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!
The full Cuba SERIES