Today’s Topic: Pelican Poop
There is a store in Key West called the Pelican Poop Shoppe. Just the name is enough to give one pause, isn’t it? The shop sells Caribbean arts and crafts, candy, and other odds and ends. It’s been in business since 1988, so I have to give the owners credit for an odd but successful business model. What’s interesting about this store is not so much its nature but the building it is in, Casa Antigua. This is where Hemingway stayed when he first came to Key West and also where he finished A Farewell to Arms (noted in the previous post).
For a small fee, you can enter the interior courtyard garden of Casa Antigua through the Pelican Poop Shoppe. According to some reports, after Hemingway moved on to his house on Whitehead Street, the building became a hotel, then a brothel, and then a drag queen club. Now it is home to a city commissioner and his mother. There are also Casa Antiguas in California, Havana, Nicaragua, and Guatemala.
There are real pelicans in Key West (called pelis by some) and, obviously, real pelican poop. The official term for the latter and other seabird doo, along with that of cave-dwelling bats and seals (who knew?), is guano. Guano consists of ammonium oxalate, urate, and phosphates. It also has a high concentration of nitrites, which makes it useful for making fertilizer and gunpowder. (Could these two applications be more opposed to each other?) So useful in fact that “harvesting” guano became a major business in the 1800s. The US passed a law in 1856 called the Guano Islands Act, which gave citizens discovering guano sources the right to claim the land (mostly islands) and exclusive poo development rights. Spain, Peru, and Chile even fought the Chincha Islands War over it.
Guano has no odor by the way. I wonder how pelicans can eat fish and still come away smelling “fresh as the driven snow.” I wonder how we might do the same. I think I see an NIH government research grant in my future.