Saturday, May 18, 2013

Hemingway's Havana

Adam Lewis
Reporting from Havana
It must be with a sense of tempered disgust that Cuban bureaucrats accept their country's idolization of Ernest Hemingway. How could a nation so steeped in socialism give tribute to an author who for the better part of his life lived the American dream -- traveling, drinking and writing his way to unprecedented fame?

The answer: Cuba is changing. The country's tourism industry is growing and their long-held beliefs are giving way to the same free market capitalism we see in the United States.

All the better for me.

I am as much a fanboy of Hemingway's novels as I am an admirer of the bravery he exhibited fighting in one World War and covering another.

I signed on for a 10-day backpack trip through Cuba with the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication because I wanted to witness his influence in Havana, I told my parents. It surely had nothing to do with the 4:1 female to male ratio in our 20-student group.

Speaking of figures, there was none more popular than Ernest Hemingway during the 1950's. He was a living version of  "The Most Interesting Man in The World" shown in Dos Equis commercials.
The fiction author, known as much for his sleek prose as his thirst for adventure, (as well as daiquiris) lived in New York, Paris, Chicago, Key West and Cuba during his decorated career.
Havana and Cojimar, a fishing village 15 minutes east of the capitol, paid tribute to "Papa" with bars, restaurants and monuments.

We visited La Bodeguita Del Medio in Old Havana on our first night. Located in a narrow alley adjacent to a 19th century Spanish cathedral, the restaurant and bar served typical Cuban fare -- rice, black beans and chicken. 

The food was good. The mojitos were better.

It would be at least a few more days before everyone tired of drinking a plant.
Next stop: El Floridita.

The tourist bar provided a throwback to the 1950's -- as does much of Cuba -- with its high red stools and waiters in bow ties and suspenders. Pictures of Hemingway hung scattered across the walls. There he was in a black and white photograph, sharing a laugh and cigar with former Cuban President Fidel Castro. 

The whole place reminded me a little of a Johnny Rockets, only rebooted with fruit-infused daiquiris and hysterical Cuban waiters yelling at each other in Spanish about misunderstood food orders.

In the corner, a bronze, life-sized monument to Hemingway leaned over the bar, an ode to either his pensive nature or inability to stand after a night of socializing. "Papa's Corner," the locals called it.
Thankfully, he didn't mind when I slid over and posed for a picture.

Days later we visited Hemingway’s estate -- dubbed Lookout Farm – which was once famous for housing all manners of wildlife. Branches and leaves smashed against the windows as the tour bus maneuvered the winding road that cut through the writer's famous property.

It seemed the perfect romantic getaway -- Hemingway lived there with his third wife -- except for the lions, elk and giant fish hung in various rooms around the house. It wasn't so much a home as it was a monument to his hunting trips through the African safari.

It was here, at the "Finca Vigia," in San Francisco de Paula, where he penned The Old Man and the Sea, a short novel that should be read in every high school English class in the country.

It was in the tiny nearby village of Cojimar where he met an unlucky fisherman fresh off a battle with a marlin in the Caribbean. It was the fisherman's story that inspired the short novel that led to Hemingway's only Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953. 

It was in his tower adjacent to the house where he typed his manuscript standing as the sun rose over Havana. I had the chance to see it.

All the better for me.

No comments:

Post a Comment