It was spring, 1928 when Ernest Hemingway stood for the first time on Cuban land. He arrived in Cuba, coming from France, in the steamship ‘Orita’, and a single stop in Havana was enough to decide his future. The already famous author of “Farewell to Arms” was caught by the enchantment of the city that would later on be the witness of his adventures for the coming years.
During his hectic life, many cities monopolized the attention of that slow walker with a
searching look. But none impressed him like Havana, specially after he returned from a marlin fishing trip for a period in which he captured nineteen species that tied him forever to sea life and to the typical smell of saltpeter that gets into the skin and reaches the heart.
The writer Lisandro Otero revealed that Hemingway discovered the flavors of avocado, pineapple, and mango in Cuba. Hemingway referred to all this in an article that he entitled “ Marlins far from Morro: A Cuban letter”, published in Esquire, Fall 1933.
His second stay in Cuba had taken place April through June, 1932. The third one, a year later. During that period, he wrote two of his best short stories, and he realized that the Cuban weather and the physical training made him stronger physically as well as psychically. He expressed that “Cuba filled him with juices” which was his way of saying that a great creative energy invaded him.
It was then when he discovered the Hotel Ambos Mundo, an architectonic jewel that is still as if time had stopped.
That would be the whereabout of the tall and slender American writer. The room marked with the number 511 is kept as he knew it.He could see from it the blue sea to the north and the entry of the port to the east. He could also see the Cathedral, Casablanca town, the colonial roofs, and the docks. In 1937, the Cuban capital and , in a general sense, the country were undergoing through a difficult phase. The social troubles that went one after the other one at that time pierced deeply Hemingway’s feelings.
Then, he wrote his novel “To Have or not to Have” which plot takes place in Havana and Key West. I the novel, he stated:”You know how Havana is early in the morning with the beggars who still sleep leaning against the walls, even before the ice factory trucks bring the ice to the bars. Well, we crossed the small square that is in front of the dock and went to the ‘La Perla de San Francisco’ coffe shop and there was only an awake beggar in the small square and he was drinking water from the fountain.
Harry Morgan, main character of that novel asks a revolutionary man what kind of revolution would his comrades make:” We are the only revolutionary party...we want to finish with the old politicians, with the yankee imperialism that strangles us, with the tiranny of the army. We are going to start again to give each man a chance. We want to abolish the peasants’ slavery... divide the great sugar farms among the ones who work...Now, we are ruled by rifles, guns, machine guns, and bayonets...I love my country and I would do anything for freeing it of his tiranny.”
In 1939 he looked for the calm he missed when he find the Finca Vigía (farm) in San Francisco de Paula, a neighborhood in the outskirts of the city.
At the beginning, he was not pleased with the surroundings. It seems to be too far away for him and if he accepted was to please his wife. Maybe, that’s why he would prefer to stay in Havana or in his yacht ‘Pilar’.
The house was remodeled and in 1940 he obtained the property of a place that would mark him forever. “For Whom the Bells Tolls?” was the first great pl ay written there.
Step by step, he walked through the narrow and pave streets of the city that was wrapping him more and more. He frequently visited the restaurant ‘El Floridita’ to freshen his body and perhaps his soul with the daiquirí, one of the most delightful drinks of Cuban cocktails.
Nowadays, following these tracks, many tourists visit the famous Bodeguita del Medio, an attractive place where the writer used to come to talk between ‘mojito and mojito’ with the old Martínez, the owner of the establishment.
With a great security he told that among Cuban drinks, he would prefer to drink his daiquirí in El Floridita and his mojito in La Bodeguita del Medio.
In Cojímar, a town of fishermen, he met Gregorio Fuentes who would become his inseparable partner in his adventures after sea species of the Gulf underwaters. This Gregorio, who commanded the yacht Pilar, turned to be a magnificent inspiration for his masterpiece “The Old Man and the Sea”.When he received the Nobel Prize of literature in 1954 he said: “This is a reward that belongs to Cuba because my peice was thought and created in Cuba, with my people of Cojímar from where I am a citizen. This adoptive nation is present through all the translations where I keep my books and my home.”
I had the feeling of an inmense debt with the people who loved him and admired him. Perhaps, that may be explain in his decision of giving his medal of the Nobel Prize to of the Virgen de la Caridad, the National Saint of Cuba.
After the triumph of the Revolution in Cuba his farm reamined the same.He met Fidel Castro and they both shared a fishing day and as old friends talked during hours. That’s why, no one got surprised when in 1960 when he was going sick to United States, a journalist asked him about his opinion concerning the process that was starting to forge in the Island.
Ernest Hemingway did not hesitate a single moment to answer: “People of honour believe in the Cuban Revolution”.
His health conditions were getting weaker as time went by. He knew it and he wanted to get ahead of death through his terrible decision that hastened what was inevitable. Together with all the good things that he stored in his soul he also took his love for Cuba
to his grave.