By Ben McC. Moïse

The surges of arriving European tourists permitted but brief opportunity for a moment of respectful homage at the shrine of one of the titans of 20th century letters. I was standing on the sunny veranda on the front left-hand corner of Ernest Hemingway’s winter home in a glade lush with tropical growth less than ten miles outside Havana, Cuba. The altar, a Royal Quiet Deluxe typewriter perched atop multi-tiered shelves filled with books and even further elevated on a thick, dictionary-like volume, stands pretty much as Hemingway left it in 1960.

 

Even though I have subsequently discovered there are as many Hemingway portable typewriters out there — Remingtons, Coronas, Royals and Haidas — as there are fragments of the True Cross, at the time I reverentially viewed what I regarded to be the fountainhead of such prolific literary outpouring with unconditional respect.

For the literary pilgrim, there are footprints of Hemingway elsewhere in Havana. His room on the fifth floor of the Ambos Mundos Hotel is one. Two of his watering holes, the Floridita Bar and the Bodequita del Medio Bar, are also notable. Found amid the thousands of names patrons have scribbled on the walls of the Bodequita is an inscription purportedly written by Papa himself stating, “My Mojito in La Bodequita, my Daiquiri in Floridita.” The Floridita has a life size bronze statue of Hemingway standing at his usual place at the end of the bar. Several of the more irreverent guidebooks claim there are also perfectly good bars in “Hemingway-free zones” throughout Havana.

Room 511 at the Ambos Mundos Hotel is set up as another sort of simple frozen-in-time museum with yet another typewriter said to be of Hemingway provenance. As in the other locations, there are plenty of photographs of him doing what he did best — fishing, drinking, or socializing. Looking at the typewriter, I was reminded that he once said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Finca la Vigia — Spanish for “Lookout Farm” — is a stucco house from 1888 and was Hemingway's Cuban home from 1939 to 1960. It is as he left it in 1960, when, suffering from depression, the affects of multiple head injuries and age, he departed to return to the United States for treatment, including electro-shock therapy. He never returned to Cuba. The affects of his depression were so severe that a year later he took his own life in Ketchum, Idaho, where he had purchased his last and final home, now another frozen-in-time setting owned by the Nature Conservancy (as well as another portable typewriter — never used by Hemingway and used only as an atmospheric prop.)

Finca la Vigia, which was either appropriated by or donated to the Cuban government in 1960, reflects the efforts of recent maintenance and restoration. Visitors are not permitted inside the house and are only allowed to view the interiors through open windows and doors. The visitor can see pretty much everything inside including the “shrine,” the typewriter on the bookshelf in his bedroom where he used to stand on a hairless kudu skin rug and alternately write copy with a pencil on paper on a clipboard and peck away on the little Royal.

Hanging in the bedroom as well as on the walls of other rooms in the house are the trophies of his many African safaris and art representing his friendly association with a host of European modern painters. Perhaps the most unusual curiosity of this visit to “Papa World” was visible through a narrow window of a small clothes closet on the back of the house. As I glanced over the bars of clothes hanging within, I spied at the end of the rack a World War II officer’s jacket with a breast patch and a shoulder sleeve insignia. With the aid of my telephoto lens, I was able to make out a War Correspondent’s patch over the left pocket and the distinctive ivy wheel shoulder patch of the U.S. Fourth Infantry Division. The ivy pattern is a word play on the Roman numeral “IV.”

In 1944, Hemingway became a war correspondent for Collier’s Magazine and saw action from Normandy Beach to the invasion of Germany. Perhaps his most notable exploit during his time of service was the liberation of the little bar at the Paris Ritz, where it is said his leadership in the consumption of Grand Cru Champagne has yet to be exceeded. To honor his exploits, there is a bronze bust of him in a corner of the bar —these seemingly as numerous as the typewriters.

A short distance from the house stands a sturdy shed covering Hemingway’s elegant 38-foot 1934 Wheeler fishing yacht, “Pilar,” which can be closely inspected from an elevated platform surrounding two thirds of the boat. The starboard side can be viewed full length and reveals the fine lines of the old wooden 1920s-1930s boats, many of which were still in use on Charleston area waters until around 15 or 20 years ago.

Continued in the January 2015 edition of the Charleston Mercury.

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