Ninety years of Hemingway in Havana
Ninety years of Hemingway in Havana
Ninety years of Hemingway in Havana

Undoubtedly Hemingway´s imprint in Havana is one of the best rooted tourism attributes of the capital, a city he first stepped into on his way back from Europe in April 1928 – just 90 years ago – accompanied by his second wife Paulina Feiffer and the unfinished manuscript of Farewell to Arms.

Havana makes Ernest Miller Hemingway´s (Oak Park, Illinois, July 21, 1899 – Ketchum, Idaho, July 2, 1961) presence eternal in places marked yesterday by his preference and that today attract thousands of visitors eager to follow the “Hemingway route”: Ambos Mundos Hotel, Floridita and Terraza de Cojímar restaurants, Finca Vigía in Cojímar – his home in the Island – or Hemingway Marina.

Havana was the first place he visited in the Island…..publishing five years later his first articles about a Cuban theme. He lived in the capital for more than 20 years and it was in Havana where he wrote The Old Man and the Sea, A Moveable Feast, Islands in the Stream, Across the River and Into the Woods and part of For whom the bells toll, besides many more press articles, stories and chronicles.

Before moving to Finca Vigía he rented room 511 in Ambos Mundos hotel, “a good place to write” as he used to say; from there and through the windows he could observe the Historical Center of Old Havana and the Havana Bay. Today this room has been turned into a museum-room with guided visits exhibiting pictures, documents, personal belongings and the original furniture as well as one of his typewriters.

On becoming famous worldwide, the hotel was not private enough, so his wife rented in 1939 Finca Vigía, a sunny stately leisure villa – located in the outskirts of the capital in San Francisco de Paula. A year after, in 1940 he bought the house, it being since then his official residence until the end of his stay in Cuba: the most stable home he ever had in his very adventurous life.

In 1969 he made his last trip to Cuba and following his will after his tragic death, the property of Finca Vigía was returned to Cuba by his widow Mary Welsh.  It was turned into the Ernest Hemingway Museum, inaugurated on July 21, 1962, on the anniversary of his birth.  It was the first institution worldwide created to play homage to the life and works of the famous writer.

As if time had stopped, everything in Finca Vigía is exhibited just as it was during his life.  The museum line follows the mapping of the house itself with its axis in the house, surrounded by terraces and gardens where his fishing yacht Pilar (the original one) is the main piece.

The museum treasures his old Royal typewriter in which he used to write in a standing position, it also exhibits fire arms, letters, pictures, nine thousand books, 900 phonograms, a record player, a radio, furniture, clothing, some 22 thousand personal belongings and documents; collections of knives and jars, chinaware with the Finca Vigia emblem (three hills representing the Paris ones); hunting game trophies, paintings and original works of art.

Besides his home, he was a regular at Floridita, La Cuna del Daiquirí, a cocktail he enjoyed and spread around the world. Sitting at the counter he used to read and share with Cuban friends and fellow Americans; today this is one of Havana´s emblematic bars, preferred by visitors due to its history associated to Hemingway, his most famous client, forever remembered by a bronze statue, sitting in his favorite stool – the work of Cuban sculptor José Villa.

This controversial universal figure is also intimately linked to Cojímar, a fishing village and one of his most inspiring scenarios, also the main theme for his book The old man and the sea. His eternal presence still vibrates in the Terraza de Cojímar restaurant, in his favorite table in the left corner, by the window.

Upon his death, the villa dwellers who lovingly called him Papa, through a community contribution built the Hemingway Plaza, first in the world on his name, facing the pier where he used to dock his famous yacht, Pilar.

He founded the First Marlin Fishing Tournament in the former Havana International Nautical Club. The charisma and devotion for Cuban fishermen was just cause for the event to be called: Hemingway Fishing Tournament and so it is to present days, being today the oldest of its kind worldwide in its category. It is a yearly event held in Marina Hemingway, also playing homage to his name.

He loved the Island so much he donated his Literature Nobel Prize Medal (1954) to its people, exhibited since then in El Cobre Sanctuary in Santiago de Cuba.

As very few writers have done, he displayed in his work the imprint of his footsteps, captivated by the most unusual spots of the Cuban archipelago and today in Cuba, particularly Havana, reveres each and every one of them. Considered one of the most important figures of the XX century literature, Hemingway is forever alive in the Island he adopted, where he spent a third of his life.

By: Josefina Pichardo