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Posts Tagged ‘Key West’

Welcome to Paradise

March 5, 2014 | by

The sounds of Key West.

Key West 3

Photo: Ann Beattie

Key West 5

Photo: Ann Beattie

Key West 2 Spiderman

Photo: Ann Beattie

Key West 4

Photo: Ann Beattie

Key West 1

Photo: Ann Beattie

What do writers want? (Forget whether they’re women or men, Uncle Sigmund. Forget money and fame.) They want quiet. Where do they go? They gather in Key West, Florida.

Sure, the subtlest sounds—the personally groaned sounds—begin with deep sighs, as other people discuss pools being dredged by the jackhammering of coral next door, leaf blowers switched on at eight a.m., drunks on the sidewalk talking to themselves even more animatedly as the police car pulls to the curb. Last night I hung over my balcony to hear a staggering gentleman informing the officer that he did have a destination. He was “gonna shuffle off to Buffalo.”

In the background, birds express opinions from people’s shoulders on late-night walks (“Pretty but what else?”—a bird clearly meant to call one’s life into question). All around the island cell phones go off, their ring tones arias from operas or a hip-hop version of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Dogs bark, cats hiss, and the bird on the shoulder of the guy in the trilby continues to wonder aloud what to expect after “pretty.” Maybe the fire truck, or the ambulance that makes just a few high-pitched noises, as if the vehicle itself is dying. As it races away, it’s sure to set off a car alarm. Read More »

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Key West Karaoke

January 29, 2014 | by

While we’re on the subject of the Florida Keys, here’s Annie Dillard, Laurent de Brunhoff, Robert D. Richardson Jr., and Phyllis Rose singing the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love” in Key West, circa 1995. If the sheer infectiousness of Dillard’s dancing doesn’t get you, maybe the nineties-era video effects will. This is Rising Star Video Karaoke, after all—not amateur hour.

 

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One Human Family

January 29, 2014 | by

Key West Serge Melki

Photo: Serge Melki, via Flickr

I have never been one to moon over resort collections or sigh enviously over my friends’ sun-drenched Instagram photos. The truth is, I dislike the beach and sort of enjoy the misery of living through an unrelieved winter; it makes spring that much sweeter and, as the Byrds told us, for everything there is a season, etcetera, etcetera.

Nevertheless, lured by cheap rates and the promise of a haunted local doll named Robert, a few winters ago, my best friend and I decided to take a brief trip to Key West. We rented bicycles, visited the six-toed cats at the Hemingway House, posed with the Sponge Man, avoided Duval Street and the Parrot-heads eager to show female visitors around the “Conch republic,” and took a “fruit tour.” This involved having to pedal away really fast whenever a property owner approached, and culminated in our guide playing “Strangers in the Night” on, yes, a conch shell. A gentleman in a bar band told us that the island’s official philosophy is “One Human Family.”

At a bookstore near our guesthouse, I picked up a book from the “Local Interest” section called Undying Love: The True Story of a Passion That Defied Death, by Ben Harrison. And I read it obsessively. When I think of Key West, it’s not of sunsets or Margaritaville or Tennessee Williams. It’s of Carl Tanzler and his obsession with a dead woman. Read More »

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The Old Men and the Sea

July 17, 2013 | by

Hemingway Days, the annual Key West celebration of all things Papa, takes place from July 16–21 this year. Scheduled events include thematic lectures by Hemingway experts, readings, cocktail parties, a silent auction, a marlin derby, and, of course, the famous Sloppy Joe’s lookalike contest. The following is a video from 2010. Though for the first thirty-six seconds it seems disappointingly lite on Hemingways, just wait.

 

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The Art of Losing

March 7, 2013 | by

Southernmost-Point-Key-West722

Writers often hate talking about the book they’ve just written. On the one hand, books are an exercise in preservation, an old-fashioned sort of external hard drive. But for the author personally, a book can also be an elaborate act of forgetting. I wonder sometimes whether I’m driven to write about certain things, especially difficult things, just so I’ll never have to deal with them again; I’ll capture my subject and be done with it. From a particular angle, the writing life for me is a gradual process of self-erasure—first the crisp details go, then the plot, the underlying obsessions—or else each book is a box in which something of myself can be stored away forever.

I’ve never felt this shrinking, unpublic side of writing as strongly as I have with the book about real-life murders I just finished—work it’s just not possible for me to be “done with.” The book tells the stories of killings, but I didn’t want to recount the cases with the heavy hand typical of stories that turn on crime and justice. The buffoonish, Wayne LaPierre–esque division of the world into good guys and bad guys may be an easy, reflexive way to organize the life around us, a busy firing of synapses that adds up to something less than thinking. I never saw the point of it, but I admit, in this instance, it would have made terrible stories easier to forget.

It’s stressful to keep in the forefront of our minds how real lives are pixelated with good and bad acts. It’s even worse when the real lives you’re writing about belong to murderers, and the acts—at least one of them—are as bad as possible. After all my research and all the interviews, I felt the weariness I imagine sin-eaters feel—the people who take responsibility for the world’s sinful deeds so others won’t have to. Read More »

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Pronoun Trouble

January 17, 2012 | by

Elizabeth Bishop, "Cabin with Porthole."

Elizabeth Bishop was a painter as well as a poet, and the paintings that she left to her partner Alice Methfessel, who died in 2009, are now being sold. I’ve been to see the paintings a couple of times: last winter in the office of James S. Jaffe Rare Books, and a few weeks ago in the Tibor de Nagy Gallery.

The paintings are quiet. Some are domestic still lifes, including pansies in a wicker basket, a candelabra on a table, a tea set, and a doll-like lover asleep in bed. Others feature  vernacular architecture: a Greenwich Village apartment building of ivy-covered brick, a wooden church in Key West, a county courthouse grand in the way of the nineteenth-century South. Most are in watercolor and gouache on vellum paper, whose delicate translucence no reproduction quite captures; lines are sometimes drawn in ink or pencil. Bishop didn’t have a steady or a precise hand, but her eye for color was fine, and she understood how to make the most of patterns, such as the radiations of a palm leaf, the stripes of a comforter cover, or the palings of a fence. She also had a Walker Evans–ish appreciation of the way that words, when they appear in the world as things, can seem both monumental and silly. The county courthouse is childishly labeled as such on a gable. On a street near a cemetery, each of five tombstones leaning against a shack reads “FOR SALE.”

The choice of subject and the modesty of style suggest that the paintings were for Bishop a personal matter. She usually signed them, when she signed them at all, with her initials or just her first name. Read More »

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