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Hemingway’s Weirdo Six-Toed Cats

24 Jul

“A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.”
~ Ernest Hemingway

 

I’ve known for a long time that Ernest Hemingway liked cats. A lot. Key West is said to be overrun with cats because of him, which is probably a bit of an exaggeration.

But here’s a weird fact I just found out: About half of the cats that hang out at the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, Florida, have six toes! Normal cats have five toes in the front and four in the back, but not Hemingway’s cats. Hemingway’s cats have six toes.

The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum explains why there are about 50 extra-toed cats running around:

Ernest Hemingway was given a white six-toed cat by a ship’s captain and some of the cats who live on the museum grounds are descendants of that original cat, named Snowball. Key West is a small island and it is possible that many of the cats on the island are related.

Six-toed cats are called polydactyl cats, but today many people use the term Hemingway cat as a stand in. You can read more about polydactyls and the history of the author’s cats here.

Other famous literary cat lovers include Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs.

Hemingway and Kerouac Explain “Lost” and “Beat” Characters

23 Jul

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In honor of Ernest Hemingway’s 115th birthday this week, we toasted him with a daiquiri yesterday. Today the celebrations continue with a snippet from Burning Furiously Beautiful that shows the parallel between Hemingway and Jack Kerouac:

“Concerned that the message of his book had been misconstrued, Hemingway wrote to his editor Maxwell Perkins–who edited the work of Kerouac’s favorite author, Thomas Wolfe, thereby influencing Kerouac to approach Scribner with his work–that, though his characters were ‘battered,’ they were not ‘lost.’ Likewise, Kerouac would later clarify that the word ‘beat’ did not simply mean ‘beaten down’ but rather had the spiritual implications of the ‘beatitudes.’”

~ Burning Furiously Beautiful

 

Want to discover more parallels between the Lost Generation and the Beat Generation? Buy Burning Furiously Beautiful today from Lulu or Amazon.

Are you a starving artist and don’t have the cash money to shell out for the book? Never fear! Here are a few free links on this subject:

 

Happy 115th Birthday, Hemingway!

21 Jul

Ernest_Hemingway_Kenya_safari_1954Ernest Hemingway on safari, Kenya, 1954, via the JFK Library

 

That irascible author Ernest Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois. One of my friends, a fellow Scrippsie, actually took me to visit his birth home a number of years ago when I visited her in Chicago, and it’s an impressive house.

Hemingway lived quite the life! He was an ambulance driver in World War I, he reported on the Spanish Civil War, he married four times, he had a whole lotta cats, and he traveled and lived all over the world.

There’s even a planet named after him.

The author of sparsely worded novels, Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, and other highly regarded works of literature.

While in Paris, Hemingway hung out with other expatriate writers. As Gertrude Stein put it, they were a Lost Generation. Hemingway quoted her in The Sun Also Rises.

It was this Lost Generation that inspired Jack Kerouac to come up with the term Beat Generation when he was talking with John Clellon Holmes one day. And Hollywood has taken notice.

Happy 77th Birthday, Hunter S. Thompson!

18 Jul

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Hunter S. Thompson was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on this day in 1937. (Fun fact: the S. in his name stands for Stockton.) He’s known as the originator of “Gonzo” journalism — a type of journalism where the reporter gets so involved in the story, he ends up part of it! Oh, and he wrote a little book called Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. The film adaptation starred Johnny Depp. Maybe you’ve heard of it?

Beat Connection::: Thompson shot to fame in the literary world in 1967 with Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gang. Immersing himself with the Hell’s Angels for a year, Thompson wrote about the time Beat Generation icon Neal Cassady got into a verbal fight with police at a Hell’s Angel party at Ken Kesey’s pad in La Honda, California.

Kerouac Searched for the Authentic America

17 Jul

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Jack Kerouac has sometimes been accused of being anti-American or of destroying American values, and yet On the Road depicts a young man reveling in America. On the Road is, in many ways, a love letter to the true America. His honest search has inspired countless readers to pack their bags and hit the road, to discover America for themselves instead of relying on what the history books and network news report and the images coming out of Hollywood and glossy magazines.

Burning Furiously Beautiful details Kerouac’s research into American history and what he saw as he traveled throughout this amazing country.

“Devouring history books and Westerns alike, Kerouac lit out after the authentic America, an America that wasn’t mass produced or steeped in fear of atom bombs and Communism but blazed intrepidly, recklessly onward into the horizon, asking:

‘Wither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?’”

~ Burning Furiously Beautiful

Want to know which books Kerouac read and what sort of authentic people he met while on the road? Buy the book from Lulu or Amazon.

The Starving Artists Gulps Down Konditori’s Swedish Coffee

15 Jul

coffeeMy friends were visiting from DC recently and we popped into Konditori for a quick coffee break while we were in Williamsburg.

Now, if you’ve been following my blog for a while now you know that we Swedes love our coffee. You’d also know that coffee is strongly associated with the culture of the Beat Generation and that I’ve written about Jack Kerouac’s coffee habit. But that one of my all-time favorite quotes is a quote about coffee by Saul Bellow. Of course, Brooklyn is far from the only place with a rich coffee heritage. So, really, is it any surprise that Konditori was on my list of places to check out?

