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Cayo Hueso

No one likes a complainer… especially one who is tanned and has just returned from the Keys, or Cays, which comes from the Spanish cayo, meaning small island or shoal, which actually comes from a Taíno word, those would be the indigenous peoples of the Greater Antilles, that resembles cayo, but no one really knows the exact spelling or pronunciation because the first Spaniards were atrocious ethonographers. Actually, that’s a lie… they weren’t atrocious, it’s just that phonetics and linguistics hadn’t yet been invented and spelling wasn’t standardized in Spanish until the great Dictionary project of the mid-18th-century (though a really stellar dictionary was published in 1611). There are almost as many ways to spell Moctezuma, as there are for him to take revenge upon the digestive functioning of the unsuspecting traveler.

The Keys were great and beautiful. We stayed in a wonderful little hotel right in Old Town Key West, one house off Duval Street. Yes, that famous street. We didn’t know how famous, though, until we landed in Miami and were waiting for the taxi shuttle and saw before us a parade of 4 rather dismal souls, I do believe that they had left their’s on Duval street, all dragging their luggage behind them like the chains of souls in purgatory, wearing T-shirts that proclaimed: I Got Duval Faced on Shit Street. This was, unfortunately, the tamest shirt we saw once we arrived at that adult-perenially-suspended-in-adolescence lah-lah-land. Along with ceramic and glass phalluses, see-through mesh shirts on bimbo-breasted manequins, and bongs of every concievable shape and size, there were T-shirts with most every sort of obsecenity scribbled on them ( If you think I’m a Bitch, you should meet my Aunt which had a companion T-shirt that that repeated the first phrase but told us we should meet her Niece. Yet these too were rather tame), male whity-tighties with such catchy phrases as The Fart-beat of America, and thong displays that were veritable thesauri of vulgar phrases for cunnilinctus.

The first night there, which was our anniversary. 10 years. Had we been in the mood, we could’ve walked into any of 10 stores, bought an assortment of toys and really celebrated! Instead, we walked down to Malory Square, with every other tourist on the island, to watch the sun set into the matchlessly blue waters of the Caribbean, while street performers threw knives at each other, told jokes, made dogs in sweaters jump, and informed us that they only survive on the generosity of our pockets. We then dodged the sloppy drunk people, teetering about on their fifth mojito to try and eat at the fashionable Italian restaurant on the island. After all, it was our anniversary.

Caveat lector We never eat Italian out. Having been born in Italy and raised by a mother who learned to cook there, I’m rather picky. Being that I have always made my own sauces fresh and from scratch, being that when I have nothing else to do I make my own broths, etc. etc., I have found only two restaurants where I will order Italian food (that is, if I’m choosing the place to go—because dear reader, when the extended family insists on some sort of chain-food italo-americano grub, I will go and eat and not complain), and one of these in the mountains of the Dominican Republic and the guy is from Naples and he makes his own pasta… but this is Key West. In the mid-80’s Calvin Klein bought a place for cool million. 8 pulitzer prize winning authors keep houses here. The restaurant in question makes their own pasta. Hemingway finished A Farewell to Arms here! They have, amongst the tawdry kitsch, really nice art. THE RESTAURANT MAKES ITS OWN FREAKIN’ PASTA! It’s got to be good Italian. At least their prices would say so. However, it was, uncategorically, the worst Italian meal we’d ever eaten.

I was going to say worst without categorization, but that distinction goes to the Philadelphia diner where we had dinner on Friday night before we left for home. The service was bad, the food tasty, but greasy (but, hey! it’s local flavor… we coulda gone chain, we coulda gone high dollar, but we wanted to experience Philly) We didn’t, though, want to re-experience Philly at 2 a.m. as we puked our toes up in the bathroom, where the baby was sleeping and frightened out of her slumber. We didn’t want to travel back to Atlanta with stomachs that felt every little cloud the plane happened to hit. The second worst goes to a little Jamaican joint in the city called One Love—that didn’t love our tummies all that much.

