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.
It’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 Street, 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. Unfortunately, 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.
The next stop was the Ambos Mundos Hotel, built in the 1920s near the 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.
I 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.
I imagined him looking 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.
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
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.
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.
I will return!