Monday, 31 March 2014

Our Excellent Hemingway Key West

First,  you have to know that I am a huge Hemingway fan. In the 70's when I was a teenager I thought he was an overweight, misogynist bore. Then in the 80's I was converted by a gentle, erudite woman I met on a course; she loved Hemingway and told me to read the short stories and then see if I changed my mind about him. I did and I did, big time.

Second thing you have to know is that, when we travel, I usually coerce my long suffering hubby to accompany me on literary pilgrimages. It's not that he doesn't like books too (my husband, I mean.) It's just that he doesn't feel compelled to worship at the author altar like I do.

I've been longing to go on a Hemingway Adventure ever since I read Michael Palin's book of the same name. So if it was south we were driving this winter...then Florida must mean Key West.

Key West is where Hemingway lived for over 10 years between 1928 when he first visited and 1939 when he left second wife Pauline Pfeiffer for third wife Martha Gellhorn. It's where he wrote many of his most iconic works, including two of my favourite stories "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" and "The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber." Both stories deal with men who feel emasculated by their wives, both take place in Africa. The main character in "Snows" feels that his life has been ruined and his integrity and talent lost because he lives a soft life with his rich wife. In "The Short Happy Life," poor Francis gets shot by his philandering wife. The wife was a philanderer; now that's projection. Considering that Pauline traveled to Africa with Hemingway, that her wealthy family, namely her uncle Gus, paid for their home in Key West and funded their African adventures...well, you can see where I'm going with this. If I were Pauline reading those two stories would have set alarm bells ringing for me! The death knell for her marriage to Hemingway.

They were a good looking couple, weren't they? She's looks very modern. Love the short hair. She wrote for Vogue, you know. Maybe I should track down and read that biography of her by Ruth Hawkins. Maybe later.

For now, let's get back to Key West.

My husband and I had just spent a week on Jekyll Island in Georgia (you can read about that here) where the beautiful spring weather was a balm for the soul, especially this year. As we left Jekyll and headed south, we shed our long pants and light sweaters and tossed them into the back seat where we had tossed our down coats and gloves the week before.

Finally we left the turnpike behind, thankfully, and began the long trek out to the Keys. The sun beat down and the weather was actually hot! Ohhhh...bliss.

         Loved this scene we shot when we randomly pulled over to look at the view.

At first I thought these pelicans were stuffed; they sat there motionless while I took shot after shot. Presumably this boat rental operation is long gone. 

Driving through the Keys was like we had been catapulted back into the past. We saw lots of evidence of 1950's roadside culture. Tee shirt shops, souvenir shops.

More tee shirt shops. More souvenir shops. Pinks and greens ... and best of all, not a single sighting of the golden arches.

We also saw lots and lots of these. 

Quick call Lucy and Desi. Their Long, Long Trailer is alive and well  and parked in the Keys.


Okay. I know that movie has nothing to do with Key West. But I just love it and couldn't resist posting that link. Lucy trying to toss salad in the moving trailer is priceless. Oh yeah...and her costumes are vintage vintage bows and all.

But enough digressing.

Eventually we  crossed the last bridge onto Key West. Our first sight of this tiny island was not what I had expected. Traffic jams, roadside construction and a seemingly endless line of Marriott Hotels, Days Inns, Best Westerns and any other chain hotel you could imagine. 

Oh dear....what had I done? Made my poor husband drive all that way only to find ourselves in tourist trap hell! 

But a couple of blocks later...weeelllll...this was more like it.

Flowers everywhere.

Small tidy bungalows.

Huge palm trees shading gracious old The Southernmost Point Guesthouse on historic Duval Street where we were staying.

This inn is a treasure. Pricey, but wonderfully unique. 

The rooms are found up higgledy piggledy staircases; each room with it's own shady outside seating area.

This was our little nook... complete with a  wicker love seat on which to recline and read and a small table to enjoy a pre-dinner drink. It was heaven     ...well....

       ...except for these two frequent visitors. 

Obviously the previous residents of our room had been feeding them. Imagine, if you will,  me reclining with an afternoon cup of tea and my book when they come to call. And apparently extended hand flapping and shooing noises just makes them think that you are gesturing for them to come closer. 

Ah, that's fodder for a future post, I think .... "Me and My Bird Phobia." There's some stories there, people!

And of course...there are birds everywhere in Key West. Even feral chickens. And they ARE everywhere, as you can see.

They were everywhere on our stroll out for dinner that night. So, of course, we had to have a picture of Suz and the chickens, I was told. "Okaaay. But hurry up!"  Hubby says that I'm in my getaway stance here. Note the flexed knees.

We ate dinner at a great place called Blue Heaven. It's located on the site of a former open air boxing arena where Hemingway liked to referee the fights...and probably engage in some amateur fisticuffs as well.  I had the yellow snapper... delicious! 

Next morning we were up early to beat the crowds at Hemingway House. 

Below is one of over 50 cats which roam the property. Hemingway loved cats. You gotta love a man who loves cats, don't you? This kitty is sure comfy.