I got the Swedish roast. It cost $2. I had a little mishap and the creamer top fell straight into my cup, so the hipster kid at the counter nicely gave me a fresh cup. I was too scared after that to try to put milk or cream in so I drank it black, which I usually do at home or in the afternoon anyway. I’m oddly not one of those people who takes my coffee the same exact way every time. Strange, I know. Anyway, the coffee wasn’t full and robust, but it did have a lot of flavor to it. I think if I were to go back, I’d try their latte.

What’s your favorite Swedish brand of coffee?

 

Happy 109th Birthday to Lionel Trilling!

4 Jul

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Lionel Mordecai Trilling was born in Queens on this day in 1905. At just sixteen years old, he entered Columbia University, where he would go on to become the Edward Woodberry Professor of Literature and Criticism and teach Columbia’s Colloquium on Important Books.

Among his students? Allen Ginsberg.

Trilling was part of the New York Intellectuals and wrote for the politically charged lit mag Partisan Review. He also tackled the controversial topic of Communism in his 1947 novel The Middle of the Journey.

 

7/7/14: This post has been corrected. I originally wrote that Jack Kerouac (in addition to Allen Ginsberg) was a student of Lionel Trilling’s, but as Joyce Johnson pointed out in the comments section that is not the case. Though they did know each other, Kerouac did not formally study under Trilling at Columbia University.

The Pits: Bridge That Jack Kerouac’s Watermelon Man Walked Demolished

27 Jun

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The other day I talked about how “karpouzi” is just one of those words I always say in Greek and shared my recipe for watermelon-and-feta salad. Since I’m a big fan of tying things together, can I tell you about a connection between watermelon and Jack Kerouac?

In his novel Dr. Sax, Kerouac writes about a man who died while carrying a watermelon across a bridge in Lowell. My coauathor for Burning Furiously Beautiful, Paul Maher Jr., actually discovered the identity of the man the memory is based on. You can read Paul’s story about Kerouac’s watermelon man in Pop Matters

At last year’s Lowell Celebrates Kerouac festival, the group visited the bridge where this took place (also known as the Textile Memorial Bridge, the University Bridge, and the Moody Street Bridge). Well, this February the bridge was demolished. In its place is the Richard P. Howe Bridge.

Maybe its a suburban thing but when I was a teenager, I used to hang out a lot at a bridge. Do you have memories of hanging out at this bridge or any other bridge?

Happy Bloomsday 2014!

16 Jun

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Doesn’t James Joyce look dapper?!

Happy Bloomsday!!

James Joyce set his rambling modern novel Ulysses on June 16, and today literary lovers around the world celebrate the iconic Irish author with marathon readings (it is about 265,000 words long!) and pub crawls. The raucous literary holiday takes its name from the central character of the novel: Leopold Bloom. The title of Joyce’s book, on the other hand, comes from the Latin version of Odysseus. Apparently, this is because he discovered the story of The Odyssey through Charles Lamb’s children’s book adaptation, Adventures of Ulysses. Just like that cunning Greek Odysseus embarked on adventure that introduced him to a wide variety of characters, Leopold Bloom traversed Dublin and met characters that paralleled those found in The Odyssey.

I thought it would be fun to share a few beautiful and provocative quotes from James Joyce’s Ulysses:

  • “Every life is in many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love. But always meeting ourselves.”
  • “People could put up with being bitten by a wolf but what properly riled them was a bite from a sheep.”
  • “She would follow, her dream of love, the dictates of her heart that told her he was her all in all, the only man in all the world for her for love was the master guide. Come what might she would be wild, untrammelled, free.”
  • “The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.”
  • “A region where grey twilight ever descends, never falls on wide sagegreen pasturefields, shedding her dusk, scattering a perennial dew of stars.”

Those last two quotes remind me of one of my favorite lines from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road:

  • “Soon it got dusk, a grapy dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon fields; the sun the color of pressed grapes, slashed with burgandy red, the fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries.”

I’ve written about James Joyce’s influence on Jack Kerouac a few times before so today in celebration of Bloomsday, here are the links:

For Bloomsday activities around the globe, check out The James Joyce Centre Dublin. I want to highlight a few that I found particularly relevant to the themes I write about:

  • In Athens, there will be a free screening of a poetical film based on Joyce’s Greek notebooks.
  • In Manhattan, Symphony Space is putting on an event that features Malachy McCourt, Colum McCann, Cynthia Nixon and others.
  • In Brooklyn, there will be a pub crawl.
  • In St. Petersburg (the Florida city where Jack Kerouac died), there will be readings and performances.

Have you ever participated in a Bloomsday event? What is your favorite quote by James Joyce?

Happy 120th Birthday, Mark Van Doren

13 Jun

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Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mark Van Doren was born on this day in Vermilion County, Illinois.

In 1920 he earned his Ph.D. from Columbia University and joined the faculty. Among his students was Lionel Trilling, who would also go on to teach at Columbia. They both taught Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Trilling also taught Robert Lax, whom Kerouac later got in touch with.

Trilling won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1940 for Collected Poems 1922–1938.

Celebrate his birthday by reading some of his sonnets here.