Tag Archives: ernest hemingway

Cuba told in pictures and prose (Part 3)

This is the third and final instalment on my Cuba series, covering a trip I took with my friend, Darcy. If you haven’t read from the beginning, feel free to hop over to Part 1 and Part 2 first.

I’ve already touched on many of Havana’s landmarks, so this post will focus on Cuba’s people, Ernest Hemingway, and conclude with some interesting Cuban facts.

What does it mean to be Cuban and what’s with those names?

Cuban culture and history are more eclectic than I realized. The majority of Cubans come from Spanish and African descent, also influenced by the slave trade. The white population is still the majority, followed by a large percentage who are mulatto (a blend of races), then blacks, and then a small Asian group.

Here we are with Mayrene, a beautiful woman who graced us with her friendship.

Yanetsis, Yanquiel, Hanoi … just some of the other exotic names of Cubans we met.

How were these names derived?

In pre-revolutionary Cuba, parents chose more traditional, Spanish-language names like Javier, Manuel, or Maria. Post revolution, the preference for unusual names came from a couple of sources.

  1. A departure from the country’s Spanish Roman Catholic heritage meant parents moved away from biblical names.
  2. Naming their children was one of the few creative freedoms Cubans had, a way to exert their power in a country where the state controlled everything else.

Interesting fact: In the 1970s, imaginations really went wild. That’s when the letter Y, rarely used in Spanish names, became a hit with parents. (It may have also been influenced by the Soviet Union and their names like Yevgeni and Yuri.). Even so-called normal names were hijacked. Janet became Yanet, and indeed, we met a woman named Yanet at our hotel!

Preparing for a milestone anniversary

In 2019, Havana will celebrate the 500th anniversary of its founding by Spanish settlers on November 16, 1519. In preparation for the big day, the city has been restoring more than 600 buildings, streets, and complexes in its historical district.

Small details such as this mailbox make the streets unique.

Cobbled, car-free Calle Mercaderes (Merchant’s Street) has been extensively restored.

This 300 square meter mural on Mercaderes Street depicts 67 outstanding figures from Cuban history and the arts.

Calle Mercaderes is also characterized by its restored shops, including one of its most famous — Habana 1791, a perfume shop where attendants help you design your own scent. Housed in a beautifully refurbished neoclassical building, Habana 1791 offers its perfumes in bottles handcrafted by Cuban artisans.

 

Ernest Hemingway in Havana

Hemingway first visited Cuba in 1928 while on a layover traveling to Spain. He arrived with his family from Key West, which was his home at the time. They stopped in Havana for three days awaiting their ship to sail and stayed at the Hotel Ambos Mundos.

Hemingway next visited Cuba again four years later.

Located close to Plaza de Armas in Old Havana, Hotel Ambos Mundos was built in 1924. A room on the top (5th) floor became Hemingway’s first home in Cuba when he returned in 1932.

The hotel lobby features walls framed with photographs dedicated to Hemingway.

We took an old-style elevator up five floors to Hemingway’s room.

Darcy checks out the directory of rooms on the fifth floor.

 Room 511 is now a museum with a nominal entry fee.

 

From 1932 to mid-1939, Hemingway rented the single room for $1.50 per night.

 

Hemingway started writing his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls here in March 1939.

The room is triangular with windows that look out onto the rooftops of Old Havana and the sea. I imagined Hemingway enjoyed the street sounds below and the smell of the ocean while typing away at his desk.
Something about being near his typewriter made me weepy.

 

More pictures and memorabilia can be found in the hallways on the fifth floor. Here is a leg from one of Hemingway’s writing desks.

 

Hemingway finally checked out of Hotel Ambos Mundos in 1939 after he purchased a more permanent residence at Finca Vigia. He lived at the 9-acre estate with his third wife, Martha Gellhorn for a time until their divorce. In 1945, he married his last wife, Mary Welsh and Finca Vigia became their winter residence for the next fifteen years.

 

Located ten miles east of Havana in the working-class hamlet of San Francisco de Paula, Finca Vigia means “Lookout Farm.” Hemingway purchased the home in 1940 for $12,500.
Cubans have always respected Hemingway’s choice to live in the modest town, amongst the people he fished with.
The library housed Hemingway’s desk, curved like a boomerang. He wrote in longhand here or standing up at his typewriter.

He wrote most of For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea while living here.

The house shows off Hemingway’s trophies from his hunting and fishing expeditions.

