A visit to the Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West is a perfect encapsulation of the uniquity of the southernmost point in the United States.
The Florida Keys – and Key West in particular – have always been something of a peculiar place.
The southernmost island chain in the United States, the Keys sit astride the Straits of Florida, the passage between the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico trafficked for centuries by commercial vessels of all kinds. Their idyllic tropical location, combined with the availability of fish and safe harbors, made the islands simultaneously a place of refuge and of peril. Due to their strategic geography, the Keys were often passed through by European treasure galleons on the long journey back to the Continent. The myriad cays, inlets, channels, and atolls of the archipelago – and the storms which could whip up a frenzy – made navigation treacherous for even the most professional of crews. Wrecks abounded, heavily laden with the precious cargo of the New World.
The opportunity these treasure fleets represented – and the lack of oversight from the distant Spanish Crown – drew a whole host of marginal characters to this isolated outpost, this Gibraltar of the West. Even after the American government purchased Florida in 1819 and officially took possession two years later, governance in these remote islands was spotty at best. Pirates, wreckers, con men, outlaws, and adventurers all found their way to the Keys. And so did their cavalier and freewheeling lifestyle. Brothels, drink, illicit trade, and a laissez-faire attitude proliferated, eventually centering around the farthest large island, Key West. This cultural largesse was financed by economic largesse; the scavenging of rich local shipwrecks, combined with its low population, made mid-19th century Key West one of the wealthiest cities in the United States.
Israel is celebrating 75 years of existence this week. Here’s a smattering of thoughts on this miracle nation’s fascinating history and culture.
The Jewish State turns 75 this week, and Israelis are celebrating their Independence Day, known in Israel as Yom Ha’atzma’ut. The date changes each year, as it is referenced by the Jewish calendar, but it falls from April 25 to 26 in 2023.
Israeli independence is dated from the declaration of the State by the nation’s first Prime Minister and the dominant figure in Israel’s early politics, David Ben-Gurion, only a few hours before the official end of British Mandate Palestine. The state was declared despite the desires of the British (one of the few times you’ll see me fault the British Empire is in its treatment of Israel). It was declared knowing it would trigger a massive, all-out, genocidal invasion of the country by its far larger and better-equipped Arab neighbors. It faced down that war of extermination, along with several others, coming out victorious each time. It has dealt with constant terrorism for nearly its entire history, often funded or promoted by various nations and international institutions – including the United States. And still it is here, thriving, in spite of the gale-force headwinds. The existence of such a state is a prophecy fulfilled – whether from the Bible or from Theodor Herzl. (My money is on the latter.)
Somehow Israel seems both older and younger than its seven and a half decades of national life; this is just one of the many paradoxes that makes Israel one of the most interesting countries on Earth.
The National Museum of World War II Aviation is an impressive and well-deserved celebration of American military aviation history.
Off to the east side of Colorado Springs, housed in several large hangars outside of the city’s municipal airport, lies one of the hidden gems of American military history: the National Museum of World War II Aviation. The hangars look no different from other commercial buildings in the area, but they house some of the finest examples of airworthy planes from the first half of the 20th century. Despite its nondescript exterior, the WWII Aviation Museum is a spectacular showcase of American aviation history that should be on any military history fan’s bucket list.
If you have the chance to travel to Charlottesville, Virginia and are interested in history, the area is fantastic for exploring the landscapes of the early American republic. Two estates of former Presidents – and good friends – are within only a few minutes’ drive of one another: James Monroe’s Highland and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. The differences in how each estate is presented to visitors are a microcosm of contemporary society and tell us quite a bit about where things may be going culturally.