Archive for April 7th, 2007

shades of Hemingway / Part 3, forever afternoon (Tuesday? nope)

April 7, 2007

After our mid-morning nap; Keith, Laura, Annette and I all met back out on the veranda refreshed and anxious to get the afternoon off to a good start.  Our first stop was the Hemingway Estate, just up the block and down Whitehead St.  We set out on foot taking in all the elements and characteristics of the old neighborhood.  There are several small, family owned businesses like fortune tellers in the old houses we passed.  Many had official looking plaques declaring their claim to fame or a brief history detailing the house’s place in local lore. 

Coming up on the Estate,  the first form of distinguishment is the red brick and mortar fence surrounding the property.  The second floor of the main house and the carriage house behind it peer out over the top.  We walked to the entrance where a modest plaque declares:  Ernest Hemingway Estate then posts the hours of operation and the admission rates.  Alongside the entrance is a little toll booth type of building where a man sits solemnly, takes your money and doles out programs.  We gathered out on the front stoop with other curiosity seekers and awaited our tour guide.  Almost immediately the polydactyl cats made their appearance, but we were already warned not to pick up or disturb them, much to Laura’s dismay. 

I stood there wondering how many times Hemingway strode up that sidewalk, full of the prime of life and confident in his future.  I wondered what could have been on his mind those countless times he approached… was he happy here? angry at someone?  too drunk to turn the key and open the front door?  thrilled at the sight and sounds of the tropical garden that surrounded him?  Our guide disturbed my musings with a hearty greeting… our tour was under way.

We entered through the front door and immediately turned into the parlor.  Our guide had us circle around the exterior walls, then began spewing knowledge, sharing little quips and barbs with the guests of the house.  He was an older gentleman, old enough to remember Hemingway’s time and even know the writer personally, though he claimed he did not.  (Keith had asked him) Each room held it own little bit of flavor, and displayed artifacts of the man, his family and momento’s from all over the world.  Finally we exited the main house and moved towards the carriage house, where Hemingway had set up his writing studio.  This was the room that interested me the most, where the creative process took place.

Our guide explained that there used to be a cat walk that connected the upstairs of the main house to the upstairs of the carriage house.  Hemingway would walk suspended across the back yard to his sanctuary early in the morning to begin writing in the cool of the day.  But a hurricane destroyed the structure in 1946, a winding iron staircase led up to the door leading in to the study now.  Because of the age and delicacy of condition only a few of us were permitted to walk up and glimpse inside.  I waited and let the others go ahead of me, not wanting to be rushed.  I was the last of our group to make the landing and one young woman remained to greet me.  She was a writer, too, and seemed to take more of an interest in the artifacts that were contained inside than the rest of the group.  We were not permitted to enter, we could only stand at the threshold and soak in the ambiance of what once contained the mind of the man who wrote, For Whom the Bell Tolls.

After a few minutes the woman left me alone to peer into the past and imagine the great man was there at his desk, pounding away at the keys of his typewriter.  Wait a minute!  My memory stirred,  the keys of the typewriter!  A raw chill scaled up from the small of my back and excited my shoulders.  I recalled the night before hearing those rat-tat-tat ding!  (carriage return) sounds as I drifted off to sleep back at the Marrero’s Mansion.  I looked across the room and sure enough, a hulk of black metal with magical looking appendages forming multiple rows was positioned on a table with a chair close by.  I gripped the wrought iron bars that formed the barrier between the modern world and a time too quickly passed.  I have never broken a rule in my life (well… not lately) but I was compelled to grab hold of the padlock that held the hasp tightly in place and give it a yank.  Effortlessly the lock opened and I gasped in disbelief.  I looked around below me and not a soul was in sight.  Carefully I removed the lock, rehung it on the hook and pulled what resembled a cell door open and entered into the study of Ernest Hemingway.

Right away I was taken by the musty dampness and smell of the room.  I walked up to the Royal and caressed it’s keys lightly with my finger tips.  I closed my eyes… this was heaven, I thought.  This was the holy grail… the golden fleece, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow… this was…  I opened my eyes.  Impulsively I tried to lift the typewriter off of the table but it was secured somehow.  Ofcourse, you fool.   What did you expect?  Immediately I dropped my hands to my side and looked around. The doorway I had come through seemed far away, the view outside obscured as if in a dream.  I turned and looked out to view the swimming pool below, feeling subdued.  I could hear our guide below talking about Mrs Hemingway and the cost of the pool, but his words did not rise up clearly.  Laughter ensued, I was obviously not missed by anyone, I felt calm.  Then I heard a slight rustle and an object dropped to the floor behind me.  One of Hemingway’s cats had been moving around the floor and knocked over a item that looked like a  horseback rider’s crop.  Seeing that I had discovered him he lightly sprang across the floor and disappeared outside.  I reached down to pick up the thing only to realize it was a shoe horn, extended on a crop looking leather handle about 18″ long with a tassle loop on the top.  The tongue itself looked to be ivory and I began to examine it carefully, only slightly aware that I was being watched.

“Wha’ cha got there, Sport?”  a gruff but friendly voice asked.

I looked up to where the entrance to the study was, another door off in the corner leading to a small bathroom had opened and a man of about 40 stood there drying his hands on a towel.  He was dark haired, mustached and stocky.  He wore a silky looking bathrobe over pajamas and dark, leather slippers.  He smiled at me as I gulped down my wildly beating heart.

“I’m sorry,” I stammered, then hopefully asked,  “are you part of the tour?”

The man laughed; a hearty, belly shaking laugh.  “Part of the tour, you ask?  Why, Sport, I AM the tour!” and he began laughing again.

I was at least 10 feet from the entry to the carriage house study but I bounded out the door in two steps.  Down the iron staircase I stumbled and out into the back yard running like a scalded dog.  Only after taking several steps did I realize I was not being chased.  I stopped to turn around and looked back up at the doorway leading inside Hemingway’s chambers.  There was no one there.  Only then did I notice that I had the shoe horn clasped in my fist, raised like I was about to swat a fly.  Immediately I shoved it halfway down the back of my pants and pulled my t-shirt tail over it.  I looked around.  Keith, Laura and Annette were nowhere to be seen.  I walked up to the house and entered off the porch through french doors leading into the parlor.  It was empty except for an older, white haired man stirring up the fireplace with a poker, his back to me… but there were no flames or coals to be had.  As I entered, he set the poker aside, stepped back and began admiring the picture of a young Ernest Hemingway standing alongside a huge Marlin hoisted up on a sling. 

“Ah, those were the days!” he uttered, then turned to face me.  Dressed in casual slacks and a smoking jacket he was the spitting image of old Papa Hemingway, white beard and all. 

“Papa?” was all I could muster.  He smiled, winked and motioned for me to follow him.

Two entrances lead into the parlor, one directly off of the front door where we had originally come in from the hall.  The other exited on the opposite end of the room leading back into the hall which in turn leads to a stairway and the bedrooms upstairs. In the opposite direction from the stairway was the kitchen and pantry, towards the rear of the house.  Outside the front door a new group was forming and as I moved towards the hall opposite from the first doorway I could plainly see another guide opening the front door to allow them in.  Turning back to follow Papa I was alone in the parlor.  He couldn’t move that fast!  But jumping as quickly as I could towards the hallway and distancing myself from the newly arriving tourists there was no sign of him ascending the staircase up or in the kitchen below. 

He had simply vanished.