Monday, 9 May 2016
On the third day of our Cuba tour, we visited Finca La Vigía, which was Ernest Hemingway’s residence in San Francisco de Paula from 1939 until his death in 1961. Two well-known novels were finished here (For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea), as well as the autobiographical A Movable Feast. (After renting for about a year, he bought the property in 1940 with some of the royalties from For Whom the Bell Tolls.) Finca La Vigía is in a secluded location about 10 miles east of Havana. Cubans are very proud of Hemingway.
The Cuban government took possession of the property after Hemingway’s death, and it was opened to the public in 2007 as the Finca Vigia museum after two years of restoration. The map of the property, pictured above, was created quickly for the visit of US First Lady Michelle Obama in March, 2016. (The property is small and the map really isn’t necessary.)
The guest house is located beside the road on the way to the main house. It now houses offices and meeting rooms.
To the left of the front entrance to the main house, at the top of the steps, is a bell that was rung to announce guests. If the guest was particularly important, then the small cannon inside the front door were also used to announce the visitor.
While the main house and tower are not open for entry by the public, it is possible to view the rooms through large open windows.
Hemingway’s typewriter is still in the house. (He wrote standing up, in his underwear, at the bookcase pictured on the left.) His fourth wife, Mary, had the tower room constructed as a light and airy space for writing, but he preferred to write in his bedroom.
The name “Finca Vigía” means “lookout house” or “lookout farm” in Spanish, because the view from the tower includes Havana with the Gulf of Mexico to the north. Also visible in the picture is smoke rising from the Ñico Lopez oil refinery in Havana harbor, currently operating at 40% capacity. (This refinery was formerly Esso and Shell oil refineries until nationalized by Cuba in June, 1960.)
Adjacent to Hemingway’s bedroom is his closet with his war correspondent’s jacket and many pairs of boots.
Next to the closet is the bathroom, with his weight chart written by hand on the wall. The left-most entry is 192 pounds on July 20; the heaviest entry is 240 pounds on March 3. The year associated with many of the dates is unclear, although some are specified (e.g., 214 pounds on April 15, 1956). His 1944 passport listed his height as 6 feet and his weight as 220 pounds.
The dining room and living room on the main floor remain as they were when Hemingway lived there.
Items in the rooms that are stereotypical Hemingway are the many hunting trophies mounted on the walls and the bottles of alcoholic beverages (some empty, some not) sitting on table tops.
Hemingway’s swimming pool, the first in Cuba, is dry now. The bath house contains a small gallery of photographs of Hemingway and others.
Hemingway’s fishing boat, Pilar, is viewed from an elevated walkway. Pilar is both the nickname of his second wife Pauline and the name of a character in his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. His novels The Old Man and the Sea and Islands in the Stream were influenced by his time in the Pilar. During World War II, he used Pilar to search for German submarines and reported their locations to the US Navy.
The pet cemetery contains four of Hemingway’s dogs; two of these dogs died in the care of his staff after his own death in 1961. The young woman in the photograph above is actually taking a “selfie” of herself with Hemingway’s boat Pilar, seemingly unaware that she is posing in a cemetery.
Many visitors arrive in 1950s era cars, providing photo opportunities for those who remember those cars fondly.
Stay tuned for more of our Cuban diary. If you want to catch up on the first days, read: