Monday, September 10, 2007
When the Literary giant - Ernest Hemingway - took his own life many years ago, relatives were astounded to learn that his legally-binding Last Will & Testament stipulated that his cottage in the South-Eastern part of the United States be kept up and that his brood of cats be permitted to roam freely about the estate.
In particular, Ernest had a soft spot for his beloved "Snowball" who was graced with six-toes, a rarity in the feline world.
Other, less notable breeds - who were coddled and spoiled just as lavishly none-the-less - were named after some of his infamous friends: Truman Capote, Zane Grey, and Charlie Chaplin, to name a few.
The news wires were humming over the fact in recent months that the Hemingway cats were being threatened due to proposals by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to have the furry attractions at the prolific writer's Florida home declared performers in a zoo or circus.
In essence, the Government wanted the Museum to obtain an animal exhibition license so that the cats would be protected from mauling by spectators and subsequently caged after they appeared in their natural habitat on the property each day.
One of the managers was upset by this turn of events for obvious reasons:
"Our cats do not do tricks. They don't do flips or jump through hoops."
Hemingway must be turning over in his grave!
Years ago, I vacationed in Key West where all the brouhaha over the feline wonders has been unfolding.
The snorkeling is fantastic just off the coast of the quaint little town. Out on the stunning, picturesque coral reef, schools of tropical fish glide right up making for a memorable holiday moment.
Of course, I shelled out a few bucks to take a tour of the Hemingway cottage.
There are some intriguing tales for those who are prone to cling to urban myths.
Apparently, one night the best-selling author was down at the local bar holding court and tossing back a few - as he was want to-do more-often-than-not - when he noticed an old decrepit urinal from the men's room discarded atop a pile of trash.
"Ah," he allegedly slurred to the pub owner, "This will make a great trough for the cats to drink out of."
So, with a nod from the barkeep, the barrel-chested writer hoisted the awkward over-sized receptacle onto his shoulder and drunkenly wrestled with it all the way home where he summarily let it drop with a thud to the ground.
The next morning his second wife - Pauline, a very elegant woman by most discerning standards - was aghast to encounter the unsightly addition to the garden.
But Hemingway was adamant: the urinal would stay.
Being the great schemer that she was, Pauline proceeded to have the gardeners excavate a hole in the ground large enough to accommodate the tub. Then, she proceeded to edge it with imported designer tiles until it sparkled there among the lush shrubbery and exotic flowers, a work of organic art!
The watering hole continues in its function today in its entire glorious splendor.
In passing, it should be noted that Hemingway was great friends with Pablo Picasso.
In honor of Hem's love for cats, the world-renowned artist fashioned a ceramic plate in the form of one. Valued at about $1,000,000.00 (U.S. funds), visitors may view the delightful piece of artwork up-close in the main house.
Yes, it's wired to a sophisticated security device - so cat-lovers - don't get any larcenous ideas!
The Hemingway's were also the first property-owners in the area to sport a swimming pool in their backyard, much to Ernest's chagrin.
He argued with Pauline that the cost was excessive - and summarily - put his large foot down: no pool. In the aftermath, he assumed, "that was that".
However, when he returned from a jaunt overseas, he was shocked to turn the corner of the cottage one day and discover that Pauline had installed a top-of-the-line model in his absence at a cost of $20,000.00; an astronomical, outrageous sum of money in those days.
Allegedly, he grabbed a penny from his pocket, angrily threw it to the ground, and lamented at the top of his lungs: "Pauline, you'll bankrupt me one day."
She hastily snatched the tarnished coin up and proceeded to have it cemented into the cement walk. Amused tourists can take a gander at it today.
There are other points of interest, too.
Between the main house and the small cottage out-back there is a catwalk that swings between the structures.
Apparently, it was an arduous task for Hemingway - a burly man - to lumber up and down the narrow back stairs to his writer's loft. So, when he was off on a Safari or some other exploit elsewhere, Pauline hired a crew to construct a swinging bridge to facilitate a stroll from the upstairs bedroom right into the study in the building next door.
During my exciting stay in Key West, I rented a comfy suite at an out-of-the-way turn-of-the-century bed & breakfast with a quaint exterior decorated in ornate gingerbread trim.
On the eve before my departure, I learned that the guest next door shared the same birthday as me.
So, that night, a group of us went out on-the-town to celebrate.
Upon hearing that it was "our" birthday at the local watering hole, pub crawlers proceeded to sing out a raucous rendition of "Happy Birthday" - the strains of which echoed across the still inlet under a starlit romantic night.
On the way back to the Inn, about eight of us scrambled into a flashy red mustang, with our legs and feet dangling over the sides of the open convertible.
But, a few minutes later, we held our collective breath when we spied a squad car heading down the main street making a beeline towards us.
A pleasant, lone female Sheriff slowed a little, laughingly instructed us to pull our limbs into the car, and then commanded us to drive safe.
In a nanosecond, we were on our merry way
Ah, they know how to treat you in Key West, unless you're of the feline persuasion, I guess.