Hemingway and Cuba


Ernest Hemingway and Cuba as writer on Exile on Cuba….

A native from Chicago in Oak Park, Illinois, who couldn’t wait to escape its “wide laws and narrow minds”, Hemingway spent most of his subsequent life I nomadic exile conjuring forceful characters transcending borders through love, war and sport. He found all three in inspiring abundance in Cuba.  Actually, was something of muse for Hemingway. Here he could fish in the Golf Stream, make love, drink as much as possible and write seven books, as he became one of the most lionized literary names in the world. In the last third of his life, Ernest Hemingway called Cuba home. He resided there for more than twenty years, longer than he lived anywhere else in the world.

Ernest Hemingway described as “Famous as twenty – five; thirty a master”! As he says “But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” On the misty afternoon on Cuba, he uses to say: “If I could be something, else I like to be painter….” Exactly he painted world around himself by exact words, playing with them like kids pays with Lego cubies…[2] What is so called Hemingway’s “aesthetic of simplicity” involves a basic struggle for absolute accuracy in making words correspond to experience. As truly iconic figure not just because of his particular style of writing, but his lifestyle too has become stuff of legend. Hemingway was ambassador for the Lost Generation, globetrotting, prize winning author, fisherman, hunter, watcher of bullfights in Spain, or exploring the streets of Paris but writer till the last core. Loved by critics and adored by fans, his works have since becomes staples of American literature. Speaking about Hemingway he actually has been citizen of the world, his spirit lives on today as one of the greatest personalities of the world.

In 1940 Hemingway, with his new wife Martha Gellhorn, purchased a home outside Havana, Cuba. He would live there for the next twenty years. The Hemingways named the site Finca Vigia, or “lookout farm.” They shared their home with dozens of Hemingway’s beloved cats, four dogs, as well as trophies from many successful hunts and fishing expeditions.

Hemingway first visited Cuba in 1928 in transit from France to Key West aboard the ocean liner, where he stooped in Havana for only short time on that journey, it was long enough to provoke his curiosity about the island and its people. During the early 1930s he began to make regular trips to the island from Key West, where he lived, and spent longer time fishing in Cuban waters. In 1939, at the age of 40, feeing his Key West home and marriage to his second wife Pauline, for the decade – younger war journalist Marta Gellhorn, Hemingway moved to Cuba. Before that he used to live and to write in the famous Hotel Ambos Mundo’s in Havana, where he’d written much of Who whom Bell Tolls. He learned that wealthy foreigner could live on the island on his own terms.

Getting the money from the sale of cinema rights For Whom the Bell Tolls – a reported 150 000 dollars, a record amount on that time, Hemingway purchased the estate Finca Vigia for per 18 500 dollars from its French owner, R.J. D’ Duchamp. He would make the country house his primary residence until his death by suicide in 1961 in USA, Idaho. House is designed in the Spanish colonial style by Catalan architect Miguel Pascual y Baguer in San Francisco de Paula, a village approximately ten miles southeast of Havana. For most of Hemingway’s time on Cuba he spends his time on Finca la Vigilia, Spanish for “lookout house”, during the winter in Idaho.

 Hemingway’s longest relationship was perhaps with his boat, the Pilar, which he acquired in Key West in 1934. Whenever he was in Cuba, Hemingway spent long days and nights on the Pilar. He and Gregorio Fuentes, his long-time captain and faithful friend, fished for marlin and dolphins. They also hunted for German U-boats in the waters surrounding Cuba during World War II — although it is unclear whether his efforts were a farce, a genuine effort to advance the war effort, or perhaps a bit of both. Santiago, the lead character in his seminal work, The Old Man and the Sea, is said to be based on Fuentes.

When he won the Nobel Prize in 1954, Hemingway had given the Nobel medal to Cuban people  and had it placed in the shrine the Virgin of El Cobre, the patron saint of Cuba. He often said “I am the Cuban” and indeed considered Cuba as to be his true home. When he died the fisherman of Cojimar, where he docked his famous yacht Pillar and where he set The Old Man and the Sea, commission of the statue of Hemingway made entirely from propellers and other metalpieces of their small boats. By the way Hemingway started the well-known International Bill fishing Tournament in Cuba in 1950. Actually, only that Hemingway met Fidel Castro was when Castro entered the tournament in 1960 shortly after the revolution. Castro won and Hemingway presented Castro with prize. Life magazine published one of those photographs along with the record of the Castro, who won the competition, and Hemingway, who awarded him the trophy:” I am a novice at fishing, ‘said Fidel. ‘You are a lucky novice’ replied Ernest.” And all those pictures? They all come from one day in May of 1960, when a fishing contest was held in Hemingway’s honour. “There are numerous photographs of that meeting,” Timerman writes, “but nothing noteworthy in the words that were exchanged before witnesses—mere formalities, really.” In fact, Hemingway was probably mostly trying to get Castro to keep from confiscating his land.

