Evidence of Ernest Hemingway’s demons remains scratched into his bathroom walls and, for a moment, I had to look away.
A journalist, then novelist, whose honest exploration of the human psyche (most often his own) earned him both a Pulitzer and a Nobel Prize, Hemingway courted specific details for his characters.
I like details too, so I turned back and observed.
Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s Cuban home, still looks as though its celebrated resident might lumber through its perfectly preserved rooms. His typewriter rests, waist high on a book shelf, with easy access to a pacing author.
Trophies from his big game hunts decorate the living room walls. American magazines from 1959 still fill the rack. Though empty now, his swimming pool looks as inviting as it did back in 1957 when Ava Gardner reportedly swam naked in it. Up and down the walls on either side of his bathroom scale, Hemingway’s meticulously recorded weight, scribbled there with various pens, still hints at a troubled mind.
Hemingway wrote both For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea while living at the house, before a crippling bout of writer’s block stole his words.
“Can you imagine a writer with his talent unable to write a single word?” asked the docent who gave us a tour.
Back-to-back plane crashes left both Hemingway and his fourth wife Mary Walsh Hemingway seriously injured though not, as had been widely reported in 1954, deceased. He spent some time at Finca Vigia locked in his bedroom, recovering from injuries, drinking Mojitos and reading his own obituaries.
Reconstructed with care, Finca Vigia offers a telling look into one of America’s most talented and troubled authors.
Hemingway’s bedroom, including the typewriter he kept on his bookshelf, remains exactly as he had left it.
The headline on this newspaper reads “Heminway, wife killed in crash”. I’m not sure which would have been more insulting to him — the premature announcement of his demise, or the misspelling of his famous last name.
I took a quick glance at the bathroom and had to turn away…
I thought the meticulously kept hand-written weight notations on either side of his scale hinted at a sad obsessive compulsive tendency and I wondered how pleased he’d be for the whole world to see.
He didn’t invent them, but Hemingway did love a Mojito and we sipped one or two during our time in Cuba as well. Cuba still loves Papa Hemingway and so many bars and restaurants in and around Havana claim to have served him that our guide joked that it would be difficult to find one that didn’t make that claim. When Hemingway died, the fishermen in Cojimar, a nearby village, wanted to pay tribute to him, but they had no money. So, they collected small pieces of brass from their boat propellers and anchors and melted them down to create a bust.
I snapped our own library media specialist, Kathy, in front of Hemingway’s well-maintained, 9,000 volume library.
Hemingway’s boat, the Pilar, rests in a place of honor above his unused tennis court. On the left you can see grave markers for four of his beloved dogs. I found it interesting that the passionate big game hunter shared his home with 57 cats and six dogs.
You could easily imagine Papa Hemingway cooling off in this immaculately maintained swimming pool. (Had there been water, I’d have jumped in myself. Cuba in July is hot!)
Hemingway’s home now looks very similar to…
…Hemingway’s home in 1957. This is the exact same table, game trophies, and dinnerware you see in the dining area above. The picture is shot from the opposite angle as the one above.