I try to avoid museums when I visit a destination. When I travel, I prefer to meet and interact with the natives, eat local food and immerse myself in the culture that has made that place unique and different from anywhere else on the planet. I wasn't going to find that behind a glass case hanging on a wall. Nor was I interested in looking at photos of all of the mayors in Key West from the present to the distant past. But for some unexplainable reason, there was this energy pulling me towards the Hemingway House.
I'm gonna make a confession. I don't know much about American literature. I don't know much about literature period, which is ironic because I'v grown an affinity for writing about my wanderlust adventures. When I was a kid, my focus was music and the performing arts. The books I read were required reading from my English classes. And even then, they were painstakingly hard for me to understand. My experiences until I was 12 years old was strictly of the Filipino culture. Don't get me wrong. I had an excellent grasp of the English language. In fact, people were amazed at my lack of an accent. And I might've heard of Michael Jackson's music but American culture was so foreign I couldn't for the life of me imagine in my head, for example, what Long Island looked like in F. Scott Fitzgerald's the Great Gastby. The internet was a wee little baby in the nineties and I wasn't about to spend most of my time searching words or meanings in a dictionary or looking at microfilm photos at the library. Enobody got time f'that! But the Old Man and the Sea, I could understand..... somewhat. Which is probably why Ernest Hemingway's name sounds so familiar to me more than any author I know. Plus his life on the island of Key West was pretty well known.
My trip to Key West was pretty relaxed. I had the sunset sailing scheduled on my itinerary the afternoon I got in. Everything else was up in the air. I ended up making my way to the Hemingway house two days later. It was a good 10 minute walk from my hotel and good Lord it was hot! I know I asked for some heat in my summer but this was no joke. Good thing I kept hydrated. Things can go bad down there if you don't drink water all the time.
After a sweltering 10 minute walk, I found it. I paid the entrance fee and started walking towards the front door. My first initial thought when I saw the house was, "Wow! I didn't know they filmed The Island of Dr. Moreau up in this piece!" I was waiting for Val Kilmer to pop out of the bushes. To my disappointment, he didn't. What I did discover were all these cats roaming around the sprawling acre property. A friend did tell me about these polydactyl cats before I left for Key West. When he was describing them, I imagined a run down abandoned house infested with feral cats with 6 toes on each paw. Yup, sounds like the Island of Dr. Moreau to me. Just kidding... Mmm half kidding. On the contrary, these cats are kept well. They are even monitored, recorded and regulated. If I remember correctly, the females get the snip snip after two litters. The males only get to continue their family tree once. Womp! Womp!
When I walked up the steps to the front door, I asked when the tour was going to start. A scrawny elderly man with a with mustache said about 15 minutes. I decided to roam around for a bit and check out the vicinity.
On the ground floor, immediately to my left I saw a few cats taking a nap. It was around 3pm which was perfect for a siesta in the 95 degree weather. And you guys thought I was bougie? I wouldn't be surprised if these cats woke up an hour later and tea is served. Around to the left in the backyard was a cat cemetery. It was a little spooky until I saw this beautiful specimen name Gina. She was not a kitten anymore but by no means a full sized cat. She was a teenager kitty. What intrigued me the most was the spiral swirls on her fur. I've never seen that on a cat before. She seemed extra special. I didn't get to interact with her because she was preoccupied playing with her siblings. And of course being the proper guest that I am, I didn't want to disturb them. Maybe after the tour I can say goodbye or something.
The tour started in the living room shortly after. I learned about Ernest's children; his grandchildren and his 4 wives! Ernest you sly dog you!! I didn't know he was such a player! But after looking at the pictures of his youth, I realized why these women fell crazy in love for him. Not only was he attractively passionate about his work, he was also a looker.
We moved from one room to the next, each room more engaging than the last. It was like being transported back to island life in the first half of the 20th century. My favorite part was the wrap around terrace on the second floor. It must've been amazing taking in an afternoon sitting on a rocking chair inhaling the freshness of the salt water and listening to nothing but peace and quiet. We then got to visit his office. It was in a separate small building behind the main house. Everyday when he woke up, he would write for the first half of the day and write at least 500 words. He was a well disciplined man. If I did that-.... Who am I kidding? I would never be capable of doing that.
There were so many intriguing things I learned about his life. Most of them not that useful, unless you're a douchebag and like to drop random information at a cocktail party. What did stick with me, which I suffered once myself, was his constant battle with depression and how he lost to it. It ran in his family. Several of his relatives also suffered from depression and/or committed suicide. Back then, there were no drugs to help a person's seratonin levels. Depression wasn't even diagnosed as a disease.
What was even more interesting was the parrarelism between his family's depression and the polydactyl lineage in the cats DNA. Most of the cats have extra toes in front and some have them in their hind feet. There are a few with a regular amount of toes but they carry the gene. If they decide to mate, the gene will be passed on to their kittens. Hemingway recieved a white cat with six toes as a gift one day. He thought it brought him good luck so he found another polydactyl cat and bred more cats with extra toes.
As the tour guide was talking, I was surprised that he never made any correlation with these two important information. Did Hemingway wish to portray the depression in his family as something more light hearted and cute by breeding cats with extra toes? Did he even know that depression was a disease that could be passed down? Am I making things up where there's really nothing there? I'm thinking too much. My brain hurts. LOL! Right before the end of the tour however, I did manage to ask the tour guide if Gina had extra toes. He said no. It put a little smile on my face. Humor me for a second. If in my imaginative head, there was a relationship with depression and extra toes in this house where I was drawn to the cat with normal toes, wouldn't it be an intuitive reflection on how far I've come in terms of my own encounter with depression? I chose to get help and I did get help. I chose to live life uplifted. I chose Gina. Wouldn't you smile a little too?
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