I'm gearing up for another trip (more on that later) and I still haven't posted everything from my last trip! Here's another wonderful memory from Cuba...
Ernest Hemingway had a long and storied relationship with the island. He first arrived in 1932 for the marlin fishing, and rented room #511 the Hotel Ambos Mundos in Old Havana until 1939. This is where he began writing For Whom the Bell Tolls.
In 1940, he used the royalties from that book to purchase Finca Vigia (“Lookout Farm”), a quiet villa in San Francisco de Paula about fifteen miles east of Havana. He shared it with his third wife, Martha Gellhorn (with whom he worked as a journalist reporting on the Spanish Civil War - the subject of the book); she was very impressive in her own right - this is a great book about her. He later shared it with his fourth wife, Mary Welsh.
Hemingway lived and worked here for over 20 years, writing Islands in the Stream, Across the River and into the Trees, A Moveable Feast, and The Old Man and the Sea. When news of his suicide back in the US reached Cuba in 1962, the property was turned into a museum (whether taken by the Cuban revolutionary government or gifted to the people of Cuba by Mary Welsh is a subject of debate), complete with much of his original furniture, artwork, and personal memorabilia.
Today, the restored home and grounds look much like they did when occupied by the famous author, with one exception: when visitors reach the end of the long, secluded driveway they are greeted with tourist amenities like fresh pressed pineapple juice and a Cuban band:
But leaving the driveway behind and heading up to the main house is like stepping back in time to a white washed villa so full of personal artifacts and period pieces that you half expect to hear Papa Hemingway hammering away at his typewriter behind one of the heavy wooden desks inside.
Visitors cannot enter the house; instead, you follow along the outside walls where most of the windows are open (no screens), allowing great visibility into each room. And a little black dog who had dug a hole near the foundation in which to escape from the midday heat:
Every room is adorned with hunting trophies from Hemingway's African safaris:
And the books! There are over nine thousand of them in his personal collection here; I would have loved to have gotten closer to investigate.
The furniture, tile floors and art are exquisite; besides personal photos and several Spanish tapestries depicting bullfights, there is also this ceramic plate by his friend Pablo Picasso:
And on a wall in the bathroom, hidden behind the door, you can see where Hemingway diligently recorded his weight every day...ranging from 200 lbs. to a high of about 240 lbs.
Also in the bathroom, a dead lizard sits in a glass jar of formaldehyde. The story goes that one of Hemingway's many cats got a hold of this fellow, and the lizard put up a fight to the end. Amazed by the lizard’s bravery, Hemingway decided to preserve it as a tribute to courage and dignity.
Alongside the main house is a tower, originally conceived as a writing retreat, although Hemingway preferred to work in his bedroom.
Here is a vintage shot of Hemingway on the steps:
And the main room inside the tower...
...which provides sweeping views of Havana:
Back on ground level, there is a small patio and trellis, with a long, winding path leading down to the pool area.
The grounds are lush with flowers and ancient trees:
And at the far end of the property sits Hemingway's pool, where Ava Gardner went skinny dipping back in the day, after which Hemingway ordered his staff never to empty the water 😋
A small pool house serves as an art gallery full of personal photos of Hemingway and his celebrity friends.
Out back sits a pet cemetery (!). Hemingway had ~50 cats in his lifetime (!) and some of them are resting here.
But the pièce de résistance is Hemingway's fishing boat, the Pilar. Besides using it for fishing in the Florida Keys, during WWII he used the Pilar to patrol the waters north of Cuba on the lookout for Nazi submarines that might attack sugar ships headed for the Allies.
The boat - and the entire property - is a fantastic piece of history, well worth a visit if you are ever in Havana.