Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hemingway used this bit of descriptive prose in To Have and Have Not, set largely in Key West of the 1930s. Even today, its possible to imagine what streets he may have been writing about. It looks to me like he was filling the description with a variety of places, not some real walk on the Rocky Road, or Duval Street.

"He did not take the bicycle but walked down the street. The moon was up now and the trees were dark against it, and he passed the frame houses with their narrow yards, light coming from the shuttered windows; the unpaved alleys, with their double rows of houses; Conch town, where all was starched, well shuttered, virtue, failure, grits and boiled grunts, under-nourishment, prejudice, righteousness, interbreeding and the comforts of religion; the open-doored, lighted Cuban bolito houses; shacks whose only romance was their names; The Red House, Chicha's; the pressed stone church; its steeples sharp, ugly triangles agaisnt the moonlight; the big grounds and the long, black-domed bulk of the convent, handsome in the moonlight; a filling station and a sandwich place, bright-lighted beside a vacant lot where a miniature golf course had been taken out; past the brightly lit main street with the three drug stores, the music store, the five Jew stores, three poolrooms, two barbershops, five beer joints, three ice cream parlors, the five poor and the one good restaurant, two magazine and paper places, four second-hand joints (one of which made keys), a photographer's, an office building with four dentists' offices upstairs, the big dime store, a hotel on the corner with taxis opposite; and across, behind the hotel, to the street that led to jungle town, the big unpainted frame house with lights and the girls in the doorway, the mechanical piano going, and a sailor sitting in the street; and then on back, past the back of the brick courthouse with its clock luminous at half past ten, past the whitewashed jail building shining in the moonlight, to the embowered entrance of the Lilac Time where motor cars filled the alley. The Lilac Time was brightly lighted and full of people ........."

Ernest Hemingway, To Have and Have Not, 1937.

And then, in the same novel, there's this:

"What they're trying to do is starve you Conchs out of here so they can burn down the shacks and put up apartments and make this a tourist town. That's what I hear. I hear they're buying up lots, and then after the poor people are starved out and gone somewhere else to starve some more they're going to come in and make it a beauty spot for tourists."

Talk about prescient!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Back When

I stumbled across a blog this morning that has a thread of reminiscences of a visitor to Key West back when -- back when the sunset celebration wasn't an organized event, back before Captain Tony was Mayor. Here's an excerpt, written by the unknown author upon hearing of Tony's passing.

"I just found out Captain Tony died. My friend went to Key West this weekend and was part of the wake. Tony was in his nineties. Not bad for a guy who lived like that. I used to hang out in Key West a lot in the '70s and early '80s. I have many stories to tell about Captain Tony's bar. Too many for this post. I went to Key West just after college for the first time. College had been hippie times, all drugs and sex and ideology. I majored in ideology, but I saw the other. Key West was something different. There was an edge to it, dangerous and weird. The town was just undergoing its first batch of gentrification. Gays were giving the town an aesthetic renovation. Drug dealers were providing the money. There were great bars and restaurants and everything was still cowboy cheap. So much to tell, too much. I was in Captain Tony's one hot summer's night. Some great band was playing and people were dancing and drinking and sweating and there under those dim lights in the smoke and gloom, women began to undress, and then the whole place was like an opium dream, me plump with desire and possibility. Thump, thump, thump, boom, boom, boom. Some driving song you felt down low, a growling, hungry thing. "I will move here," I thought in my wildness, "I will live here and be happy."

Pick the thread up here and follow it back a while.

I'd like to talk to the guy, have him tell me more stories.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

What about Cuba?

Amidst all of the speculation over the economy, the war(s), the transition of power soon to come, there are many less urgent matters that are given less national coverage, but that are likely to have greater or lesser effects on those who live in particular parts of the country. For example, the troubles of clueless American automobile companies that now seek to be bailed out of their self-induced financial traumas are of lesser import in Key West than in Detroit and its environs.

Similarly, people who live in Michigan, Illinois, Iowa and the like probably have little interest whether the fifty-year old Cuban Embargo will be lifted any time soon. But here in Key West, that's a question much on the minds of those who try to figure out what such an opening would mean to us here. For analysis of that particular matter, we must turn to more local observers, whether here, or in Miami, or even in Cuba itself. One such observer, who goes by the name Rick Boettger (for that is his name) used his biweekly column in the Blue Paper this past Friday to make some predictions in the larger context of prognostications about what might happen in the world during President Obama's first term in office.

I like how Boettger thinks. He knows this town as well as anyone and he's a keen observer, somewhat on the left of the political divide, on many things. (His rightist/libertarian counterpart, Hal O'Boyle, offers similarly pithy commentary on many matters, too. The Blue Paper, which some call Key West the Newspaper (for that is its name), has made the transition to the "web" very well. I still look eagerly forward to getting each week's paper issue in my hands on Friday mornings, but I also read the on-line version and, in fact, sometimes I even download a particular issue when it covers something that I'm interested in.

Getting back to the question of Cuba, I have friends who are from there and friends who visit there regularly, and I try to keep up with their thinking about an end to the embargo. I've been offered an opportunity to visit, or at least to qualify to make a visit there, but I haven't decided yet that it's something I want to do right now. We're busy with our businesses, and I'm making plans for a grand tour of Europe via Eurail with our grandson when he graduates from high school next June. I haven't been back to Europe since 1997. I'm curious to see what changes have occurred since then, and I'm eager to show Cameron some of my favorite places, and for the two of us to discover places that neither of us has seen before.

This is Boettger's prediction for Cuba.

Expect our tourist industry to recover as people have more money and the confidence to spend it again.

The best new tourism and increase in our homes’ value to hope for could come from decriminalizing our relations with Cuba. Obama’s stance on Cuba is consistent with his generally more open and friendly attitude towards the rest of the world. We have tried open-ended military occupation, breaking the Geneva conventions, and spiteful stubbornness (Cuba) with the result that the two nations that hate us most are developing nuclear weapons, Osama and Mullah Omar run free as the Taliban surge, and Cuba pointlessly erodes, just miles away from our generous embrace. More people will want to visit us and live here when we are only a legal half-hour plane ride or fun boat trip from Havana.

So let me click off some predictions, and check them out in four years. The economy will recover to less than 5% unemployment with 4% inflation and a Dow above 11,000. Key West housing will recover to 2004 prices and we’ll be able to visit Cuba. ........

You can read the entire column here.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Captain Tony

Janet bought me Captain Tony's Life Lessons of a Legend on the day after he died, the day that the headline in the Key West Citizen announced his passing.

There'll be a parade tomorrow morning from St. Mary's Church to the site of the bar that he once ran and that still carries his name. It's an impromptu festival event, like the funeral procession for another celebrated captain, Captain Outrageous in February of 2007.

I'll be missing all that because of a prior commitment to the BCCLT board, but I'd like to share a couple of things I found while leafing through the book in preparation to giving it a proper read.

"...if I'd only sailed calm waters, I'd never have known where my boat was capable of going."

"How'd I do all this shit" He asked, struggling to believe it himself. "I didn't plan this, plan to do all this. I was just a New Jersey hustler that got displaced in a land opposite of Jersey. Shrimping, boat captain, the bar, being mayor. I was just a gambler who loved women and had some skills in organizing people. I didn't plan this life, but I've lived it well. I've done some bad things in my life, done some good things. I hope the good have outweighed the bad."

Brad Manard, the Captain's co-author, spins a good tale. Of such things are legends kept alive, though the hero be dead.
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