Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Hemingway’s Urinal

©Bert Gildart: We have been traveling in our Airstream now for over seven months, and have parked our trailer in some of the most extreme northern portion of North America. Yesterday, we rode our bicycles to a huge marker in Key West, Florida, that says “90 miles to Cuba,” adding that this is the most “southern point” to which you can drive.

SLOPPY JOES: Janie, who used to be somewhat of a homebody, joined with my great jubilation saying we should probably head to Cuba in our kayaks. To celebrate our far-flung travels and her new free-spirited awakening we journeyed by bike down Duval Street, breaking hard when we came to Sloppy Joe’s Café, once a favorite hangout of Ernest Hemmingway.

For years Hemingway made Key West his home, and we each ordered a Sloppy Joe. Then, like Hemmingway, we ordered several beers, and that act took us immediately to the author’s old home, located on Whitehead Street. Appropriately, the first thing we saw in the beautifully decorated yard was one of the old urinals from Sloppy Joe’s, positioned, in fact, so that it is almost instantly visible. The large oblong trough, its sides decorated with Spanish tiles, is now a huge drinking fountain for the 49 resident cats, most descended from Hemingway’s collection of six-toed felines.

The urinal is adjacent to the swimming pool which Pauline Pfeiffer, Hemmingway’s second wife, had built in 1937 while the by-then-famous author was covering the Spanish Civil War. Upon Hemmingway’s return he was astounded to find the new pool, and as the story goes, he handed her a penny after learning the cost of the pool, saying, “Well, you may as well take my last penny too!”

HEMMINGWAY’S URINAL: Today, the penny is embedded in the concrete next to the pool—and not far from the urinal, “which, emphasized the guide, you may not use.” Hemmingway purchased the urinal from Sloppy Joe Russell because he wanted a reminder (and here the famous author apparently resorted to colloquial wording), “of just how much money I have p—– away.”

The actual tour of the Hemingway home, now on the National Historic Register, begins in the living room where there are copies of many works and a statue of a bullfight, reflecting the man’s great love of the sport. Janie and I agreed that Old Man and the Sea rated high on our list of Hemingway favorite books. For Janie, the only other book that might rate higher is For Whom The Bells Toll. Both of us have read most of his books.

From the living room the tour progressed to the dinning room, and our tour guide pointed out yet another chandelier, which was, once again, one of Pauline’s additions. Again, much to Ernest’s chagrin, Pauline replaced all ceiling fans from the 1851 home with expensive chandeliers, such as a hand-blown glass one in the dinning room that was produced in Venice.

The dinning room also contains photographs of all of the Hemmingway wives, and John, our tour guide, was quick to point out the rapid succession with which they were replaced: Hadley Richardson, 1921 to 1927; Pauline Pfeiffer, 1927 to 1940; Martha Gellhorn, 1940 to 1945; and, Mary Welch, 1946 to 1961.

“There were other women in Hemmingway’s life,” said John, “these are just the ones that became wives.”

HEMMINGWAY STUDIO: The tour continues, progressing through Hemingway’s bedroom and then to his actual studio, which focuses on the author’s discipline as a writer.

“He was up and into his studio by 6 a.m.,” said John, “where he’d work until noon. But then it was fishing, and more fishing until dusk. After dinner he might wander on down to Sloppy Joes.”

The tour ends near a part of the grounds where a number of Hemingway’s famous polydactyl cats are buried—and where a number of descendents still lounge.

“Hemmingway was always fond of cats, and had 50 to 60 in his home in Key West and the same in his home in Cuba. His six-toed cat came from a ship’s captain assigned to Key West, and today, the descendents are many. Some of the cats buried in the Graveyard include pets named for Marilyn Monroe, Willard Scott, Kim Novak, Zsa-Zsa Gabor—and many others.

In his lifetime Hemmingway won the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for literature. Certainly he was a brilliant man but he was also a troubled man, fighting continuously with his greatest demon, which was chronic depression. On July 2, 1962, fearing he was suffering from symptoms similar to Alzheimer disease, he took his own life, ending it in Ketchum, Idaho (his new home) with a single round from a shotgun.

The tour recalls that incident, but tends to focus on his glory years, many of which took place in Key West, Florida; a land of perpetually warm days—and brilliant light offering much illumination in both the literal and metaphorical sense.

2 Responses to “Hemingway’s Urinal”

  1. Jeffrey & Gail Birch Says:

    Bert & Janie:

    Gail and I very much enjoyed meeting you both on the boat back from the “parkette” on Dry Tortuga. We have broused through your wonderful website. It tells not only the story of your stories but through them reveals much about you both. You lead a charmed life, but then you already know that.

    We leave tomorrow refreshed by a respite from the cold back home and stimulated to return to Key West another time and take up where we leave off learning about the people and places here.

    If you find yourselves in Minnesota, let us know. You are welcome to stay with us in the Minneapolis area or at our lake home in the summer where we spend extended weekends from spring to fall.

    Once again, great to meet you.

    Jeffrey and Gail

  2. Nancy Zatkoff Says:

    Thank you for the tour of Key West. It is one of my favorite places to visit. I hope you found the chocolate covered Key Lime Pie on a stick. Pepe’s is a great old restaurant with superb food.

    We miss you and Janie here at Bay Bayou. Hope you are both well.