Importing Bits of Paradise
A trip to Key West fills Rheta's notebook with some interesting observations - by Rheta Grimsley Johnson
It never hurts to import parts of Paradise. So I made notes in a little book that I keep handy for that reason. Pretty soon, the book was full.
Sidewalks, I wrote. What a good idea. The Pass could use a few.
Santa in a hammock, I jotted. That jolly tableau was in front of a B&B on Truman Avenue. What a great decoration for next Christmas in the Pass.
Uncontrolled profusion, I wrote. I love the way Key West home owners do not landscape so much as let nature the hell alone, the better to hide behind their exotic trees and bushes. None of the shrubs are pruned with flat tops as if someone is on the ready to snap a tablecloth across the hedge and serve tea. There is a wooly and wild look to yards. Porches, as a result, are private.
Writers revered, I wrote. No less than 13 Pulitzer Prize winners have lived in Key West, including, most famously, Ernest Hemingway, whose second wife’s uncle bought the couple a mansion that remains one of the finest houses on the island. Hemingway, however, loved women more than houses and left Pauline for his next wife, a reporter who came to Key West to interview him.
We have famous writers in the Pass, of course, most notably Jesmyn Ward, whose novel won the National Book Award. But I’m not sure she gets the credit she deserves for that amazing accomplishment; nobody’s named a street for her yet.
Live music everywhere, I noted. It helps to have bars, which sponsor live music, and in Key West bars are everywhere, too. The Pass used to have a lot of watering holes, but lately you’re more likely to belly up to an oil and vinegar tasting than a funky bar like the famous Green Parrot of Key West where yes, you guessed it, Hemingway drank. They should designate the bars where Hemingway never took a drink, more of a distinction.
At the Green Parrot I sat next to another female tourist who was drinking the specialty drink at every bar she visited, letting the bartender punch proof into a card that eventually would buy her a free round. It was like the National Park Service stamps that prove you’ve been everywhere, only with this bar card you might not remember where you’ve been.
Truly casual attire, I scrawled. Women in the Pass talk about “coast casual,” but it’s not casual at all. It’s usually linen attire accented with expensive jewelry. In Key West casual means cut-off blue jeans and flip flops if you bother with shoes at all. Think Jimmy Buffett, who still has a house in Key West but real roots in Mississippi. Think Peter Pan.
Applauding the sunset, much ado, I scribbled. The fuss they make about every sunset is not something I’d care to import; I find it contrived, even silly. I think my friends’ gathering for full moons on the beach a much better idea, a monthly special event instead of a minimum daily requirement.
Expensive! That was my last entry into the little notebook, an observation made after paying the hotel bill and figuring the restaurants’ tally. It costs dearly to live in a paradise without freezes, but with sidewalks, bars, literary icons and live music.