Fishing seems to have been one of the main reasons which brought U.S. author Ernest Hemingway to Havana, where he would later reside for over 20 years, until 1959.
In an article written by the Nobel Prize for literature winner in 1949, among his reasons for choosing the Finca Vigía as his permanent residence, included the Gulf Stream located only 45 minutes from his home which had, according to Hemingway, the most abundant and finest fishing conditions he had ever seen.
The U.S. novelist participated in the International Billfishing Tournament bearing his name since the very first edition on May 26, 1950, placing first in competitions held from 1953-1955.
In 1959, the renowned author traveled to Idaho, in the United States, but given his passion for fishing, returned a year later to participate in the 11th Billfishing Tournament award ceremony, where he first met the leader of the Cuban Revolution Fidel Castro, being honored this 2016 on his 90th birthday.
On that occasion, Hemingway presented Fidel with several trophies for five of his catches. According to the Director of the Hemingway Museum, Ada Rosa Alfonso, speaking in one of her lectures on the author’s life and works, she noted that although numerous photos of the encounter have been published, to date no one knows what they spoke about.
Alfonso also highlighted that for years Fidel Castro kept a photo of Hemingway holding a huge fish, with a note reading “To my friend Fidel, may you hook one this size in the deeps of Cojímar,” in his office at the Palace of the Revolution.
Fidel has always remained reserved in regards to his relationship with Hemingway, noted Alfonso, but the fact that such a talented writer and journalist would use the word “friend,” is very telling.
In his 2005 interview with journalist Ignacio Ramonet, 100 Hours with Fidel, the leader of the Cuban Revolution noted that he spoke briefly with Hemingway on two occasions, during which he expressed his admiration for the Nobel Prize winner’s thirst for adventure.
Prior to this, in 1975, speaking in an interview with U.S. writers Kirby Jones and Frank Mankiewicz, which was later included in a book published by the two authors, Fidel revealed that “Of U.S. authors, Hemingway is one of my favorite… I was familiar with his works before the Revolution…I read For Whom the Bell Tolls when I was a student…Hemingway spoke about the rear-guard of a guerilla group fighting against a conventional army…The novel was one of the works that helped me devise strategies to fight against Batista’s army…”
Uncovering details about their relationship, their encounters, discovering how and when the author sent the photo to Fidel are all challenges for researchers, noted the director of the Hemingway Museum.
FINCA VIGÍA, JUST HOW HE LEFT IT
Ernest Hemingway first visited Havana in 1928 with his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, returning again in 1932 on a fishing trip. He stayed at the Ambos Mundos Hotel on the bustling Obispo Street, where the fifth-floor room he occupied, located in the north-eastern corner of the establishment, is still preserved today.
Hemingway also left his mark at the El Floridita bar, where a statue of the author of Islands in the Stream stands as an attraction for visitors to the city and homage to the legendary writer.
In 1939, Hemingway and his third wife Martha Gellhorn bought the Finca Vigía - located 15 kilometers east of Havana - which would be the author’s home for over 20 years. After he committed suicide in his native Idaho on July 2, 1961 the establishment was converted into the Ernest Hemingway Museum.
The residence has been preserved almost exactly as he left it. It contains a collection of some 22,000 personal items and documents such as letters, photos, books, hunting trophies, records, weapons, files and his yacht El Pilar, once owned by angler Gregorio Fuentes, the inspiration for the solitary character in Hemingway’s 1952 novel The Old Man and the Sea.
It was at this country retreat where Hemingway wrote his must successful works, including For Whom the Bell Tolls, Across the River and into the Trees, The Old Man and the Sea, A Moveable Feast and Islands in the Stream, the first of his novels to be published after his death.
In 1954 the U.S. writer won a Pultizer Prize and Nobel Prize for Literature for The Old Man and the Sea. Hemingway decided to donate the accolade in the form of a medal to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of El Cobre, patron saint of Cuba and fishermen.
The landscapes depicted in the novel are those of the Gulf Stream and Hemingway once commented that the novel emerged from the pleasant time he spent “among the people of Cojímar,” a costal town to the east of Havana, a place where he felt like “a citizen.”
After his death in 1961, Cojímar’s local fishermen who used to call him “Papa” (Dad) gathered together pieces of anchor and other bronze objects and ordered a bust of the writer to be made, which was unveiled on July 21, 1961, on the edge of the bay.
In 2014, John and Patrick Hemingway, sons of Gregory (1931-2001), the youngest of Hemingway’s children, celebrated the 60th anniversary of their grandfather’s Nobel Prize win. They laid a floral wreath at the bust and visited the La Terraza restaurant, located right on the shore and where Hemingway often ate with Mary Welsh, his fourth and last wife.
The 50th edition of the magazine Bohemia, published in 1982, features an article by another Nobel Prize for Literature winner and close friend of Fidel, Gabriel García Márquez, in which he mentions the Finca Vigía after Hemingway’s death, noting that “Fidel Castro himself…took care of Hemingway’s last wife Mary Welsh on the two occasions she was in Havana after the death of her husband. They were the ones who organized everything to ensure that the Finca Vigía would remain intact… the only thing the widow took were the paintings from his amazing personal collection of works by the best contemporary artists…”
On her final trip, Mary Welsh also took papers and books back with her to the United States, all of which are preserved in Boston’s JFK Library, but left behind thousands more documents here in Havana.
In addition to this tangible legacy, every two years an International Colloquium dedicated to the U.S. author is held, with new academic investigations revealing previously unknown facets of his life and work.
These encounters have also led to the adoption of a cooperation agreement enabling thousands of digitalized documents from the Hemingway’s house in Cuba to be sent to the JFK Library, including an alternative ending of For Whom the Bell Tolls, notes from his journals written on voyages attempting to spot German submarines during the 1940s, his passport and a letter to Ingrid Bergman.
Thanks to this collaboration, in addition to the restoration of the Finca La Vigía, a new building with temperature and humidity controls is also scheduled to be constructed, the result of the reestablishment of bilateral relations between Cuba and the United States in 2014.
The majority of experts agree that Hemingway was already unwell when he left the island, bequeathing the Finca Vigía to the Cuban people as a final “gesture of goodwill,” although he left his belongings and papers in Havana…like someone who would soon return.