This is the garden fountain that Pauline had made to try to pretty up the urinal Hemingway rescued from the original Sloppy Joe's Bar. He spent a lot of time and money there. And when the bar moved to the Duval St. location, Joe gave him this as a memento of the money he had "p----d" down the drain. This is according to the guide at Hemingway House. Good story...might be true...might just be more furthering of the legend.
The urinal part is the rectangular receptacle thingy sided with decorative tiles. 

This is me below at the site of the original Sloppy Joe's on Green Street. It's called Capt. Tony's Saloon now. But this is the bar where Hemingway drank...not the one on Duval St. 

This is a shot of a famous picture in the museum.... Hemingway and his big catch.

This is a shot of my big the Yukon in 2006. We threw mine back. Catch and release being much less hard on one's conscience. Okay...not relevant, I know. 

Our shared love of fishing aside, I'm not entirely sure why I'm such a Hemingway fan. I do love his short stories, as I said. Other than the two I mentioned, my favourites are "Cat in the Rain" and "In Another Country." And I love "A Clean Well Lighted Place" mostly because it's my very favourite story to use to teach high school students how to analyze literature. I love the style of his writing, the simplicity of it. 

 I'm also fascinated by his life, I guess, and some of the values he espouses in his work. Sure, there's stuff about his life and his themes that I don't admire. The public posturing and the Hemingway legend, the "man's man",  for example. I recently read an article about him that said if you want to know Hemingway, read his fiction. I love all that "grace under pressure" stuff, and the idea that heroism sometimes means merely going on, surviving. Very Canadian, that sentiment. And I can identify with his view of nature and the wilderness as being sustaining or curative. Read "A Big Two-Hearted River" to see that. And lastly, I love his depiction in his memoir A Moveable Feast of life in Paris in the 20's, of trying to become a writer, of learning to be the artist he became. 

We enjoyed our Hemingway Adventure, brief though it was. We were only in Key West for two nights. Then we moved on; we hit the road for Naples (Florida) and finally Savannah before heading home. But I'll save those for another day.

Meanwhile...I'm off to dig up my copy of A Moveable Feast and reread Paula McLain's wonderful book A Paris Wife. There's a Paris trip in the works for us in the next few months, hopefully. Must start planning Hemingway Adventure Part Deux.

Have you been on any pilgrimages lately.... literary or otherwise? 

Thursday, 27 March 2014

A Passion for Deconstructing Fashion... Photos Right Out of the Movies...or the Comics.

I have a passion for fashion photography. I love the fashion shoots in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, especially the ones that tell a story. Or when the photo shoot references art or literature or film.

Like this story from the December 2013 issue of Vogue. As you can see, the model Edie Campbell is dressed like the Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist. 

Or this shot, also from the December issue of Vogue...

in which the model, Jessica Chastain is posed to mimic Van Gogh's 1888 painting La Mousme'.

Is that cool or what?! The fashion editor for both these photo shoots was Grace Coddington, Creative Director for Vogue. She is brilliant. Her shoots are brilliant.

I love how the subtle layers of great fashion photography reveal themselves if you look closely enough. The backdrop or setting, the carefully chosen clothes and accessories, the hair and makeup, the poses of the models, the props if there are any...and how they all work together to create a cohesive impact on the reader.

And sometimes this art is achieved in great fashion advertising. Not all, mind...but some fashion ads are brilliant.

Last week I was on my exercise bike pedaling and leafing through the March issue of Vogue. I was struck by how many of the ads for designer fashion made me think of other forms of pop culture.

Let me show you what I mean...

This dress is from an ad for Oscar de la Renta.

The dress is beautiful; so is the model...and the combination just screams Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina.


And this ad for Alexander McQueen ...

made me think of Xena Warrior Princess. In fact the model's dress is more of a combination of Xena's outfit and Gabrielle's.

Except for the "Barbie" that looks like a miniature of the model...with the pins stuck into it...not sure what that is about. Unless it's supposed to represent the self loathing of women who are forced to dress up in short skirts and armored bras and play mythological characters in ridiculously sexist films. But, I guess I really shouldn't express an opinion on a film I have never seen. It's just that the women are always considerably less clothed than the men. And who fights with a bare midriff? ... But I digress.

This gorgeous ad is for Donna Karan. I love the leather jacket.

The combination of the leather clothes and the backdrop made me think of Mad Max or one of those other post apocalyptic Sci Fi movies. I'm not a big fan, so my knowledge of Sci Fi films is limited and I couldn't find a shot that captured exactly what I meant. I'll have to pick the brain of my friend Mrs. F who is a huge Sci Fi fan, not to mention the grande dame of media and pop culture education here in Ottawa .

And speaking of pop culture. The ad below is for Prada. The faces on  her dresses, coats, and bags this spring are so...well.... cute, whimsical, and very reminiscent of the art in 1960's comics like Young Romance.


I know we're supposed to call them graphic novels now. But they were comics back then.

And speaking of comics. This series of ads for Chanel just makes me smile, it's so adorable.
And if that model doesn't look to you like Pebbles Flintstone...well look again.

