenkin’s Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted Folklore, strange and possibly otherworldly happenings have been reported in the suite, and one possible culprit is believed to be the ghost of a mischievous Hemingway playing tricks on guests who have taken over his space.  For those who enjoy a little mystery with their history, a tour of haunted Key West landmarks actually starts in the lobby of the La Concha.

For further information on Hemingway’s ties to Key West and the La Concha check out Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon’s 2008 literature themed travel guide, Novel Destinations, a very comprehensive handbook for the literary traveler that The Chicago Tribune calls “a fun read whether for armchair travelers or actual literary pilgrims.”  Now doesn’t that sound like a great book to peruse en route to Key West?  So pack your bags, find a sitter for your six-toed cats, and we will meet you on the rooftop of the La Concha for a mojito in Hemingway’s honor.

Literature From the Lab: An Intellectual Friendship in California

October 2, 2010 in American literature, California Travel, John Steinbeck

Photograph by Victor WalshTrue to the saying, great minds often do think alike.  They also share, borrow, and sometimes steal from one another. Picasso once said that “bad artists copy, great artists steal.”  I don’t if this statement still holds water (or if it ever did, really), but he did get one thing right: the best ideas should be shared.

This may explain why so many intellectuals are drawn to one another.  It’s not necessarily because they have a lot in common (other than shockingly high IQs) or because they can’t communicate with the general population (though sometimes this is also true).  Even the most brilliant minds need to be fed in order to grow and the best food is foreign thought.

At least, this is how I make sense of certain intellectual friendships, like that of John Steinbeck and the famed biologist Edward F. Ricketts.  Though their genius was in very different fields–Steinbeck in literature, and Ricketts in science–their relationship helped both men grow and learn.  In the cramped walls of Ricketts’ lab in Monterey, California, they bounced ideas back and forth, traded inspiration, and opened new channels of thought.

In our most recent feature article, writer Victor Walsh travels to Monterey to see Ricketts’ lab, which has been left basically as it was at the time of his death in 1948.  Still filled with specimens and Ricketts’ personal belongings, the lab stands testimony to a great intellectual friendship–and the work of a great scientist.

Take a moment out of your busy weekend to read about Walsh’s visit to Cannery Row and learn a little more about the life of one of America’s greatest writers with our piece A Meeting of Minds: John Steinbeck and Edward F. Ricketts at the Lab in Monterey. And if you want to learn more about Steinbeck’s biography, please take a look at any of our other great articles on the Of Mice and Men author.

Happy reading.

Two Trips To Paris With Henry Miller

April 1, 2010 in Uncategorized

Photo by Jack Downey Reading our newest feature article, on Henry Miller’s Paris, I couldn’t help but feel that it had been written just for me.  I am sitting on my roof as I write this, soaking in the early spring sun.  Today the streets of Cambridge are rife with sandals, shorts, and other vestiges of summer, donned a little early out of optimistic excitement.

I think we get this way every spring – something about the hard winter wakens a desire for debauchery in all of us, no matter how slight.  Miller, with his graphic awareness of the human body, speaks to this new-found sensuality, a desire to eat, drink, and above all, be merry.  We have not yet reached the balmy days of June (which, I have been told, is named after the goddess of marriage because it is so perfect for weddings), but we certainly can dream.

However, one of the most distinguishing features of the dream is the surreal mixture of beauty and fear.  Like most major metropolises, Paris is a city of contradictions.  But Paris is set apart, distinguished by its uncanny beauty and history of decadence.  At the time he wrote Tropic of Cancer, Miller was, like many other great intellectuals, an American in Paris.  He was an expatriate, and as such, able to see the city for what it was, warts and all.  His Paris is not one of blossoms and romance and impressionist painting, but rather the earthly delights so powerfully captured by Hieronymus Bosch.  Yet as unsavory as this may seem at times, there is a powerful sense that Miller is truly alive in his works.

Writer William Caverlee drives home this point in our newest piece, in which he recalls two separate trips to France: one, taken in the 1970s when he was a young man, in love with Miller’s profanities and audacity, and a far more recent voyage.  Through his wanderings, Caverlee comes to see that there are several different ways of looking at Paris – and more than one way of reading Miller.  Cities, like books, are different the second time around, and not always in a good way.

But as for Miller, he’ll always have Paris.  Take a moment out of your busy spring cleaning schedule to read Henry Miller in Paris, the Mean Streets of the Tropic of Cancer and visit the so-called City of Light.

Flower Power: Ken Kesey And The Lasting Allure Of 1960's America

March 10, 2010 in Uncategorized

More than any othPhoto by Urban, 2004 Wikipedia, CC Licenseer decade, the 1960’s have come to represent an almost mythical time in American history.  Perhaps this is why we return to them, again and again, in books, movies, and song.  The nostalgia for this bygone era is thick and long lasting, lingering into generations of young adults and children who were born too late to experience the magic.

Raised by two former hippies, I have been hearing stories about this amazing decade since I was old enough to teeter around in my mother’s worn fringed boots.   Upon entering my teenage years, I discovered Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Cool Aid Acid Test and through it, Ken Kesey and his band of merry pranksters.  One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest was the next logical step in my counter-cultural education.  Fortunately, Kesey’s sensitive and nuanced portrayal of those that society deemed unfit ages well, and felt just as relevant to a child of the baby boomers as it did to the original generation of free-thinkers.

Kesey was in many ways the quintessential hippy, and Cuckoo’s Nest can be read as a manifesto of the anti-establishment creed.  It is fitting, then, that in our newest feature article, writer Paul Millward takes a trip to the place where it all began, the city that has come to embody a certain ideal of the counter-culture experience: San Francisco.

Like many before him, Millward views his visit to Haight-Ashbury as kind of a pilgrimage, a journey to discover some lost time and place.  Join Millward in rediscovering Kesey’s legacy by reading our newest feature: Flower Children of the 60’s & Ken Kesey, Father of LSD and Hippies.

But even while tripping through Millward’s piece, don’t forget about the other, more mainstream side of 1960’s culture, featuring the literary wordsmiths of the hit television series Mad Men.  Take a look: Mad Men: Creating a Perfect World on the Avenue of Dreams.