It should be pointed that on the time of powerful Edgar Hoover and Hemingway’s relationship was with Castro just causal; he backed to revolution as much of disdain for Batista as out of support for Castro. He said:” I believed in the historical necessity for the Cuban revolution and I believe in its long – range aims”- “I do not want to discuss personalities or day to day problems.” At that point, of course, the only personality that mattered in Cuba was Castro.

Yet for years Castro appropriated the Hemingway myth for his own purposes. “All the work of Hemingway is defence of human rights.”- Castro saidin 1967, six years after the writer death. But some sources says that expatriate writer had a tendency to see events on Cuba through the prism of his experience in Spain. The civil war there was one of pivotal period in his own life; now bitterly opposed to right wing dictators, he was even after instinctively drawn to anyone to support various Cuban revolutionaries, offering them shelter, money, advice, but it was enough to make him worry from time to time about being arrested or deported.  About Castro the revolutionary – originally – anti – imperialist and non – communist – Hemingway liked what he heard and was vocal in his praise for the young leader after he seized power in January 1959. However, the things and the circumstances are changing after the Castro’s visit to USA a year and half later, when he literally embraced former Soviet prime minister Khrushchev at the UN. in New York.

Hemingway believed beyond dark sounds and cloudy days on horizon of the revolution like the rest of the world known intellectual’s, there still something precious in Cuban revolution, and that something needed to be preserved. For sure on the beginning of the ’60 in XX century Cuba was a lightening house for all Latin America in the Veins…Hemingway as man who has witnessed other revolutions told the friend that he was taking the long view, confident that the revolutionary excess would taper off and the new regime would care for the average worker who had been neglected by the ruling class for centuries’. Beyond all promises house and property has been confiscated by government of the Cuba with excuse that writer could live and write over there. Second the Cubans forced other Americans out of the country; so that could be reason why did Hemingway spent last months of his life in Idaho.[4]

Meanwhile Castro proceeded to reorder Cuban society, improving the education and medical care from one side but from another side according to Soviet principles all human rights and right to create, write and live-in sense of freedom was on force prevented. The number of trials trapped off, but killing and repression never stopped.

Very interesting fact has been pulled out by Jacobo Timberman’s 1990 article,” A Summer in the Revolution” – “Timmerman , who toured the island taking the country’s pulse find out that ‘with the exception of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, no worship is promoted more than worship of Ernest Hemingway’ – ‘the Hemingway cult is promoted as tourist attraction and propaganda device than anything else’

“The revolutionaries never viewed Hemingway sympathetically; he had taken little interest in Cuba … or in the fight against Batista or in the bearded guerrillas of the Sierra Maestra…. Since Hemingway’s suicide, in 1961, attempts have been made to infer signs of sympathy for Cuba on his part, affinities, a declaration, a gesture. Although it’s never stated explicitly, the tourist gets the impression that Hemingway supported Fidel Castro, that the writer is part of the Revolution. The truth is that … the regime never managed to establish a solid link between Hemingway and Castroism.”[5]

Well exact relation either Ernest Hemingway personal opinion for always will be secret what he did think about Fidel Castro, regime, politics since hi died 1961 far away from his shelter on Cuba in Idaho. However according to Cuban government, which says that Hemingway house has be donated and its contents to Cuba. Truth speaks for herself and we know that house has been confiscated during the life of Hemingway but family succeed to retrieve Hemingway’s manuscripts, which are now in the Kennedy Library, in Boston. But all personal effects / clothes, photographs, the small objects of intimate life / are still in the house.

Speaking ruffle Hemingway library was quite impressive about 9000 books which he treats as personal memos and lot of his notes are written in those books. Hemingway actually was passionate letter writer so over there is also about 2000 letters and 3000 photographs in Finca la Vigilia. Yet Cuba still loves the writer and has kept the house and its modestly traditional -yet – stylish furnishing intact and well maintained. 

Finca Vigía was recently restored and now looks much as Hemingway left it. With its wild game trophies in every room (which Hemingway bagged himself), bar (which he designed himself) and thousands of books lining the walls, Finca Vigía is a small monument to masculinity, literature, and the good life, as well as a window into Hemingway’s world.

Hemingway left his boat, the Pilar, to Gregorio Fuentes. Not wanting to continue sailing it without Hemingway, Fuentes donated it to the Cuban government. Today, the Pilar is dry-docked and on display at Finca Vigía.[6]

[1] Quoted in Robert Manning, “Hemingway on Cuba”, Atlantic Monthly, vol.216.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Hemingway

[3] Patrick Miller Hemingway is novelist second son from his second marriage with Pauline Pfeffer.

[4] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/hemingways-cuba-cubas-hemingway-159858952/

[5] Hemingway, Castro, and Cuba, by Jon Michaud, May 24,2012. The New Yorker.

[6] https://www.life.com/people/hemingway-in-cuba-1952-portrait-of-a-legend-in-decline/

XIII Anja Weber Avatar

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: