In Villas and Bodegas Of Cuba, Hemingway Is Welcome Americana

PRESIDENT Fidel Castro Ruz's hostility for things American, especially successive administrations in Washington, is well-documented.

But one American is a notable exception: ``Papa'' is still treated by the Cuban government as if he were a native son.

Ernest Hemingway apparently concurred with Christopher Columbus's description of the island as ``the fairest island that human eyes have yet beheld.''

During the last third of Hemingway's life, from 1939 to 1961, he was a regular fixture here. His legacy is remarkably well-preserved, considering that the Cuban economy is crashing.

Bus loads of tourists still come to the hill overlooking Havana to pour over Papa's estate, Finca Vigia, now called The Ernest Hemingway Museum.

In 1939, Hemingway's third wife, Martha Gellhorn, herself a journalist-writer with a good reputation, found the estate by responding to a classified advertisement, according to museum literature. The two rented the house for a year, and opted to buy it in 1940 for $18,500.

Here Hemingway researched and completed his classic novella, ``The Old Man And the Sea,'' after which he won the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature. Other major works written during his Cuban years include ``Islands in the Stream'' and ``A Moveable Feast.''

A window peek

These days visitors aren't allowed to roam inside the home, but are limited to looking at the interior through the large, open windows. Stuffed animal trophies line the walls of living and dining rooms, testament to Hemingway's numerous African safaris.

The art, meanwhile, has a distinctly Spanish flavor. A few large works feature scenes from bullfights, of which the author was an aficionado. A plaster plate, a Picasso original, is representative of the Paris years. Most prominent in the house are the rows and rows of books, more than 8,000 of them.

Also tucked away in the house are important Hemingway items such as his favorite portable typewriter and the dress military uniform that he wore during his days as a World War II correspondent.

Near the swimming pool, kept under a canopy, is Pilar, Hemingway's fishing yacht. Built in 1934, the wooden vessel carried the writer on many a troll for marlin in what he called ``great deep blue river'' - the Gulf of Mexico.

Around Pilar are the graves of Hemingway's four favorite dogs: Black, Negrita, Linda, and Neron. The writer also loved cats, and as many as 60 felines once prowled the grounds.

`Papa haunts

In Havana's old quarter, two of Hemingway's favorite haunts remain in operation, appearing much as they did when he frequented them. Both are restaurants: La Bodeguita del Medio and La Floridita.

The decor at La Bodeguita is cluttered, the atmosphere buoyant, and the rice and beans tasty as ever. The walls are cluttered with mementos, many from a past era when Cuba was a playground for Americans. A framed photo of Errol Flynn having a meal at the restaurant can be seen if one looks hard enough.

La Floridita is a ``clean, well-lighted place,'' more upscale than La Bodeguita. Both establishments, however, now cater almost exclusively to tourists. Hemingway memorabilia abounds in La Floridita, including a large bronze bust of the author that keeps watch at one end of the bar.

Hemingway's first encounter with Cuba came in 1928, when he made a stopover in Havana on his way to Key West, Fla., where he had a home.

His passion for fishing brought him back often to the Cuban capital, and in the 1930s he took a room at the Ambos Mundos hotel, near Havana's port and within easy walking distance of many of his favorite spots.

His corner room on the hotel's top floor, No. 511, was for years also preserved as a mini museum. The hotel is currently closed for a complete renovation.

The furniture, right down to the bathroom fixtures, have been removed for the overhaul. The only occupants these days are cockroaches.

Caretakers say they expect to reopen the hotel as soon as January 1995, adding that Hemingway's room would be restored to its 1930s' condition.

According to interviews the author gave in the last year of his life, he began in this room what is arguably his greatest work, ``For Whom the Bell Tolls,'' his story about the Spanish Civil War.

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