At Home with Hemingway

In Cuba, music is in the air. And in the concert halls. And the streets. And the restaurants. And the homes. In short, music is everywhere.Today, at lunch we were serenaded by a versatile, talented quartet, led by a dark Cuban percussionist who appeared to be in his 70s. “All music is good music,” he repeated after almost every number. In the Mood. Chan Chan. Only You. The Way You Were. Over the Rainbow. Fever. La Bamba.“Here’s one from my brother, Carlos Santana,” the leader announced with a big grin before turning the Oye Como Va solo over to the violin player. 

The music, coupled with the incredible views across the water of Havana, made lunch almost magical. We also got our first close glimpse of Morro Castle, which in 1951 was where my mother and father had posed for the picture that had sparked my life-long fascination with Cuba.

At lunch, our writer-in-residence Tom Miller sat at our table. He said he was going to leave the tour after lunch to check in on the massive book fair being held in a large park nearby. I really wanted to go with Tom, but that meant I would miss the afternoon tour to Finca Vigia, the Cuban home of Ernest Hemingway. After we concluded our meal, I made Tom promise he would tell me all about the book fair and Judy and I boarded the bus.

In an earlier talk, Miller had said he was jealous of Hemingway because his high hill retreat provided the perfect writing environment. He also said Cubans have treated the site with respect. “There are very few brand names in Cuba and Hemingway is a brand name. But they have kept the home the way it was. It’s not like you can buy a My Grandfather Went to Hemingway’s House and All I Got Was This Lousy t-Shirt t-shirt,” he said.

Arriving at the 9-acre site, we discovered Miller was right on both accounts. Although you are not permitted to enter the home, which Hemingway and his 2nd wife purchased in 1939, all the doors and windows are open and you can get a complete view of the inside. 

I suppose the most striking feature is the visible proof that Hemingway was an avid hunter. There are 23 animal heads stuck on the walls. The British writer Graham Greene, who was also extremely fond of Cuba, once remarked after a visit to the Hemingway home: “”I don’t know how a writer could write surrounded by so many animal heads.”

The Hemingways lived in Finca Vigia until 1961 when they left the island, never to return. In addition to being a hunter, Hemingway was also a lover of domestic pets. During their time here, the Hemingways had about 60 cats and 10 dogs staying with them at any given time.

Much original memorabilia can still be seen. The khaki jacket that Hemingway wore as a war correspondent is hanging on a closet door. His personal library is still full of the books he read. There is a painting that Spanish artist Joan Miro loaned the Hemingways that they never gave back. On the bathroom wall is a hand-written chart where Hemingway kept track of his weight. In fact, our house guide told us that the Frigidaire the Hemingways had purchased had continued to run up until last year.

To follow our Cuban trip in chronological order

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