"It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end." Ernest Hemingway
By Doc Lawrence
KEY WEST. The guy is still around. His island home here stays packed and images of him are omnipresent. Less than a hundred miles south in Havana, Ernest Hemingway is just as popular and revered.
Today is the birthday of the Nobel Prize winner and his fame keeps on growing. Along with his popularity is just as much challenge of his skill, storytelling, technique and lifestyle. Hemingway was always bigger than life anyway and the man who said, “there is no friend as loyal as a book” likely wouldn’t be particularly concerned with critical commentary,
The lines can be long here at his home, easily the most visited place on the island. Everything remains in place and you can even buy some interpretive art from sidewalk artists. I have a one called “Papa with a hangover.” It will be framed and occupy a hallowed place by my keyboard.
I have visited his home in Cuba and in Key West. Beyond the books, typewriters, Picasso paintings and celebrity mementoes, I was impressed by his limestone wine cellar in Key West and the full bar he maintained in both homes. Papa, as he was universally called, had a love for life that was nearly as strong as his fascination with death, dominant theme in classics likes The Snows of Kilmanjaro and For Whom The Bell Tolls.
Hemingway adored women and disdained weak men. His boat, the Pilar, was named for the strong gypsy woman, the bravest soldier in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Friendships included Ingrid Bergman, Karen Blixen and Gertrude Stein. His admiration for Ava Gardner landed her career-making roles in The Sun Also Rises and The Snows of Kilmanjaro.
Cocktails are appropriately associated with Papa. Beginning with his early Paris days, he and his entourage, particularly F. Scott Fitzgerald, drank at places like Harry’s New York Bar, the birthplace of the Sidecar, a venerable cocktail that is still popular.
Havana was paradise for this man. Hemingway’s lifelong routine was to rise early, write until mid-afternoon, walk to his neighborhood bar, and, over cocktails, share stories with locals. Although one of the world’s best known celebrities, Papa was comfortable with grassroots people, whether Cuba, Spain, Africa, Cuba or America. Guys and gals he knew in bars appeared in great stories like The Old Man and the Sea and The Sun Also Rises. “Don't you drink? He wrote. “I notice you speak slightingly of the bottle. I have drunk since I was fifteen and few things have given me more pleasure. When you work hard all day with your head and know you must work again the next day what else can change your ideas and make them run on a different plane like whisky? When you are cold and wet what else can warm you? Before an attack who can say anything that gives you the momentary well-being that rum does? The only time it isn't good for you is when you write or when you fight. You have to do that cold. But it always helps my shooting. Modern life, too, is often a mechanical oppression and liquor is the only mechanical relief.”
Would we have the daiquiri or mojito today without Hemingway? His years in Havana and Key West were energized by his love for rum. Papa wrote “My mojito at the Bodeguita” in Spanish on the wall in La Bodeguita del Medio where it remains today. The Papa Doble, called the Hemingway Daiquiri was crafted in Havana’s La Floridita, a favorite hangout during his years on the island.
During visits to Paris, he regularly stayed at the Ritz. Papa’s preferred cocktail there was the Montgomery Martini. Craig Boreth writes in his marvelously entertaining The Hemingway Cookbook: “Like James Bond, Hemingway, too, had his special martini: the Montgomery. Named after the World War II British General, Sir Bernard Law Montgomery, who would not attack unless he outnumbered the enemy fifteen to one, Hemingway’s martini contains that same proportion of gin to vermouth.” Papa’s ingredients, according to Boreth, were Gordon’s Gin and Noilly Prat Vermouth.
Hemingway left some profound observations: “There are some things which cannot be learned quickly, and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring. They are the very simplest things and because it takes a man's life to know them the little new that each man gets from life is very costly and the only heritage he has to leave.”
On a July afternoon, the heat calls for rum. A daiquiri or mojito? The mojito, a first cousin of the mint julep, seems appropriate for a toast. A salute to all that Papa gave us.