The service was exceptional, the shared primi (oven roasted green and white asparagus with parma, asiago, pecorino, and shaved truffles) was actually delectable. The homemade linguini over cooked and bland! Who ever heard of a place that makes their own freakin’ pasta that then goes and over cooks the pasta in saltless water! She got the Linguini ai Gamberi and I the Linguini fra Diavolino. The waiter, a really, really good waiter, warned us… these will be a little spicy. What he didn’t say was that that would be the only flavor in an otherwise insipid meal. No garlic, no wine, no salt was discernable. Fine, I understand the desire to not overwhelm persons with garlic. I even understand and aplaud the restraint it takes to not overpower the delicate taste of mussles, shrimp, scallops and clams… but it really was utterly tastely. Even the forwarned spice was soon not even detected. When I finally told the manager of our hotel that Antonia’s was more than disappointing, he told me… you know, I lived in Sicily for three years and find it hard to eat Italian food here, too. In fact, I haven’t eaten there since 1983 (I didn’t, but I wanted to ask, well, why didn’t you tell me that they couldn’t cook their way out of a vat of cheese whiz?)

We then ambled the streets of Key West amazed that people were there pushing and dragging children aged 6mos to 15 years through the streets, passing by the kinky T-shirt shops, as they nursed their beers and daiquiris at 10 and 11 p.m. I wanted to shout, let the kids sleep for goodness sake! Respect their virgin eyes, they don’t really need to see manequins dolled up in S and M! We then retired to our lovely room, whose veranda overlooked an old Episcopal church, and enjoyed our own draught.

After that, we largely avoided the main drag… Hemingway’s house was cool, as was the architecture of Old Town. Sadly, if you think a place should have local color so you can come and gawk and feel you’ve seen something about what life is like at the end of the earth, the locals have, over the last twenty years, moved away (many to Costa Rica, our inn-keeper told us). And, as they have left, Ohioans with a tast for cheap rum come to party and Russians have moved in to manage shops. I tell you no lies…

That first night, we walked into every shop trying to get our souvenir shopping done and over with so we could enjoy our stay, seven of these were owned by Russians. The next morning, we bought coffee from a road-side drink stand, Russian. Also, we walked by a number of shops we hadn’t gone in, all manned or womanned by Russians. It was quite curious, especially given the conspicuous absence of the purported Cubans who have populated Key West, or Cayo Hueso, since the days it was a pirate hang-out. But, of course, we were destined to fail at souvenir shopping the first night. After all, the whole reason to go visit some place is to shop for trinkets to take back as proof that you were there. (Trinkets and T-shirts made in China with Texas cotton that tell people… yes, we were in Key West). Actually, I don’t know if they were Russians… they could’ve been Belorussians, Ukranians, Latvians, Estonians, Armenians, I couldn’t tell.

Last of all, they call Key West, possibly an Anglicization of Cayo Hueso, the Spanish name for the key, since it was littered with bones (Huesos) when Ponce de Leon discovered it back in the 16th century, the southern most point of the continental United States…and you can visit a monument to that effect. But, first, the moment. The monument is not the southernmost point because more southerly than it, is a Navy base. Secondly, Key West is 129 miles southwest of Miami and only 90, or so, miles from Cuba. Not only this, you have to hop over some 30 Keys and a seven mile bridge to get to Key West, so is it really part of the continental U.S.?

I was actually going to complain about the travails of my travel course packet… but that will be for another day of belly-aching.



That was an exceptional battery of complaints, indeed.

My sympathies on the food poisoning…had it bad myself last year, and was too weak to work or even study for 1 1/2 weeks.

And welcome back, you’ve been gone for a while now.

yeah, i guess i come off as a real belly-acher… but, i coulda said that despite trying 4 different key lime pies on key west, i didn’t find one i like. that said, however, the two different key lime pies we had on key largo, which were consumed on our last days there, were both rather quite good.

in my estimation, key lime pie should be sweet, but you should taste the lime, you should feel the twang in your jaw. and on key west and in marathon the pie was just treacly…

Perhaps because the food was bad was the reason Hemingway finished AF2A there. (Perhaps because he was in Arkansas, he started it.)

Anyway, welcome back, and I hope the next ten years is made of better food than you found in the Keys.