18 April 2016

Ernest Hemingway and a Little Bit of Politics

Nobel prize winner Ernest Hemingway was born in Chicago in July 1899. He started his career as a junior reporter for the Kansas City Star. During the 1920s, he lived in Paris with his first wife Hadley Richardson, working as a foreign correspondent. 
Hemingway first visited Cuba in 1928. Travelling from his home in Key West to Spain with his second wife Pauline and their sons, they stopped over in Havana for 3 days while waiting for their ship, the Reina de la Pacifica to sail. 


They stayed at the hotel Ambos Mundos. Later he stayed in room 511 on and off for many years, he enjoyed the views of old Havana and the harbour while he worked. The room is now a museum. 

There is some interesting art work in the lobby which I didn't understand!

In 1937 Hemingway travelled to Spain to report on the Spanish Civil War. The war put a strain on his marriage to Pauline, who was a devout Catholic and sided with the fascist pro-Catholic regime of Franco, whereas Hemingway supported the Republican government. Shortly after Franco’s Fascists took power in Spain, Hemingway returned to Florida and was divorced from Pauline. His novel 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' was published in 1940. It was largely based upon his experience of living in Spain and reporting on the war. It is considered to be one of his most notable literary accomplishments. When he wasn't writing, Hemingway spent much of the 1930s chasing adventure: big-game hunting in Africa, bullfighting in Spain, deep-sea fishing in Florida. 
In mid 1939 he transferred his winter residence from Key West and bought a house in the hills just outside Havana.

Finca Vigia (meaning Lookout Farm) was built in 1886 by a Spanish Architect, Miguel Pascual y Baguer. Hemingway, now with Martha Gellhorn, wife number 3 bought it in 1940 for a cost of $12,500. There, he wrote two of his most celebrated novels: 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' and 'The Old Man and the Sea' which was set in Cuba, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953. In 1954 he won the Nobel Prize for literature. Just two years later his body and mind were beginning to deteriorate. He suffered from bipolar and was treated for numerous conditions including high blood pressure and liver disease. He later wrote 'A Moveable Feast' a memoir of his years in Paris, and retired permanently to Idaho. There he continued to battle with deteriorating mental and physical health until early on the morning of July 2nd 1961 he killed himself. 
After his death Finca Vigia became the property of the Cuban government. I have read two versions of how it happened - the government took it; Mary Hemingway gave it to them. I suspect she thought it prudent to "donate" it. After years of neglect, restoration and preservation work began.

The guest house

The house is now a museum. Entry is not allowed but you get a very good view of every room, furnished exactly as it was when he lived there.

This is my kind of house, I could have moved right on in and felt completely at home.

There are more than 9,000 books in the house.

I dread to think what is in those jars, I have a rough idea about the larger one. Why would you want to keep those in a bathroom, or anywhere in the house?

Martha had this tower built as a studio for Ernest to work or relax in

The rooms are lovely, full of light and sunshine

and wonderful views, but he preferred his study in the house!

What a lovely life they had at that time

Hemingway's much loved boat The Pilar, beautifully restored after years of neglect after his death.

This area was a tennis court when his boat was in regular use at sea.

El Floridita was one of Hemingway's favourite bars

Much is written about Hemingway but another famous author Graham Greene, who also ironically suffered from bipolar, had connections with Cuba. In 1957, just months after Fidel Castro had begun his revolutionary assault on the Batista regime Greene played a small role in helping the revolutionaries, as a secret courier transporting warm clothing for Castro's rebels hiding in the hills during the Cuban winter. Greene was said to have had a fascination with strong leaders, which may have accounted for his interest in Castro, whom he later met. After one visit Castro gave Greene a painting he had done, which hung in the living room of the French house where the author spent the last years of his life. Greene did later voice doubts about Castro's Cuba, telling a French interviewer in 1983, "I admire him for his courage and his efficiency, but I question his authoritarianism," adding: "All successful revolutions, however idealistic, probably betray themselves in time. 

 And that's the problem, no system is 100% ideal. Whilst the tourist's currencies are spent restoring the colonial buildings of old Havana the harsh realities of Castro's revolution are evident on every street. Dilapidated buildings, parts of which, during severe storms, fall into the street, first and second floor rooms with blue tape across where a balcony used to be, the residents unable to afford repairs. Cubans are poor, the average wage is approx. $20 per month, whether that be a road sweeper or a doctor. A carton of powdered milk, if available can cost the equivalent of 2 weeks salary. 
The huge tourist trade helps in small ways to supplement incomes - extra cash can be earned from tips, taking tourists to bars and restaurants, selling cigars and food on the street, and of course the ever popular prostitution. 

There is some good though. Everyone has free health and dental care. The highest share of Cuba's national budget, 13%, is allocated to education. These services have helped Cuba to achieve universal literacy, eradicate certain diseases and provide universal access to safe drinking water and basic public sanitation. Cuba also now has one of the region's lowest infant mortality rates. 
 And they don't get pillaged by greedy politicians, CEO'S and bankers.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the future though

I liked this lady. I think she is probably 80 something, her make-up looked nice, her nails were varnished, she was wearing a rosary and jewellery, nice perfume, and a beautiful flower head garland. 
I liked her spirit.
I think that's what sums up most Cubans - pride and spirit.


  1. So nice to see the house of Hemingway. I recently read the book "Mrs Hemingway" by Naomi Wood, I can see now all the rooms where everything took place. I can recommend the book, very interesting to read about the four Mrs Hemingway told in their own words although it is fiction. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hello Marianne, the book sounds as if it would be a good read. Their lifestyle seemed almost idyllic.

  2. I was thrilled to see the house, I loved to see the books all over. I do wonder how many I would have if I were to count them, not anywhere that amount that's for sure. Interesting post.

    1. Thank you mama, I have a lot of books and regularly sort through them, I take them to a charity shop when I have read them. I couldn't cope with that many though!

  3. I think I could have moved straight in too, without the animal heads though. :)

    1. Hello Jessica, yes they would have to go :-)

  4. That's my kind of house too Polly - I love all the detail in your post, I always feel like I was right by your side. Great photos again too!

    1. That's a lovely compliment Sarah, thank you x

  5. I went through a spell, many years ago when I read every book by Hemingway one after another, so I enjoyed this peek into his living quarters. Nice house, shame about the hunting trophies.

    1. I haven't read anything of his, I must try one to see what kind of writer he was. Yes the trophies aren't nice, it was such a popular thing to do in those days.

  6. Like John I've read many of Hemingway's books so I found it fascinating to see where he lived while in Cuba, thank you so much Polly! J'adore the last shot, what a character!

    1. Hi Grace, yes she was, she was lovely.

  7. Like John I've read many of Hemingway's books so I found it fascinating to see where he lived while in Cuba, thank you so much Polly! J'adore the last shot, what a character!


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