On the wall behind the door, Hemingway obsessively scribbled down his daily weight from 1955 to 1960 when his health was failing from diabetes, cirrhosis, and high blood pressure.

Over 9000 books filled every room of the house except the dining room.

Hemingway was an avid swimmer.

Despite his machismo, Hemingway had a soft spot for cats. Tombstones of four of his more than 25 cats are found across the pool.

Hemingway purchased the fishing boat Pilar in April 1934. “Pilar” was a nickname for Hemingway’s second wife Pauline and also the name of the female leader in For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Trellis-shaped patio at the front of the house.

The two-storey guest house is closed for renovations. Past guests included Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper, and Ava Gardner.
 
My feelings on Hemingway: 

Both Darcy and I are writers, and our fascination to see everything Hemingway is because most writers are curious about other writers. How did he live? What made him great? What can we learn from him?

Sure, we can glean a lot from Hemingway through his work; we can even delve into his personal life, but there is something unexplainable about standing in a room where he used to sleep, brushing up against his desk, or staring out a window he once looked through.

It’s visceral.

There are several photos taken of me where I appeared teary-eyed while in his room at Ambos Mundos. I have not included them here and initially couldn’t understand the sadness.

Now I know.

It’s that sense of reverence for someone who has given so much despite suffering a great deal toward the end of his life. It’s that Hemingway’s incredible literary skills did not make him any less vulnerable and imperfect as a man. He had four wives and countless affairs. He drank heavily. He hunted. None of these traits is attractive to me, and yet, nothing would’ve stopped me from wanting to know him.

Like I said, it’s visceral.

Five facts you may not know about Cuba

It is mandatory for government vehicles to pick up hitchhikers. I mentioned this in my second post.

It started after the “Special Period” (the collapse of the Soviet Union), a time of economic hardship from 1989 until the late 1990s. A general breakdown in transportation meant once-reliable buses began to arrive several hours late, and then not at all. As a result, the Cuban government had to deal with deteriorating public transit. Nationalized hitchhiking was one solution and it continues today.

Only 5% of Cubans have access to the uncensored, open Internet. It’s an expensive chunk of their earnings, costing $2/hour when the average monthly income is only $25. In many areas in Havana, we saw people huddled around “hot spots” to check their Internet.

Cuba is one of two countries where Coca-Cola cannot be bought or sold. The other is North Korea.

Blowing your nose in public is considered extremely rude. I learned this firsthand from our guide in Havana. I had a slight cold and was blowing my nose in his car when he told me. I was mortified! I had to excuse myself and find a private place to do it thereafter even though he gave me a pass.

Ernest Hemingway worked as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star (then known as the Toronto Daily Star) from 1920 – 1924. He would later incorporate some of his pieces into his fiction.

Cubans make for easy friends 

We loved our time in Cuba because of the people, and it’s a big reason for why we would return. There are many others not pictured here but thank you to everyone who made our stay so special!

Humberto took care of us on the beach.

 

Guzman filled up our brandy at Xanadu Mansion.

 

Big hugs to Luisito and Mayara for their smiles and kindness.

 

Until next time, Cuba. We miss you already.

~eden

 

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Cuba told in pictures and prose (Part 2)

This is part two of a three-part series on Cuba. If you missed the first one, you can read it here.

I’m currently back in the deep freeze of Toronto, but it wasn’t long ago that Darcy and I felt the heat of the sun on our cheeks. Here we were on the balcony of our room with the ocean behind us. Ahh … what a wonderful sound that was!

In part one, I covered three of the four plazas in Havana. The last one is Plaza Vieja.

This plaza was originally called Plaza Nueva (New Square). It emerged in 1559 as Havana’s third open space after Plaza de Armas and Plaza de San Francisco. Plaza Vieja was the site of executions, processions, bullfights, and fiestas, all witnessed by Havana’s wealthiest citizens, who looked on from their balconies.

The urban architecture of Plaza Vieja is represented by colonial buildings and has always been a residential rather than a military, religious or administrative space.

Early 20th-century art nouveau buildings are also part of Plaza Vieja.

A work called “Viaje Fantástico” by Roberto Fabelo is found in the centre of the square. The figure, made of bronze, was donated by the 2004 National Arts Award winner. Our guide, Blexie did not know the history behind the monument, but it appears it was placed in the square in 2012.

I loved the piece immediately. A naked woman wearing only heels sits atop a rooster. What’s not to like, really?

She is unashamed of her nakedness, and she seems quite happy riding a cock. That she carries a fork is perhaps a symbol of her voracious appetite.

