December 9th, 2011
(This entry is dedicated to my good friend Scotty Berghoff at Papaspoint.com, the biggest Hemingway fan I know.)
Ernest Hemingway died seven months and five days before I was born. Learning about his life as I have been recently I cannot say that I would have liked or even understood him. But he understood me. He understood men and the insecurities of men and what hurts us. And he wrote about these secrets before anyone else did, in a time when these things just weren’t said. For that, I love to read Hemingway. He wrote also about the now unchallenged part of men, the part that faces a danger of death and how that moment is processed and faced. I relate to Hemingway here too, for nearly a decade I enthusiastically placed myself directly in harm’s way as a stunt performer on horseback and on motorcycles. These were controlled arenas but even so there is always a risk of deadly mistakes if one’s focus is less than total. It wasn’t bullfighting but there were times when mistakes did occur and it was how my companions and I dealt with those immediate and unexpected situations of emergency that makes me feel that I understand when Hemingway measures his protagonist’s stones in the way that he does. But, those rough days of mine are for another book. I feel comfortable in Hemingway’s places, having visited his home in Key West a couple of times when I lived down there in the late ‘80s. I also felt right at home writing at his bar The Floridita, his bronze statue staring at me from the corner.
Having a conversation with the statue of Hemingway at the Floridita bar.
Today was a gloomy and rainy day. My knees were stabbing at me, protesting with each step I took toward the breakfast buffet up on the roof of the Hotel Ambos Mundos. As breakfast was set out, the wind was throwing water everywhere and the wait staff were struggling with the awning enclosures, trying to keep the area dry. As breakfast was also being set out, I was early so I sat down to read more of ‘The Sun Also Rises’. Finally the coffee, rolls, and fruit came out and I took to it. Eventually more people began to come up which meant that it was time for me to go. I went back to my room and read another couple of chapters of Hemingway’s master novel. Soon it was time to meet the group again and go. I held Jeanne’s arm the whole way, walking through the wet cobbled street that led to the bus stop. There it was at the Plaza De Armas like always, our bus waiting like a familiar dog.
It was only then that I noticed that its number was 1961. The year Hemingway died. I helped Jeanne onto the bus and we went to Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s Cuba home. It should be noted here that before he bought Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s Cuba home was our hotel the Ambos Mundos. They make sure you know it too, there are pictures of Ernest Hemingway everywhere in the lobby and on each floor.
The front of the Hotel Ambos Mundos, Hemingway’s room is at the top center on the 5th floor.
As bus 1961 entered the gate of the estate and made our way up the hill toward the house I feel like I had just been there. It was a month less than two years ago but it felt comfortable and familiar even in the chill wet air. I remember the 12 or 13 yr old boy, crushing sugar cane in an old press and selling it to us with a shot of rum in it. I looked toward that area but he wasn’t there anymore. Neither was the press. Neither was the sun but it was good to see the house and the boat, the Pilar, again.
After the visit to Finca Vigia, we took the bus down to the old fishing village of Cojimar. Hemingway set his best book, ‘The Old Man And The Sea’ in this village and it was here that he docked the Pilar.
This photo was taken from the dock where the Pilar was moored, his view to the open sea.
We had lunch at the bar/restaurant that he loved called La Terraza. We started with a bad, thin, seafood soup of some kind that wasn’t at all appreciated but was followed up with a delicious paella and a couple of bottles of Cristal beer.
It all finished with a perfect flan. I sat with Jeanne the whole time and we had a lovely talk with another lady from the group who had never said much to us the whole week. The bus took us all back to the familiar stop at the Plaza De Armas and Jeanne and I got off the bus and everyone dispersed to go see things that they hadn’t seen yet. Jeanne and I and a couple of other old poots walked back to the hotel. Hemingway had a reserved room here at the hotel Ambos Mundos, room 511 upstairs and he stayed here about seven years, sometime in the 1930s. They kept it as it was when Hemingway stayed there and you can tour it. I desperately wanted to see it and worried that I wouldn’t be able to since I had been working or touring during the hours it was open. Jeanne had really wanted to see it too so I called her room and we decided to go up there together. It was a perfect room, a corner room, on the upper most floor of the hotel.
The view of Obispo street below was spectacular and we were told by the guide that he wrote several articles for Esquire magazine, some of which were strewn about the bed, and some of his novels ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ and ‘Death In The Afternoon’ in this room.
There were a few of his old coats still hanging in the closet, you could see them through the plexiglass panel they had placed on the door.
Several first editions of his and others books were visible in the locked glass case. There were huge fishing rods in a rack on the wall next to racks of spears he had brought back from Africa.
Over his bed was a painting of two boxers and another painting of a bullfight.
In the center of the room there was a table upon which sat his old typewriter, his glasses, and several opened letters over which was a protective plexiglass case.
It was plain and true with no frills and it felt like his writing. It seemed- apart from the protective glass- well kept but not overly fresh, like a man’s current room and I felt subconsciously intrusive and hurried as if the old occupant might return.
Next entry, ‘The End of the Day’, coming soon.