Cuba’s crumbling Hemingway shrine

Ernest Hemingway with one of his many cats at Finca Vigía. (JFK PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY, BOSTON)

Ernest Hemingway with one of his many cats. (JFK PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY, BOSTON)

Feb. 11, 2009: Hemingway's ground floor study at Finca Vigía. The guides claim the buffalo head mounted on the wall provided the inspiration for "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," but I rather doubt it.

Feb. 11, 2009: Hemingway's ground floor study at Finca Vigía. The guides claim that the buffalo head mounted on the wall inspired him to write "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," but I rather doubt it.

The Hotel Ambos Mundos in Havana, Feb. 11, 2009. Hemingway's favourite room is located on the fifth floor on the left side of this picture.

The Hotel Ambos Mundos in Havana, Feb. 11, 2009. You can see the windows of Hemingway's favourite room, number 511, on the left side of this picture.

Feb. 11, 2009. My guides told me Hemingway always asked for the room at the Ambos Mundos because of the window that gives you this splendid view of Vieja Habana. That I can believe.

February 11, 2009. My guides told me Hemingway always asked for the same room at the Ambos Mundos because of a window that gives you this splendid view of Vieja Habana. That I can believe.

Feb. 11, 2009: The sanctum sanctorum. This is Hemingway's writing room, located at the top of a tower that Martha Gellhorn persuaded him to build. This is where he wrote The Old Man and the Sea, and most of  For Whom the Bell Tolls, possibly on the old Corona typewriter sitting on his writing table. The museum worker in the foreground, whose name I didn't catch, wouldn't let me inside the room but was happy to let me take this picture.

Feb. 11, 2009: The sanctum sanctorum. This is Hemingway's writing room, located at the top of a tower that Martha Gellhorn persuaded him to build. This is where he wrote The Old Man and the Sea, and most of For Whom the Bell Tolls, possibly on the old Corona typewriter sitting on his writing table. The museum worker in the foreground, whose name I didn't catch, wouldn't let me inside the room but was happy to let me take this picture.

It’s mostly because of the man pictured on the right that you and I and all the rest of us write the English language the way we do. So it’s disheartening to see that Ernest Hemingway’s legacy in Cuba faces a variety of threats: the idiocies of the embargo, the ineptitude of the Castroite regime and the ordinary ravages of time.

But following Barack Obama’s recent modest overtures, the Cuban government has invited U.S. experts to a heritage conference to be held next month at the Hotel Ambos Mundos on Calle Obispo, pictured below.

Hemingway may be out of fashion in North America, but in Cuba the government has transformed him into a secular saint. The regime exploits this association through the use of clever propaganda aimed at the soft-headed faction of the liberal left, but they’re also entitled to a small measure of praise for at least attempting to preserve the priceless artifacts that Hemingway abandoned when he left Cuba in 1960.

Or, at least, those artifacts that haven’t yet migrated to the black market, as is suggested by this cheeky story in The Times by Adrian McKinty: “Any book in Hemingway’s library for $200.” Read it and be amused by lines like this:

In Montreal you must put up with a plane load of salivating, obese, Québecois sex tourists and via Mexico City the Cuban authorities subject you to the indignities of a full body and luggage search to make sure you are not attempting to undermine the Revolution with subversive copies of Mexican Vogue or People en Espanol.

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