As I've said elsewhere, I have always had great luck finding a home for my travel articles in The Australian. So on return from Cuba I submitted this piece with some confidence, only to be told that the budget has been slashed since I last wrote and freelancers need no longer apply. Just to see how far the rot had spread, I sent the article to a range of 'old' media, from whom I received either no response at all or the same dismal message.
I decided to give myself 4 months to try for on-line publication.
Perhaps Cuba simply lacks holiday destination appeal, especially to Americans who can't get there easily. Or else my total ignorance of likely on-line publishers showed. Whatever the case, I had no luck at all. And rather than consign this story of Ernest and I in Cuba to obscurity, I decided to publish it here. I hope you enjoy it.
ERNEST HEMINGWAY IN CUBA
Ernest Hemingway wrote like an angel, but
lived like a devil. He loved fishing, shooting, fighting and carousing. A
bombastic man’s man, he is no fit travelling companion for this timid, ‘social
drinking’ female – or so I thought. Arriving in Cuba in May, I realise
immediately I mightn’t have much choice; the celebrated writer’s inky
fingerprints are everywhere.
the taxi travelling from the airport, the driver, a self-declared ‘Hemingway
fanatic’, jokes that the writer had fallen over in most of the city’s bars. So
wherever you drink you are bound to run into his ghost.Arriving at Ambos Mundos, a hotel and bar/restaurant in the centre of Habana Vieja (Old Havana), I avert my eyes from the many photos of the famous American expatriate adorning the walls. Yet as I sink gratefully into the cane-sided lounge chair beneath the ceiling fan and order a mojito, I have an uneasy feeling that somewhere nearby Hemingway is giving me the thumbs up.
My eye is drawn to an elevator with a vintage grated door. The attendant tells me that it was frequented by ‘Papa’ himself, who not only drank at the hotel but actually lived there throughout the 1930s. If so desired, I could even visit his room. Before I know it I am knocking hesitantly on door 551.
It is thrilling to spot the typewriter on which Hemingway tapped out the opening chapters of ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’. But otherwise the room is a paean to drinking sprees, full of Hemingway’s writings on the subject as well as photos of celebrities like Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman sharing his passion.
|Typewriter in room 551 Ambos Mundos hotel|
Several days later, standing awe-struck in the foyer of the magnificent 1930s Hotel Nacional de Cuba, I notice a prominently-positioned tribute to Hemingway. Apparently, in 1955 he had protested vociferously when American mobster Myer Lansky pressured Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista to let him in on the action at the hotel casino. Unfortunately, Papa was ignored. But it was an impressive demonstration of loyalty to a treasured watering hole as well as his adopted country’s best interests. Obviously the Cuban love affair with Papa cut both ways.
Next day I somehow find myself in Cojimar, a tiny village east of Havana and Hemingway’s base for his pursuit of sailfish, kingfish, swordfish and marlin in the deep currents of the Gulf Stream. Stopping for lunch at Cojimar’s La Terraza (The Terrace) I am no longer really surprised to see a table permanently reserved for the writer – and laid freshly each day - in his favourite position overlooking the bay.
Hemingway's table at La Terraza, Cojimar
The waiter explains how Hemingway spent many an afternoon at that table chatting with local fishermen like Anselmo Hernandez, the model for the old man named Santiago at the heart of ‘The Old Man and the Sea’. The writer also named the young boy in this wonderful story after the son of the bar owner. Finally, hearing that Hemingway donated his Nobel prize for Literature, which he won in 1954, to the Cuban people, I can’t help warming to him.
spend my final night in Cuba at Havana’s Floridita, the famous fish
restaurant/bar, which was reputedly the writer’s favourite haunt. Following
Papa’s advice, famously scrawled on the wall at the nearby Bodeguita bar: ‘My
mojito in La Bodeguita, my daiquiri in El Floridita’, I am enjoying an unaccustomed
avoidance to the wind, I schmooze up to the life-size bronze statue of
Hemingway lounging on a stool at the bar. Confiding my embryonic literary
ambitions to the statue’s attentive ear, I reflect that Hemingway is not such a
bad travelling companion after all.