Hemingway’s Havana Haunts

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One of my fondest memories of the year I lived in Paris was an afternoon spent with James Jones, the celebrated author of “From Here to Eternity,” whose book, “The Merry Month of May” about the 1968 student revolt in Paris, had just been published. He was an avowed admirer of Hemingway and after lunch took me on a walking tour of Hemingway haunts. As we strolled through the neighborhood where Hemingway had lived with his first wife, Hadley, Jones told wonderful anecdotes about how the struggling young writer had made ends meet. At a pawnshop that Jones claimed Hemingway had frequented, he bought me an old bowler hat for a few francs, a keepsake I treasure to this day. Because I’m a great fan of Hemingway, too, I was enthralled by the wonderful anecdotes Jones related. But more than anything I was charmed that this acclaimed writer was so in awe of Ernest Hemingway that he’d made it his mission to seek out these places. Naturally, we ended our walk with an aperitif at one of Hemingway’s favorite watering holes, the Closerie des Lilas.

Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 12.34.31 AMIt’s not surprising, then, that during my weeklong trip to Cuba I would want to seek out Hemingway’s Havana, a city he loved as much as its inhabitants revered the manknown as “Papa.”
My first stop was La Bodeguita del Medio on Empedrado Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 9.06.52 AMStreet, only a few streets away from the Plaza de la Catedral, where we began our walking tour of old Havana. I’d thought the Daiquiri was Hemingway’s cocktail of choice, but apparently he favored the Mojito. The Cuban highball, made with crushed mint, lime juice, sugar and, of course, rum, originated at the “B del M,” as it’s known. Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 12.35.55 AMUnfortunately, the bar wasn’t open at 9:30 a.m. but I had a good peek inside before the gate was pulled shut to looky-loos like me.Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 9.08.12 AM
The next stop was the Ambos Mundos Hotel, built in the 1920s near Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 12.43.19 AMthe Plaza de
Armas, where I took my turn waiting to be photographed at its corner entrance. It was here, inroom 511, Hemingway’s headquarters off and on between 1932 and 1939, that he began writing the opening chapters of “For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 12.44.38 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-05 at 12.45.45 AMI made my way up to the fifth floor shrine where, in groups of four, we
took our time  looking at framed photos and displays of memorabilia that included his typewriter, fishing rods, books, eyeglasses and the narrow bed tucked
into an alcove.

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I imagined him Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 9.13.08 AMlooking up from his writing desk,
positioned in the middle of the sun-filled room, and gazing out the shuttered French windows at the charming view of rooftops and nearby harbor.

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The Hotel Nacional de Cuba, a grand old landmark built in 1930, is only a short walk from Meyer Lansky’s once mob-owned Hotel Capri, where I was staying. The Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 12.53.59 AM
magnificent Art Deco hotel overlooks the Malecon, a lengthy boardwalk along the ocean, and broad rolling lawns shaded with palm trees. Before enjoying cocktails in the garden, I spent a good hour in the salon looking at displays of the hotel’s rich history, which, of course, included not only photographs of Hemingway, butevery other imaginable film star and world-class celebrity.

One evening we went to the famous Tropicana, a glamorous casino and cabaret that opened in 1939 in the grounds of the Villa Mina estate. Hemingway visited this hedonistic, jet set playground, famous for its exotic showgirls wearing sequins, feathers and not much else, and its decadent rum-soaked partying.

Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to visit perhaps the most iconic of Hemingway haunts, the El Floridita in old Havana, where it’s said he drank copious amounts of frozen daiquiris. Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 12.56.32 AM
Sadly, that meant I couldn’t engage in rivaling Hemingway’s record of 11 cocktails by 11 a.m. But then, I imbibed my share of Mojitos and Daiquiris elsewhere in Havana . . . and there’s always next time.

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I will return!

2 thoughts on “Hemingway’s Havana Haunts

  1. My lifelong love of reading began as an 8 year-old Dark Shadows fan devouring novels inspired by the series. No one would call “Barnabas, Quentin and the Nightmare Assassin” or any of the other Marilyn Ross books inspired by the television show great literature, but a whole lot of reading over many years hopefully makes a reader more discerning and able to distinguish mediocre writing from great writing. My interest in the Second World War led me to read a lot of non-fiction (as well as related fiction including James Jones’ “From Here to Eternity”). About a year ago I began to think that I read too much non-fiction (mostly history and biography) and should begin to tackle some of the classics. Because of his stature and reputation, I began with Hemingway, first reading Old Man and the Sea and For Whom the Bell Tolls, and touring one of his homes in Key West, FL in between. By last week I had read all of Hemingway’s novels, finishing with the first one he wrote and what many consider his best, The Sun Also Rises. It was interesting to find, as the 50th anniversary of Dark Shadows approaches, that Katheryn Leigh Scott shares an appreciation of Hemingway and even knew James Jones, and is now an author herself. I think I will begin the celebrate the anniversary of by ordering a copy of Jinxed.

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  2. Thank you so much for your response!. I am such a Hemingway fan that when I lived in London and heard BBC Radio intended to record his short stories, I immediately got in touch to audition for the dramatizations. I ended up recording several of the stories (Hills like White Elephants, Short Happy Life of Frances McComber, etc) in the famed broadcasting studio where Edward R Murrow reported on the WW II London blitz. It may be time to reopen those anthologies and read again.

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