A multicolored bullet-shaped landmark stands out along South Beach. Check the "Southernmost Point ContinentalUSA”. In high season, as soon as the sun rises from the Antilles Sea, there is a line of outsiders from numerous stops determined to photograph themselves there.
When we got there, the crowd is such and so many altercations are generated that we decided to photograph them at the expense of an unnecessary selfie.
The Tropical Bottom and Something Beveled in the United States
In the image of Alaska, Key West gained a reputation for being deranged. As some residents proudly theorize “it's as if they had shaken the USA and all the crazy ones had fallen to the bottom”. some turned out to be true wackos, others not so much.
Tennessee Williams lived a sober life in Key West for about 30 years. Actress Kelly McGillis, the muse of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) in the 80s teen hit “Top Gun” (“Indomable Aces”) managed to run a bar there, but without major scandals.
Laureate writer Ernest Hemingway has proven by far the most notorious of the city's tenants. He owned several six-fingered cats, faithful to deep-sea fishing and successive nights of bohemian drinking, interrupted only by his journalistic forays into war or pre-war scenarios in the world at that time.
The warm, humid climate and the feeling of freedom and escape conveyed by the endless sea, inspired and attracted, to Key West, alternative and relaxed ways of being and being. Existences quite different from those in the North where financial pragmatism and individualism had long prevailed.
From Existentialism to Forced Capitalism
And yet, victim of the growing influx of outsiders, Key West found itself crammed with shops, bars, restaurants, entertainment venues and museums, many opened by cruise lines to entertain passengers who disembarked there.
The city and the island thus gained a strange aura of a no-entry theme park, open to all eccentricities and proposals for fun and invoicing.
In front of Hemingway's house, a lady at a small motorized stand sells coconuts, sugar cane juice and lemonade. Each coconut – which in other parts of the Caribbean is not worth a dollar – costs there, however tiny, no more or less than five dollars. A rooster with the gaudy, jaunty look of a rooster fighting warrior surrounds his store, looking out for the tidbits he manages to misplace.
Despite the dominant tourist sophistication and wantonness,
Key West preserves these things. In the wake of newly restored Caribbean houses, too bright and pompous, we find others, worn and decaying. Nearby, some natives share shady porches and street benches.
At their feet, more roosters and chickens scour the ground, to and fro, like members of the rightful place and almost of the mixed-blood families that coexist with them.
at the gates of cuba
In cultural and ethnic terms, the Florida Keys – like much of Florida – are intensely Cuban. It was one of his traits that most enchanted Ernest Hemingway and led him to reside in Key West, before moving to Finca Vigia in 1942.
This was the name of the hacienda in the Havana suburbs of San Francisco de Paula that he would live in until 1960, playing an increasingly active role in the massive success of the Cuban Revolution.
Florida, the Florida Keys and Key West, by the way, almost always walked arm in arm with Cuba. The origin of this Caribbean intimacy has the intense aroma of the best habanos.
In the late nineteenth century, American cigar companies began moving from Cuba to Florida to avoid government taxes. By that time, Cuban workers were moving freely between Havana, Tampa and Key West, between 50 and 100, every year. Many ended up settling north of the Strait.
Now, in 1953, when Fidel Castro led his revolutionary army, took Cuba and threw it into the ideological and social ditch of Communism, millions of Cubans, disillusioned by the limitation of their freedom and the degradation of living conditions, inaugurated a series of waves of emigration illegal raft.
Too many succumbed to the precarious conditions in which they undertook the crossing. Over the course of the XNUMXth century, hundreds of thousands of disaffected Cubans – many of them survivors of the same crossing – flooded the Florida Keys, Florida and other parts of the USA
The Conch Republic Chimera
The frantic Key West, surrendered to the dollars we were trying to adapt, had its ideological and revolutionary moments. In 1982, the Navy of USA responded to a flow of Cuban emigration to Florida called the Mariel Boatlift, with a naval and road blockade. US Hwy 1 (Overseas Highway) was barred and all vehicles searched.
The blockade paralyzed the Florida Keys and unleashed the fury of Key West. In response, its solidary population declared the independence of a Conch Republic, a baptism inspired by the term that designates the pioneer natives and settlers of the Florida Keys and from the Bahamas. Even idealistic and chimerical, its spontaneous micronation would never be forgotten.
It lingers on flags, musical instruments like the Conchalele and a myriad of commemorative items of the genre, cases of the t-shirts we admire side by side with others that ridicule or praise Donald Trump and make us smile to match.