This is just my interpretation, of course. 😉

What is yours?

Cuba’s unique car culture

Cuba is known for its vintage cars, and there is an estimated 60,000 American cars still driving through the streets. Since 1959, when Fidel Castro assumed power, the majority of Cubans were forbidden to import foreign cars and parts. So, for almost 60 years, Cubans have played the role of Dr. Frankenstein, pulling parts from old American cars and replacing them with custom parts to keep their vehicles on the road.

There are no “new car dealerships” in Cuba as we know it. Cars are resold privately or passed down from one family member to another.

Interesting fact: The shortage of cars and public transportation has made hitchhiking a must in Cuba. We saw many hitchhikers along the way when going to and coming back from Havana. It is expected that “non-taxi” vehicles must pick up people needing rides. Hitchhiking is considered a safe way to travel.

I know little about cars. For me, it’s a mode of transportation to go from point A to B. Still, I can appreciate the beauty of an American car that has lasted for more than 50 years.

On any given street, you can see a Skittles bag of shiny chrome and its proud owners standing nearby.

Red, pink, and purple? Why not?!

Darcy liked the red convertible!

This shiny green car was my favourite. We drove in it for a short trip before switching to the blue and white Ford in the background. I liked the car because I own a dress that very same colour. 😉

John Lennon in Havana and the Beatles Bar in Varadero

When Beatlemania swept the world, Cuba resisted. Fidel Castro banned Beatles music in 1964 in an attempt to stamp out decadent, capitalist influences. But in 2000, Castro unveiled a bronze statue of John Lennon on a park bench, while Lennon’s “All You Need Is Love” played in the background. The ceremony took place on the twentieth anniversary of Lennon’s death.

Castro’s change of tune resulted from re-imagining Lennon as a political dissident and revolutionary. The statue, which captures Lennon in his long-haired, anti-war activism years, sits on a bench in John Lennon Park. Its iconic circular-rimmed glasses have been stolen so often that a guard now stands nearby holding them, poised to place them on the statue’s face when visitors approach. (The guard did so for my picture, too!).

We also went into downtown Varadero where there is an entire club dedicated to the Beatles. We didn’t stay for a set but snapped a picture of the fab four. They all looked oddly disproportionate. Still, the best likeness was John.

Gran Teatro de La Habana

Across from Parque Central, the Tacón Theater was inaugurated in April, 1838. At the time, this was Havana’s most important theatre, known for its elegance, comfort, and exceptional technical abilities.

Years later, in 1914, the theatre and the buildings around it were purchased to build the Centro Gallego, which took up the entire block. Inside, the old Tacón Theater was remodeled, integrating it with the new elements.

The façades of the building are decorated with sculptures, stone adornments, marble and bronze works. The front features four groups of sculptures in white marble representing charity, education, music, and theatre.

Today, the theatre is home to the Cuban National Ballet, and on its main stage, to the International Ballet Festival of Havana.

Introducing Ernest Hemingway 

While in Havana, both Darcy and I wanted to experience as much of Hemingway as possible. It wasn’t easy for our guide to squeeze it all in. We had to sacrifice a traditional Cuban lunch to do so, but it was definitely worth it.

La Bodeguita del Medio is a restaurant-bar opened in 1942 and is famous for its celebrity clientele. Pablo Neruda, Salvador Allende, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez are cited amongst its patrons. It also lays claim to being the birthplace of the Mojito.

We walked in and a live band was playing to a packed house. The place has both spirit and history, evidenced by the graffiti and memorabilia.

According to the founder of the bar, Ernest Hemingway was not a regular, but there is a framed inscription that reads “My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita” attributed to Hemingway.

El Floridita is a historic restaurant and cocktail bar, famous for its daiquiris and for being a favourite hangout for Hemingway.

Other famous customers included poet, Ezra Pound and British novelist, Graham Greene, author of Our Man in Havana (written the year before the Revolution).

The bar is located a short walk from the Hotel Ambos Mundos where Hemingway maintained a room. Today, El Floridita contains many memorabilia of the author, and in 2003, a life-size bronze statue by Cuban artist, José Villa Soberón was created of Hemingway slouched at the corner of the bar.

I hope you enjoyed this second part of Cuba told in pictures and prose. I will post the last instalment later this week, which will focus on Hemingway, some of Cuba’s people and customs, and things you may not have known about Cuba.

As always, thanks for reading. 

~eden

Update: 

The series is complete. You can now read Part 1 and Part 3.

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