HAVANA, June 21th (By Joann Biondi) It’s not easy being a cat in Cuba.
There’s no flea medicine, no cat litter and no catnip. Historically, they’ve been relegated to second-class status after dogs. During the “special period” of the early 90s when food was scarce following the breakup of the Soviet Read more
HAVANA,June 16th (AP) Just before noon outside Ernest Hemingway’s Havana estate, a metallic screech cut through the chirping of tropical birds and the sound of a live band entertaining tourists.
An American worker pulled open one door of a 40-foot shipping container. A Cuban worker pulled open the other. Out spilled treasure: box after box of U.S.-bought tools and hardware, from electric fuse boxes to hurricane-proof windows.
On an island where finding a handful of screws can be a days-long odyssey, the new era of U.S.-Cuban normalization has brought hundreds of thousands of dollars of supplies to build a simple but up-to-date conservation facility for Hemingway artifacts ranging from books and letters to fishing rods and African animal heads.
The opening of two containers on Wednesday was far from the most momentous event in the year and a half since Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro declared detente. But there was a symbolic charge to the unpacking of American goods that will be used to preserve the memories of a man who’s become an icon of friendly U.S.-Cuban relations. Hemingway lived at the airy home known as the Finca Vigia in the 1940s and ’50s, and places where the Nobel literature laureate worked, fished and drank have become important Cuban cultural sites and draws for tourists from around the world.
The home fell into disrepair over a half century of Cold War between the U.S. and Cuba, which suffers under both a U.S. trade embargo and the self-imposed problems of an inefficient and unproductive centrally planned economy.
“Preserving Hemingway’s legacy brings honor and dignity to North Americans and Cubans alike,” said Ada Rosa Alfonso, head of the Finca Vigia museum.
The goods unpacked Wednesday will be used to complete the first stage of the conservation facility that should be finished in the spring of 2017, said Mary-Jo Adams, director of the Boston-based Finca Vigia Foundation, which raised nearly $900,000 for the project.
When he died in 1961, Hemingway left approximately 5,000 photos, 10,000 letters and hundreds, perhaps thousands of margin notes in the roughly 9,000 books at the Finca Vigia. Most are stored in the decaying, termite-infested basement of a guest house on the estate, but will be moved to the new facility as soon as possible, Adams said.
“This is where he kept the objects that he loved, and where they reside,” she said.
Alfonso said the Finca Vigia could become a model for other historic preservation projects in Cuba, which has struggled to find the resources to protect centuries of globally renowned architecture and art.
She said it was thrilling to see the containers unpacked after years of trying to preserve Hemingway’s home without state-of-the-art supplies or equipment.
“I really feel the fact of having the best materials, the tools, really having the best conditions to continue preserving the collection,” she said. “Material and tools coming from the United States isn’t something you see every day.”
HAVANA, May 11th It’s been more than a decade in the making, but the first construction materials are finally on the way for a small but significant project with Michigan and Detroit connections outside Havana,on Ernest Hemingway’s Finca Vigia.
The Lansing-based The Christman Co.‘s involvement in coordinating the project to build a 2,500-square-foot building on Hemingway’s former Finca Vigía property to house the celebrated author’s artifacts in a climate-controlled environment, which would spare them from the harsh Caribbean elements.
The first materials to be sent are “the meat and bones of the building before we dress it up with the skin,” said Ron Staley, the senior vice president of Christman who has made several trips to the island nation in the last roughly four years as he was working on the project.
That includes things like lumber, nails, electrical and plumbing supplies, wire, nails, saws and saw blades, door and window studs, ladders, toolboxes, safety equipment and other hardware.
The project is important because Hemingway had some of his most prized possessions on Finca Vigía (“lookout farm” in Spanish): thousands of books, rough drafts of his own work, letters, photographs, the heads of exotic game and others.
The problem, however, is that in Cuba’s brutally hot and humid Caribbean climate, and without a climate-controlled place to store them, they were in jeopardy of being irrevocably damaged and lost forever.
Mary-Jo Adams, executive director of the Boston-based nonprofit Finca Vigía Foundation, described it last summer:
“These are irreplaceable documents, some of them coming from the 1910s and 1920s that Hemingway brought with him to Cuba because he thought they were important,” she said. “But the inks were faded. They were being stored in the basement of the guest house, which was filled with termites. I think it was in danger of imminent collapse and that would have crushed the collection.”
The project is also an important milestone because it is the first time American building materials have been sent to Cuba, with which the U.S. severed relations in 1961, two years after Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959. The Obama administration recently announced the decision to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba and relax the trade embargo. In January 2015, it authorized that building materials for certain types of projects could be shipped to the island.
“In addition to coordinating the logistics of a construction project within both U.S. and Cuban customs and other regulations — which obviously hasn’t been done in a while — lots of other things are also relative ‘unknowns,’ and that extends to the local construction labor market, which we anticipate needing to guide to our specifications, including safety regulations.”
Actually, the Mojito wasn’t Hemingway’s beverage of choice.
