In Santiago de
by R L Tilley
In Santiago de
Paula we walk up to Finca Vigia, Hemingways
old home, now a museum. A leafy driveway leads up
to the place, which is surrounded by gardens. It
is pretty much as he left it in 1960 when he left
for Spain and then the USA. He lived here for
twenty years. Juan, our Cuban host, tells us that
the Hemingway family have struck a deal with the
Cuban government to preserve the house and its
effects as a perpetual museum to the writer.
It is in the process of restoration as we visit
and half of it is closed. Juan hails a man in
overalls and asks him when the restoration will
be completed. The man shrugs his shoulders. This
is Cuba. Juan points to the porch.
He had a
cannon there, he tells us. He would
fire it when his friends would visit.
We look in a
window and see the bowed desk where Hemingway
would write, and we see bookshelves, walls lined
with books, and his Royal typewriter.
We go up
the four-story tower where Mary Welsh Hemingway
had intended he should write. He didnt like
it, however, and used it to store his fishing
gear and to go up to look out across the sea to
determine the chances of a days fishing for
marlin from the Pilar, his yacht, with his old
friend the skipper of the Pilar, Gregorio Fuentes.
The latter died, Juan tells us, in 2002, at the
great age of a hundred and four.
are Cuban women at the top of the tower. They
want to change dollars for convertible pesos.
the main house are guest rooms and, walking past
the swimming pool, where, Juan tells us, Ava
Gardner once swam naked, the Pilar is
preserved. One walks around a platform
surrounding the boat. I see Hemingways
chair for fishing. I see the cabin. I hear the
sound of laughter and conversation between
Hemingway and Gregory Fuentes echoing ghostly
from the deck as the Pillar cuts though the
turquoise sea. Gone now. An instant. I am
In the gardens
of the house are the graves of Hemingways
As we walk
away from the house we ask Juan how he knows Ava
Gardner swam naked in the pool.
didnt tell it, Juan says. There
were staff in the place. The help. They told it.
Juan tells us
how Hemingway would drink in the bars of
Havana and bring the drunks and whores he met
there back to the house, to the discomfort of his
wives. He lived there first with
Martha Gellhorn and later, Mary Welsh.
great energy, Juan tells us. Ahhh ...
when he was a child his mother would dress him in
girls clothing, something he resented all
his life. Maybe that is why he needed to project
a macho image. This is just my opinion.
travel on to Cojimar where we eat lunch at the La
Terraza restaurant, another Hemingway haunt.
Cojimar is where Gregorio Fuentes lived and
worked, and, until 2002, regaled tourists with
anecdotes of the Hemingway years.
A sea breeze
blows through an open window and we eat fish and
I go outside
and stand in bright sunlight and roll a cigarette.
Three Cubans, one with a bicycle, stand in the
wind conversing. They soon notice me. One
comes over. He wants to sell me cigars. I
We walk by the
sea, passing the Spanish fortress, now occupied
by the military and we look at, and
photograph, the bust of Hemingway made of bronze
from propellers donated by local fishermen. We
stroll along the shore. Turkey buzzards circle
over the sea, which glitters in strong sunlight
and Cuban children hold their hands out for pesos.
repeat this slide show below in some browsers may
require clicking the browser refresh button