Monthly Archives: January 2010

On Hemingway and Immortality

In the end, it was just a house.

I warmed up for my tour of Ernest Hemingway’s house on Key West by listening to Bach’s Second Brandenburg Concerto as I walked, figuring what better way to set the stage for artistic immortality than hearing Johann Sebastian at his very best.

I paid my twelve dollars and once the tour started heard many quaint stories:  

… the penny (1934 D) encased in glass near the pool his second wife, Pauline, built while he was away.  Furious at the cost of the pool ($20,000 during the height of the Depression), he supposedly pulled the penny out of his pocket and tossed it to her with the words, “Well, you might as well have my last cent.”

… the men’s room urinal rescued from Sloppy Joe’s Bar and placed near the contentious pool with the words, “I’ll get rid of mine if you get rid of yours.”  (All but one of the forty-three cats drink from it today, including the many “six-fingered” ones.)

… the lighthouse only a block away which was joked to be the only way he could find his way home after a rough night at Sloppy Joe’s.

In the end, though, I found the house to be, well… just a house.

There were interesting details, such as a George Simenon Maigret book in Hemingway’s library (not to mention a book of hymns).  Simenon published over 200 novels under his own name as well as others under numerous pseudonyms and was known to produce sixty to eighty pages some days.  I can only imagine a member of today’s literati, one who holds commercial writers in contempt, seeing such a book in Hemingway’s library and keeling over dead. 

(Were I in a catty mood, I might follow such a line with a phrase like “addition by subtraction,” but I’m trying to keep a “be nice” New Year’s resolution going a little longer.)

But in the end, what I took most from the tour was this: Hemingway supposedly made his way to his writing studio every day, no matter how raucous the night before at Sloppy Joe’s, and wrote from six a.m. to noon.   Do I take this as gospel?  No.  I take anything I hear from a tour guide with several grains of salt.

But with all appropriate caveats duly noted, I’ll make the following obvious point.  What made Hemingway immortal weren’t the colorful arguments with his four wives, the fishing, the drinking at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, or even the very impressive house.  

What made him immortal was that trip taken to the typewriter every morning at six a.m. and staying there until noon.