Obviously, the hair. And if you look closely the white barrette in the model's hair looks like a bone. And the second model is blonde like Bam Bam. See what I mean?  Huh? Huh?

 Okay, okay...I have no idea where I'm going with  this. Or even what my point is ... exactly.

Maybe it's that fashion photography is often about more than expensive clothes on super skinny models. And by trying to depict it as only that we are denying the artistry that can often go into a great fashion shot.

Maybe I'm saying that if you look closely you can see the creativity of the photographer and the fashion editor. That good fashion photography is not just about showing all the details of the's not supposed to be a catalogue after all. It's more about creating a feeling, a mood or conveying an idea.

And like when you read good's up to the us to figure out what that idea is.

Or...  maybe I've just spent too long on my exercise bike leafing through magazines. Maybe I taught English too long. Maybe the picture of the girl in the red dress in the McQueen ad ... is ...just a picture of a girl in a red dress.

But as I told my class one day several years ago when a student argued that maybe the red carpet in a scene in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby was "just red,"
"The point is, C. ... there is no red carpet," I said.
" What? " he cried, exasperated with me.
" There is no carpet at all, I explained. "This scene is a construction of the writer; he had to make a conscious decision to describe the carpet as red. And you need to ask yourself, why did he do that?"

So someone had to make a conscious decision to use that red dress in the McQueen ad. Not blue or green. Maybe it's our job to try to puzzle out why.

Or not.

We could just pedal our exercise bikes and leaf through the magazine and enjoy the view.

What do you see when you look at fashion photography?

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Georgia on My Mind or How To Cure March Madness

Okay... everyone thinks that March Madness is supposed to look like this

photo from
No offense meant to those Americans and Canadians (including my husband) who are glued to their televisions watching basketball. And yes, Andrew Wiggins IS a phenom, and he IS Canadian.

But the real March Madness looks like this

and this

The "view" over the river from my sun room this morning. Yep. That's not my camera malfunctioning. That white stuff is, well, the frozen white stuff. Falling sideways and accumulating on our lawn to add to the stuff that is already there, having not melted one bit while we were down south for three whole weeks.

It's enough to make one mad.

Okay...maybe not that mad. More like a little morose. In need of some sun and warmth. And the ability to wear sandals ... outside.

Well, my cure for that is to pour myself a nice cup of tea and scroll through my pictures of our trip to Georgia  (in the U.S.A. not to be confused with the country) a couple of weeks ago.

This is the beach on Jekyll Island where we stayed with friends for a week. It was gorgeous and, while not summer weather, it most definitely was spring.

Jekyll Island is a beautiful little place. Very historic. The original grand old buildings, including the Jekyll Island Club Hotel and the so-called "cottages," were built by the American elite, people like Morgan, Pulitzer and Vanderbilt,  in the late 1800's as a winter retreat. According to the website "Jekyll Island with its cottage colony and clubhouse, was viewed as a little paradise, where members and guests pursued a 'life of elegant leisure.'"

Now that was just what the doctor ordered ... a small dose of paradise.

This is me on the beach on our first morning on Jekyll. Hubby has gone off to play golf with our hosts ... and I have magnanimously (small snicker here) agreed to amuse myself.

I pedaled off in the sunshine on our friend's bike ...there are cycling paths everywhere on the island... to the Jekyll Island Club Hotel to take tea on the veranda...and read my book. Sigh.

This is one of the "cottages." We toured a couple that have been restored. Others are part of the Jekyll Island Club Hotel and guests to the island may stay there. Hmmm...maybe next time.

For the rest of our stay we cycled and walked and generally soaked up the peace and beauty that is Jekyll Island.

We loved the huge live oaks that were everywhere.
Not all of our activities involved sipping tea and pedaling lazily down tree shaded paths. One night we drove down the highway to a place called Woodbine for dinner in a restaurant that could never exist here in Ontario... more's the pity.

The restaurant is called Captain Stan's Smokehouse. Our friends told us we were in for an experience...and they were right. The restaurant consists of a small in-door part...but mostly it is outside. An open central area consists of a huge fire pit, dirt floor and scattered picnic tables. Around this, on three sides are other tables and a bar under a tin roof. The forth side is a bandstand, also under a tin roof.

Woo hoo ... girl you're not in Ottawa anymore! We drank wine from plastic cups, ate wonderful ribs and the best cole slaw I had eaten since my mum's when I was a kid. There was even a live band. Great food, laughter, wood smoke from an open fire. My little down-eastern heart was warmed by this place.

We didn't spend all of our trip on Jekyll Island. We also stayed for several days in Savannah. Wonderful. And headed down to Florida ... stopping for a few days in Key West. Wonderful. (Read about that adventure here)  Then we had five days with friends in Naples. Can you spell "outlet shopping" ???? Wonderful. But I'll regale you with these wonderful experiences in further posts. 

And now children as the sun sets lazily in the west ... I'm pouring myself another cup of tea and thinking of a beach somewhere. Oh... and a new pair of black strappy sandals.