I’m truly sorry about this, but here are photos of my vacation to Key West.
Why am I sorry? Because looking at someone else’s tropical vacation photos is about as thrilling as watching someone else receive a massage. I tried to make my photo spread interesting, with informative commentary and intermittent ridicule. I only included two butterfly photos out of a possible two dozen. And there are even some underwater photos of our snorkeling expeditions to the coral reef, taken with Mr. Pinault’s waterproof Minolta.
But of course my Key West photos are dynamite. I’m sure the 1000s of other camera-toting Key West tourists think their photos are just as wonderful. Everyone has a camera. Some families had multiple photographers, with each child snapping away with their cheaper models while Mom or Dad took care of the authoritative record. I saw big fat drunk rednecks staggering down Duval Street, clutching beers with sleek silver digital camera dangling around their wrists. I heard elderly people bitching about memory cards. I ate breakfast next to two couples who tried for five minutes to get the perfect picture of their freshly squeezed OJ toast. Point, click, click, click.
Key West is truly one of the more unique towns in America. Any given Key West bar has more character than the entire state of Kansas. The ‘anything goes’ attitude towards the throngs of pleasure-seeking tourists is not mere pandering for dollars, it’s a genuine reflection of how the locals want their town to operate. Key West won’t judge you. It can’t, not with thousands of chickens freely roaming the streets like some squalid third-world ghetto. For a brief moment in the 1980s, this quirky town succeeded from the US and declared itself “The Conch Republic.” Yep, conches… seashells. You think these people care if you start drinking at 9am and eat six meals in one day?
In Key West, stress is considered a social ill. Work if you must, but don’t forget about life’s amusements: Sailing, fishing, drinking, eating, idle basking in eternal warmness, celebrating the sunset. Not even the daily deluge of 2000 cruise ship passengers can phase the locals, who are so friendly that you just want to shake them and demand: Why are you so carefree and devoted to leisure? What’s wrong with you? And they’ll smile and say It’s okay, man. It’s just the Keys Disease.
Key West claims to have more writers per capita than any other city in America. Famed former Key West citizens include Tennessee Williams, Robert Frost, Truman Capote, Elizabeth Bishop, and Wallace Stevens. But Ernest ‘Papa’ Hemingway is by far the most symbolic of how Key West sees itself: A thoughtful fishing town that drinks like a fish.
Here is Sloppy Joe’s Bar, where Hemingway famously drank a lot of rum cocktails. Its place on the US Register of Historic Places makes it a wholly legitimate sightseeing destination.
The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is a tourist favorite mostly because of the 50 or so resident cats who roam the grounds (descendants of Hemingway’s cat Snowball.) Kitty-kitty, let me pull that tail! This cat, Archibald MacLeisch, can usually be found lounging on Hemingway’s bed, perhaps tactically using the ropes to avoid the grabbing hands of tourists.
At the Hemingway Home, you can’t swing a cat without hitting a cat. Like the original Snowball, half of the cats are polydactyl, meaning they have extra toes on their front and back paws (check out this mutant cutie.) Polydactyls are considered by sea-farers to be good luck.
Here’s Hemingway’s writing studio, located in a carriage house adjacent to the main house. He wrote in the morning, fished in the afternoon, and drank in the evening. Note the Royal typewriter on the table – the means by which he gave the world For Whom the Bell Tolls.
I made Mr. Pinault promise that we’d tour a few cultural attractions in Key West, which he groaned about until I agreed that butterflies are, in fact, culture. The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory had hundreds of freely-roaming butterflies and tropical birds. It was a photographer’s delight, as evident by this erotic butterfly shot by Mr. Pinault.
The butterflies were attracted to my yellow shirt, and I always had a creepy sensation that they were swarming around me. When we left, I was as edgy as post-attack Tippi Hendren at the end of The Birds.
Oh, boy! It’s the Southernmost Point in the Continental United States, marked with a big, concrete, painted… thing, surrounded by strange statues of people posing for pictures and real people posing for pictures. 90 miles to Cuba, baby.
The famed Key West sunset, or “Reason #300 to get publicly inebriated in Key West.”
And it just wouldn’t be a Key West sunset celebration without the exaggerated French accented Cat Man and his trained cats (that’s a cat jumping through a tambourine on a tight-rope).
Why the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue nixed the idea of a Snorkel photo spread: Snorkels are not sexy. This is at the Fort Zachary Taylor beach – by far the best beach in Key West.
Next to the Fort Zach beach was a sculpture garden, with this honest-to-god exhibit. I don’t know if I agree with the Floridian concept of sculpture, but it was good to get in some practice for that night’s bikini mechanical bull riding contest.
Another sculpture – a giant rooster, a ubiquitous Key West sight. I liked how this rooster seemed to preside over the expansive, abandoned Fort Zachary Taylor (visible in the background on the left).
One of the estimated 2000 chickens that roam the streets of Key West.
Incidentally, Mr. Pinault was tickled to see roosters everywhere, because the coq is France’s national emblems. I used to think this was strange until I realized how apropos it was: Like the rooster, the French are vigilant, proud, and spry (as demonstrated in the above picture.) I considered nicknaming Mr. Pinault mon petit coq… but it just doesn’t work in English.
We stayed on a sailboat named the Obsession. I became obsessed with constant organization of my stuff. It was a lot like camping.
O Captain! My Captain! Steve, commander of the Obsession.
Heading out to the Reef. What a beautiful day for sailing!
The galley (or brig, if you will). The escaped cook (eh-em) is visible on the deck.