The great American author Ernest Hemingway fell in love with Cuba on his first visit in 1932, attracted initially by fishing he enjoyed so much. But it wasn’t until 1939 that he has decided to move to the island. He bought the house a year later, which I was on my way to (in a cart of a blue sidecar, remember!).
In the next Glimpse we’ll cover that one year in between, along with another Hemingway’s passion – 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 San Francisco de Paula district. They say that Hemingway’s boat Pilar was anchored near by and that people were thrilled that he bought this house in the neighborhood of fishermen and “common people”.
“Tito mucho good, right?”
I have brought 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 the world politics and such (I have mentioned in previous Glimpse that this was such 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 even 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 handy. I knew that Cubans were proud and didn’t want to offend my nice companion. Took out one apple, he said no, but I took out another one and said: “Please, one for you, one for me?” And we shared those two juice cans as well. (It went through my mind that there were no cans on store shelves at the time. These were the ones available at hotels where international tourists stay, but there was no way to buy them out there somewhere. So many things we take for granted…)
As Hemingway left it
And after few more turns, few hundred bumps on the road (and I felt each and every one of them in that cart, while the rubber was still pinching my knees), we drove through a 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.
Hemingway lived here for 20 years. It was made a public museum in 1962 as soon as the news on writer’s suicide in the US reached Cuba. Everything in the villa is in the same meticulous order it was in when Hemingway lived here. There is his library with 8,000 books, various hunting trophies, personal possessions, pipes and typewriter, even a ceramic medal made by Pablo Picasso.
Just imagine – there you are in Hemingway’s study, there is his desk with bear skin on the floor. This is the place where few of his most famous work came to life! One of them – The Old Man and The Sea.
Pilar in the garden
Went outside again. There was a breath taking view from the hill, lovely lane through lush tropical greenery going to the swimming pool. On the way there, a pavilion with the Pilar itself, the genuine boat Hemingway spent so many hours on! It just may have been that he got his idea for The Old Man and The Sea while he was fishing and sailing on Pilar, this Pilar!
This was also the same boat he used to patrol by the sea north of Cuba during World War II, on a lookout for Nazi submarines in the area. The boat was taken to the museum after the author died.
When I went further, I was by the pool. They say that famous Hollywood actresses such as Ava Gardner once swam here. Just imagine! Great view, the pool was not that big, but rather charmingly embedded in the surroundings, few glasses of wine or rum… Lovely!
And then – what I read about but thought it would be hidden somewhere in that greenery. Well, one of the curious features in the garden is – the cat cemetery. Hemingway actually adored cats and had 60 of them throughout his life. Here, you will find few of them buried.
Nobel Prize dedicated to Cuba
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 left just as the great author has left it. I read somewhere that Hemingway was at Finca la Vigia in 1952 when he found out that he had received the Nobel Prize. He dedicated it to Cuba and actually placed it at the foot of the Madonna del Cobre.
This statue of black Virgin, richly dressed and decorated, is located in the Basilica del Cobre near the town of Santiago de Cuba in the east. Since it is proclaimed as the 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!