Hemingway in Cuba
You can’t really come to Havana without tracing the path of Ernest Hemingway in Cuba. The great American author fell in love with the island during his first visit in 1932 and was initially attracted by the fishing he enjoyed so much. But it wasn’t until 1939 that he decided to move here. He bought the place a year later, and I was on my way (in a blue sidecar, remember?) to see Hemingway’s house in Cuba.
In the next Glimpse, we will look into another one of Hemingway’s passions – rum. But for now, my nice taxi driver and I were creaking down the road, away from the center of Havana. The villa of Finca La Vigia was in the San Francisco de Paula district. They say that Hemingway’s boat Pilar was always anchored nearby and that people were thrilled that he bought this house in the neighborhood of fishermen and “common people”.
“Tito mucho good, right?”
I brought a couple of apples and juice cans with me that morning since I didn’t know how that little trip out of Havana was going to turn out for me. “Better to have something at hand, it’s too hot”, I thought.
And so, my taxi driver and I were chatting about world politics and such (I mentioned in the previous Glimpse that this was such a well-informed and educated gentleman who was giving taxi services to earn a bit more on a side).
I was stunned that he knew everything about former Yugoslavia and where Belgrade was. (I mean, a lot of people “on the other side of the Ocean” usually struggle with at least locating Serbia.) “Tito was mucho good, right?”, he asked about the former Yugoslavian president who died almost three decades before my trip to Cuba.
My snack also came in handy. I knew that Cubans were proud and didn’t want to offend my nice companion. I took out one apple, and he said no, but I took out another one and said: “Please, one for you, one for me?”
And thus we shared those two juice cans as well. (It went through my mind that there were no international cans at local stores at the time. These were the ones available at hotels with international tourists, but not outside. So many things we take for granted…)
Hemingway in Cuba
And after a few more turns, and a few hundred bumps on the road (and I felt each and every one of them in that sidecar, while the rubber was still pinching my knees), we drove through the gate. There was tropical vegetation all around. My taxi driver sat in the shade to rest, saying he would wait for me there. And I walked up the lane to reach the famous Finca la Vigia and get to know more about Hemingway in Cuba.
Hemingway lived here for 20 years. The house was turned into a public museum in 1962 as soon as the news of the writer’s suicide in the US reached Cuba.
Everything in the villa is in the same meticulous order as it was when Hemingway lived here. There is his library with 8,000 books, various hunting trophies, personal possessions, pipes and typewriter, and even a ceramic medal made by Pablo Picasso.
Just imagine – there you are in Hemingway’s study, and there is his desk with bear skin on the floor. This is the place where a few of his most famous works came to life. One of them is the Old Man and The Sea.
A boat in the garden
I went outside again. There was a breathtaking view from the hill, a lovely lane through lush tropical greenery going to the swimming pool. On the way there, a pavilion with the Pilar itself, the actual boat Hemingway spent so many hours sailing on. It just might have happened that he got the idea for the Old Man and The Sea while he was fishing and sailing on Pilar, this Pilar. Hemingway in Cuba is such an inspiration.
This was the same boat he used to patrol the sea north of Cuba during World War II, on a lookout for Nazi submarines in the area. The boat was brought here after the author died.
I strolled a bit further and reached the swimming pool. They say that famous Hollywood actresses such as Ava Gardner once swam here. Just imagine! A great view, the pool was not that big, rather charmingly embedded in the surroundings, and few glasses of wine or rum… Lovely!
And then I found a thing I read about but thought it would be hidden somewhere in the greenery. One of the curious features in the garden is – the cat cemetery. Hemingway adored cats and had 60 of them throughout his life. A few of them are buried here.
The Nobel Prize
I was blown away by the place. It’s true what they say that it has that atmosphere of a lived-in house rather than a museum since everything was placed just as the great author has left it. I read somewhere that Hemingway in Cuba was at Finca la Vigia in 1952 when he found out about receiving the Nobel Prize.
He dedicated it to Cuba and placed it at the foot of the Madonna del Cobre in Santiago de Cuba.
This statue of the black Virgin, richly dressed and decorated, is located in the Basilica del Cobre near the town in the east. Since it is declared a patroness of the island in 1916, it became the object of pilgrimage for people from all over Cuba. There are thousands of objects left by pilgrims there.
And one of them is – the Nobel Prize.
I am still in awe!
