We frequently see or hear the names of famous people and the image we form of that person will usually be based on what we are told about them, the lives they lead, the things they have done, the people they have associated with and so on. We can easily apply this to all kinds of celebrities from movie stars to astronauts and anything in between. These people however gain their fame and notoriety directly from the visibility they can garner from the projects they are involved with. Writers on the other hand are different.
For us to get to know and become familiar with the life of a writer, that individual must have a strong foundation of successes. One time success is generally quickly forgotten but the names of great writers usually rest on a stairway of one success after another that leads to world fame and public adulation and not all the stories have to be long, drawn out novels. As a good example, if I give you the title of "Old Man & The Sea," the author's name leaps into mind.
I am sure that it has happened to you as well but I would often return from a trip only to discover later that had I know about it I could have seen some great attraction that I didn't even know was there. It is not possible to research absolutely everything about a destination but sometime you get lucky. That is what happened to me on a visit I made to Cuba.
I had been out with my host and guide photographing the country around Havana. We were driving on one of the beautiful costal roadways when my host from the tourist board, Pedro asked If I was a fan of Ernest Hemingway. I said I was and he then asked if I would like to see the spot where he was inspired to and in fact actually wrote some of the material for "Old Man & The Sea." Of course, indeed I would. The spot is marked with a beautiful bust statue of Mr. Hemingway, a site of great literally, historical importance. As our conversation about the life and times of Ernest Hemingway continued Pedro asked Carlo our driver to head for the Hemingway Estate on the way back to Havana. The Estate would already have been closed to the public by this time of day but because I was a guest of the Tourist Board it would still be open to us.
From the stately old home dating from the time when Cuba was known as the Pearl of the Caribbean, Mr. Hemingway and his guests could stand with a drink in hand and watch the sun setting over Havana in the distance. Hemingway was said to have had an on going love affair with this once majestic and regal city which in it's heyday was a playground for the rich and famous, from all over the world. He actually had a tower of sorts built on the estate to make it easier to see the city he loved so much from his estate. He loved to show off "his Havana" to his guests.
It was a very strange experience to be wandering around Ernest Hemingway's private paradise with it being so quiet and lifeless. I could only imagine that in its day it would have bustled with music and conversation as the elite of the world of literature met and talked, along with politicians, movie stars and world leaders.
Like so many of the grand old estates of Cuba this one that was once home to Ernest Hemingway has fallen into a rather sad state of disrepair, perhaps much less than some of the others because of his obvious fame but disrepair just the same. I was told that the fact that it was open to the public for a small entry fee helped to maintain the estate. By that time, the glory time of Cuba had passed and there was little money around for such frivolous projects as repairing and maintaining great old estates no matter who had lived in them before.
As we walked around the grounds Pedro pointed out a spot where four of Hemingway's beloved pet dogs had been buried. Hemingway was always known for doing the unusual.
After a few hours we went to a bar in town called La Fioritta where Mr. Hemingway was said to have dropped in almost every day for a drink when he was around. They of course had all the trappings like signs and pictures on the walls telling the story that this was Hemingway's favorite bar in Havana, his special table preserved in his honor with his chair as well.
So if you ever plan a visit to Cuba which, may some day be a destination for Americans again be sure to ask if you can still visit the Hemingway estate. When I was there it was a long time ago and a great deal might have changed by then.
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