HAVANA, Dec. 9th The greater the person, the more mythology surrounds him/her. Many grew up hearing tales of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree, that emperor Nero played a mean fiddle while Rome burned, or that Newton needed to have an apple bonk him on the conk to figure out gravity.
So, too, is it with the prototype of The Most Interesting Man in the World, Ernest Hemingway. In my book, To Have and Have Another—A Hemingway Cocktail Companion, I set out to debunk common myths associated with him.
According to myth, Ernest Hemingway’s favorite drink was the Mojito, which he drank often at one of his favorite bars, La Bodeguita del Medio, in Havana, Cuba. Yet, aside from a handwritten quote on the wall at La Bodeguita, there exists no evidence that Hemingway ever drank Mojitos, or that he ever set foot in the joint.
As for that inscription, it looks a lot like Hemingway’s handwriting, and it plainly says “My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita.” So this is proof, right?
“… This was merely a private joke among friends. But the little joke grew into a big lie.
Wrong. It’s a forgery. Indeed, back in the late 1950s, the owners of the bodega, a Mr. and Mrs. Martinez, were brainstorming with a Cuban journalist (and Hemingway friend), Fernando Campoamor, about how to gin up more business. Per Campoamor, “We were trying to figure out how to help his business, and someone said, ‘Mi mojito en La Bodeguita, mi daiquiri en El Floridita.’
It was a funny joke, nothing more … Well, I had these things at home in Papa’s handwriting, so they hired a graphic artist to imitate it. I protested this even though I enjoyed the humor at the beginning. This was merely a private joke among friends. But the little joke grew into a big lie.”
To say that it worked would be the understatement of the year—thousands flock to La Bodeguita each year to get their “Hemingway Mojito.” Hell, even Pope Francis and Chinese President Xi Jinping have made that phony pilgrimage in recent years.
As further evidence, you never see either La Bodeguita or the Mojito mentioned in any of Hemingway’s prose, letters, or in his various biographies. The premise behind ‘To Have and Have Another’ is that Hemingway tended to write about what, and where he drank. Harry’s Bar in Venice? You’ll find it his novel Across the River and into the Trees.
The Daiquiri and the Floridita are in countless letters, as well as in his novel Islands in the Stream. The Gin & Tonic at Museo Chicote in Madrid? See “The Denunciation,” one of his short stories from the Spanish Civil War.
Add all ingredients to cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Strain into a glass filled with ice. Add sparkling water to shaker. Swirl and pour into drink. Garnish with a mint sprig.
Indeed, if he drank it, he generally wrote about it, somewhere. Not so with the Mojito. In fact, I’ve not yet encountered a single reference to either the drink, or the Bodeguita, in all of my research, which spans about 20 years.
Let me qualify that I did find one. Indeed, jai alai player Jose Andres Garate, a close friend during the ‘40s and ‘50s, said that he “drank with Papa at the Floridita many times and ate oysters with him at Ambos Mundos Hotel in Havana.” When asked about the Mojito story, he replied, “I’ve never heard of La Bodequita (sic) del Medio.”
But Hemingway did enjoy a drink like the Mojito while out on his beloved boat, Pilar. Gregorio’s Rx was created by his skipper, Gregorio Fuentes, which he made for Hemingway when he was under the weather. Many believe that Fuentes and another Hemingway skipper, Carlos Gutierrez, both served as the basis for the character of the old fisherman Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea.
His house in Finca Vigia, Havana, hosts today foreign and domestic visitors participating in tours scheduled at the festival to visit places with heritage value in this capital city.
According to director of the house museum Ada Rosa Alfonso, Hemingway sought always to find good places for his writing, such as France, Spain, Key West, among others.
“But it was in Cuba where he lived and worked more than anywhere else”, she said.
Many sites of the coastal community of Cojimar and the streets, buildings and people of Havana fed the imagination of the author of For Whom the Bell Tolls and even were the stage of his works.
Hemingway, Nobel Prize for Literature winner in 1954, wrote in Cuba “Across the River and Into the Trees”, “A Moveable Feast”, “Gulf Islands” and “The Old Man and the Sea”.
Finca Vigia, built in 1887 by Catalan architect Miguel Pascual y Baguer, still has the aura of the legendary novelist: his favorite chair, his large library, the dining room resembling a Spanish tavern and his dearest yacht Pilar.
The house is surrounded by lush tropical vegetation predominant in several hectares of the San Francisco de Paula community, some 15 kilometers from downtown Havana.
Various tours on different subjects across museums in Havana are included in the program of the Habanarte festival, organized by cultural institutions and tourist agency Paradiso.
On July 21, 1962, the house was declared a museum and according to historical records, it is the first institution in the world created to promote Hemingway’s work and life.
Until September 13th, with the slogan “All art at once”, Habanarte seeks to provide foreign tourists with the chance to know all local cultural expressions, although the choice is offered the same to Cuban public, said vice minister of Culture Fernando Rojas.
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