Next: CHEERS, WITH A MOJITO OR TWO! (4)
The full Cuba SERIES
Reading your posts make me wanna chat with you! I’d love to talk about Tito, about people who think Belgrade and Istanbul are countries, about sailing, about that bear laid on the floor, that great American who lived in Cuba, giving bonbon to kids or whether having no drink cans around is bad or good… Thanks…
And it gives me such joy when you write back! 🙂 You know what, I’m sure that our paths are going to cross one day soon. What a chat session that is going to be, hehehe! 😀 Looking forward to that. 🙂
I know… Fingers crossed
How cool to have such an interesting chat with the taxi driver! I agree with you, I know several Americans (living here myself) that could probably only list 10 European countries and that’s it! Kind of embarassing actually haha
Somewhat understandable, I guess, it is a different continent after all. 🙂
Wow. That is something I didn’t know, I didn’t know that Ernest Hemingway used to live in Cuba. That really caught me out. 😀 Great read this.
Thanks! So glad you found it interesting. 🙂
What an interesting article to read! It is great to step into Hemingway’s life for a moment and get to know a bit more about this interesting character and his lifestyle! By the way; That blue chair looks like a comfy one 😉
It does, doesn’t it. 🙂 I was thinking how retro it is, but at the same time – something I’d definitely look up myself today. And Hemingway bought that chair 60 years ago, amazing! 😀
Hemingway just had great taste 😉 Loved the photos and the virtual tour. x
He did, right! The house is lovely, along with that garden. Thanks! 🙂
Everywhere I go I find that the man had been there before me 😉
Hehehe, yes, well, he was really busy. 😀 It’s hard to keep up!
What a great read – I have never heard of this place before! Your post really brings it to life. I would love to see that library with 8000 books – sounds like my kind of place. And that bear on the floor almost looks like he could still bite! Thanks for sharing your experience 🙂
Well, when you go to Cuba keep this at hand, put Hemingway’s house on the bucket list and go visit the library. 😉 Thank you for stopping by!
I never knew that Ernest Hemingway lived in Cuba. That library would have been amazing to see filled with 8,000 books such a dream library for a book lover.
This was such a perfect surroundings for him. I mean, I wouldn’t mind living there for 20 years or so. 😀
Super cool story. When I was in Havana a few years ago I was super sick and spent 5/6 days in bed, but alas what a reason to come back! Cuba has such an interesting history.
So true! We always miss out on something, but the good thing is that we can always go back! 🙂
Siddhartha Joshi (@sid_travel)
I loved Ernest Hemingwa’s house – such a charming little place. Really enjoyed your interactions with the driver too…so impressive he knew so much about world politics 🙂
Thanks, so glad you had fun reading it. 🙂
Megan Claire (@mappingmegan)
How awesome that you could really connect with the taxi driver and he could engage in a conversation about world politics to such extent – it’s always nice being able to chat with a local and hear different perspectives from someone who lives in a different part of the world.
Must have been incredible to be standing right there, in Hemingway’s study, next to his desk with bear skin on the floor! I had no idea that he had a cat cemetery, or such a huge love for cats. Very cool that it felt like a house as opposed to a museum – it sounds like a very authentic look into his lifetime.
That’s exactly how it felt, as going back into 1940’s and 1950’s. It was easy to imagine the place bustling with famous Hollywood guests, murmur of people chatting, having rum, listening to records and strolling that garden. Just lovely! 🙂
Great to know that Hemingway’s house still remains. It must be quite an experience to be in the room once inhabited by one of the authors I have always admired!
I feel a little sad about the bear on the floor, but I love everything else about it!
I know, I was trying not to think about that skin on the floor. That part is a little scary – there are a lot “trophies” from his hunting expeditions spread all over the house, a lot of heads on the walls and such. One just has to remember his passions, that’s what he was in the end. He adored cats, but loved hunting wild animals. :/
Sara | Belly Rumbles (@bellyrumbles)
You are right we take so many things for granted. A simple thing like a beverage can, available to hotel guests but not found on the shelves of local stores. Hemingway’s house would have been amazing to visit. I love how they have left it just as it was. 400 books, wow!
Hope that things are changing now in Cuba related to supplies for citizens at least. That distinction just wasn’t right, it felt strange…
The house is lovely! 🙂
I didn’t know Hemmingway has a house in Cuba! It is so nicely maintained! That’s crazy that he had 60 cats throughout his life and even had a cat cemetery!!
Yes, can you believe it! I read about the cat cemetery, but I thought it wouldn’t be marked as such, with a little tombstones and everything. The man really loved his cats! 😀
Hemington’s house is lovely! I want to see the library with 8000 books. And it’s just amazing to be in the same house where a lot of famous people had been, too. I wouldn’t wonder why Hemington fell in love with the place. Cuba is beautiful!
Yes, I agree, it’s one lovely experience to stroll around Hemingway’s hallways.
And don’t let me even start on Cuba, I fell in love with the island! 😀