"we shall overcomb” is one of them, which displays the egg-strand hair of the now US president in order to draw a golden eagle with an open beak.
In yet another, Trump opens his formal suit and reveals an iconic Superman costume.
Every 23rd of April, Conch Republic is celebrated by a cultural and gastronomic festival to which dozens of establishments and organizations in the city contribute. And yet, the reasons why the state its advocates craved could never have gone beyond the dream are notorious.
After leaving Hemingway's old house, we visited one of them, an even more pompous and influential Key West home, symbolic of the immeasurable power of the USA and little patient with independence movements, no matter how chimerical: Harry Truman's Little White House.
A Small White House in the US Tropical Bottom
Between hyper-patriotic Americans and foreigners surprised by the elegant, but almost Playmobil-museum profile of the mansion, there we examine photos, furniture and striking objects from the times spent by Truman and successors in Key West.
Almost always for strategic reasons, different presidents, before and after Truman, took part there in family and political meetings, diplomatic meetings and even mini-summits. In fact, behind the preference for Little White House was almost always the desire to rest, escape or break the routine.
Dwight Eisenhower arranged a series of meetings with his staff at the property. But he also took refuge there to recover from a heart attack. John Kennedy attended it a second time, in 1962, in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs Invasion that took place at the door.
In 2005, President Bill and Senator Hillary Clinton shared an entire week in that smaller White House, simply resting.
And, as 2009 arrived, the authorities of the Winter White House (as it is also called) tried to influence the Obamas and Bo, their Portuguese water dog, to spend their holidays there. It never happened, for everything except lack of security.
The mansion enjoys the added protection of nearby Fort Zachary Taylor, the southernmost of the US military installations. United States and from the Air-Naval Station of Boca Chica, located a mere 6km away.
With the afternoon consolidating, we moved to the city's marina in the middle of the bustle of welcoming and boarding the crews and passengers on dozens of pleasure ships.
We offer programs for all tastes, from a simple stroll and conviviality washed down with champagne on sophisticated catamarans, to participatory navigations on schooners and sailboats, some historic, others not really.
Romantic Sunset Navigations & Make-Believe Pirate Battles
We climb aboard one of these floating relics. Jeff, the boat's thirty-year-old owner and helmsman of the small expedition inaugurates a bacoco-sentimental speech that almost takes some of the most sensitive ships to tears: “I have to thank you from the bottom of my heart for choosing us.
Life has breathed me with this boat. Thanks to him – and to you, of course – I have the best work on the planet. I do this every evening as if for the first time.” Simultaneously, in American good manners, the crew hired by him highlight from the briefing, the place where passengers already sensitized must deposit their tips.
The wind intensifies. In a flash, we walked away. We share the ocean off Key West with a fleet of competing ships. Two of them hoist pirate flags and take their mission to recreate the region's past as seriously as possible.
Make-Believe Pirates and Real Conquerors
They are crossed once, twice, three times. Each of the razias is fired with dry powder cannon shots that, more than anything, reach the eardrums of the surprised passengers.
Since 1521 – when the same Spanish explorer and conqueror Juan Ponce de Leon who is said to have aspired to the Fountain of Youth inspired the colony of Cayo Hueso in these parts – many real battles and shipwrecks have taken place there.
From 1761, the region alternated between the Hispanic and British Crowns until, in 1821, all of Florida, including the Keys it was offered by the Spanish governor of Cuba to an officer in the Spanish Royal Navy.
Juan Pablo Salas was so eager to profit from it that he sold it for real bargains to two American buyers. Once the imbroglio was over, one of them assumed the real owner. Thereafter, Key West has preserved itself as an unquestioned possession of the USA
Mallory Square's crowded sunset
We return to the Marina. We move to the ocean front of the equally or busier Mallory Square. Newly docked cruises flood the city's historic district with fresh outsiders.
A curious crowd there is distracted by the acrobats' performances: by their fuss, that of the tightrope walker Reidiculous and another one, of an anonymous sword swallower, who announces each feat in a voice like a marc.
The big star's imminent dive dictates the end of the exhibitions. Hundreds of spectators leave the street stars to count their donations. Finally, the sun sets over the Gulf of Mexico.
It arouses contagious photographic adoration and inaugurates a new night of alcoholic-tropical bohemian in the Caribbean confines of the USA.
TAP has daily flights from Lisbon to Miami, departing at 10:35 am and arriving in Miami at 14:30 pm.