At Finca Vigía, the Ernest Hemingway’s residence in Havana, during almost 21 years, there is an undreamed-of place. From one of the highest hills of San Francisco de Paula, outskirts of the city, the American writer and journalist sheltered when he found one of the best places to create his most important fictional work published during his lifetime and, possibly his most well-known and notable piece. We refer to his novel The old man and the sea, which, although it has been largely criticized, it is considered as one of the most outstanding fictional stories of the 20th century, validating the literary value of Hemingway’s work. That’s why the novel has been adapted to the screen many times. And it is at Finca Vigía where he ends his novel For whom the bell tolls (1940), and where he also writes Across the river and into the trees (1950) and The sun also rises published after his death on 1964.
This time the Habanarte Festival has wanted to include, within his program, some tours to Finca Vigía “Hemingway Museum”, and that’s why HSV has followed the tracks of whom is considered done of the main novelist and short-story teller of the 20th century, but above all things, he is one of the most prominent figures that has visited Havana. And to such celebrity we can keep tracks by different means, at bars, pubs, inns and restaurants, and, of course, at his residences in Havana.
The first residence Hemingway had can be found on a room of the Ambos Mundos Hotel, a massive square five-story building of an eclectic style from early 20th century. It was built on the site that was formerly located an aristocratic house that was demolished to build the hotel on the corner of Obispo and Mercaderes streets, in Old Havana.
The neighbourhood where the Ambos Mundos Hotel building is located, since colonial times, has been inhabited by different family houses around and at the present, it is also surrounded by fancy restaurants, grocery stores, one of the most remarkable notions store in Havana and San Gerónimo College of Havana. However, this corner of Obispo and Mercaderes streets became worldwide famous when it became the “first home” in Cuba of the American popular writer, of whom we always have known that he deeply enjoyed the views of the colonial and ancient Havana. The room that Hemingway rented on that hotel is preserved nowadays as he left it since his last visit, and it is considered as a kind of small museum in the middle of the hotel.
Its steel and reinforced concrete structure gives it an eclectic and modern feature according to its date of fabrication. On 1924 it was enlarged, gaining height and it was declared habitable finally on January 1925. After five years it was transformed, on its roof it was located a bar with one of the best views of Havana city, which, undoubtedly, Hemingway enjoyed before renting Finca Vigía that he later owed. Another attraction of the Hotel is its ancient elevators of trademark OTIS, which still work at the present. That is a true satisfaction because they are the model that increased people’s trust on elevators and they were essential for increasing the construction of skyscrapers in New York.
After that Hemingway’s passion for Havana, it is when the American journalist and writer, and after having lived almost permanently during the decade of 1930 at the Ambos Mundos Hotel, he decided to live at Finca Vigía. On May of 1939, he moved to that hill with his wife and pets, as a tenant of the house located on the top of a hill; and on December of 1940 he bought the property at a price of 18 500 dollars. There he wrote the solid work that welcomed him to the Letters as a Nobel Prize winner of Literature for his collected works because as it is known he was given the Nobel a year after the Pulitzer Prize on 1953 for The old man and the sea; in this country estate nearby the Gulf, he also could play baseball, even go to cockfights without breaking the law, and his dogs and cats would be pleased, because it is a property that has about 4.3 hectares of land. Hemingway, to gain some space and by his wife Mary Welsh’s wishes, ordered to build a tower that works as a viewpoint. Up there he could see almost all Havana city with its heterogeneous roofs and wonderful views; although it also would be useful to, with his prismatic, watch how Ava Gardner swam naked on the pool, every time that the famous actress visited him at his country estate. This actress managed to place herself in the Hollywood industry thanks to the character she agreed to perform the black drama based on the short story The assassins, by Hemingway, where she co-starred with Burt Lancaster and the always admirable Edmond O´Brien. The style of the tower respected the style of the house, mainly, the tiled roof on the “guests rooms”, where he received his sons and wives, and important men and women of the American movie world; of the “residential house” he also respected the significant distribution of open spaces. The entering of light to the interior of the house is one of the characteristics of the present Museum, which allows visitants to see from outside all the interior of the house without coming in. the arrangement of each open space is in function of the permanent inlet of natural light, which makes it a sunny and fresh house, very similar to American mansions. This house is built like the style of mansions or small palaces that are usually isolated with gardens and large proportions.
But the taste for the eclectic is also what is best represented inside the house. In every room we find coexisting common elements of the furniture with dissected animals from Safari in an original harmony. It has a set of furniture and objects that ease human activities like sleep, eat, cook, and rest: tables, chairs, beds, shelves, bookshelf, stationary, together with leopards as carpets, and walls with heads of buffalos, antelopes, deers, bears, and lizards and bats showed as trophies.
The time Hemingway lived at Finca Vigía encouraged him with his frequent visits to bars, pubs and restaurants. For him, coming from Oak Park, a small town located in the Cook county at the state of Illinois and where the water represents the 42.16% of its land, that is, 1.785 km² of surface, it was absolutely logical to feel attracted by a town like Cojimar, where the sand is fine and the rest of the beaches are rocky; the main parts of the landscape of Cojimar are its rivers, coasts and its bay. This will be the scenery for The Old man and the sea, and it also will be a place to guide us after his footsteps on Havana. In Cojimar he could frequently be found having lunch at a restaurant specialized on sea fresh food named Las Arecas, which later was named La Terraza, and he made it famous through two of his novels. And about fame, it is well known that the Floridita Bar, located on the same street that the Ambos Mundos Hotel in the downtown of Havana, also known as El Floridita, which is a bar and restaurant that has become worldwide famous due to his constant visits. Today the Floridita is a required visit for the visitant that is after Hemingway’s track in Havana, because he used to go there frequently.
The slogan of the bar is to be “The cradle of daiquiri”, it was Hemingway’s usual drink and he helped to increase its reputation after having written this on a wall of La Bodeguita del Medio: “My mojito in La Bodeguita, my daiquiri in El Floridita”.
Hemingway cannot, then, help to mention the Floridita bar in his work: “Islands in the stream”" gives a detailed description of the bar where he spent long hours of his life and, today on his name it offers a drink named “Papa Doble”.
Mónica Sera Luaces