2018 Primetime Emmy
& James Beard Award Winner

Is There Anywhere in the World Hemingway Didn’t Drink?

Is There Anywhere in the World Hemingway Didn’t Drink?

Kalik Lager on North Bimini

The first section of my favorite book is called Bimini. Either I never noticed or the word simply hadn’t registered, despite my having re-read the book roughly every year for the past two decades. This becomes relevant, I promise.

I sat at a picnic table looking out at the azure Straights of Florida, appreciating the morning view from a random beach on the western edge of the Bahamas, on the island of North Bimini. We’d arrived by sailboat a few days prior but had, until that morning, been stuck in our marina as a severe storm blew through, frothing up the Straights into an angry green. Rains abated and calm restored, I’d ventured out in search of entertainment, something to salve the cabin fever of a half-week in a marina.

“Hey, skinny man,” called one of the locals clustered around a plastic table on a nearby patio. “Come over here and tell this woman that tattoos are perfectly safe and she’s crazy.”

I laughed and joined them. The woman was trying to tell their group that you can’t give blood after getting a tattoo; I did my best to set the record straight. We made a round of introductions and they asked about my various tattoos. I began telling stories, and the crowd laughed at the misadventures portrayed in my ink. Someone brought me a cold bottle of the local lager, Kalik, in an exemplary display of island hospitality.

“So what’s your favorite one then?” asked a less-skeptical woman, nodding to my tattoos.

I pushed up a sleeve and showed them the rolling lines of font that corkscrew up my left arm. “This is my favorite page from my favorite book, Islands in the Stream, by Hemingway.”

“What!?” Skeptical-lady wailed, arms thrown up in the air for emphasis.

“This here is the Island in the Stream, man, you know that?!”

I had not known that.

I had known that the book was set on one of the islands in the Bahamian chain but, being previously unfamiliar with the country, I’d never drawn a connection with the aforementioned section heading. It hadn’t seemed to matter what tropical rock Hemingway had been writing about.

Considering again the Straights, and the little towns dotting the east coast of the island, it was easy to see where the author had found his imagery for the novel. I could picture Hemingway swaggering down the late-night streets, drunk as a pirate between writing sessions, cursing, boozing and brawling whenever he thought he could win. Like a Winslow Homer painting, but with more daiquiris.

The friendly group of locals grew bored with my drifting reverie and drifted off themselves. It was just before 10 a.m., and another one of Hemingway’s quotes came to mind: “I nearly always drank beer for breakfast unless we were hunting lion.”

As I sat there with my Kalik, I wondered if the old curmudgeon himself had sat on that same beach, sipping a morning lager while thinking about writing. I was pretty sure there were no lions on Bimini.

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