For your consideration…
Finn-Olaf Jones @ The Wall Street Journal tells the story of a romantic and exotic Cuba that writer Hemingway chose for his creative and personal refuge … the Cuba of “The Old Man and the Sea” … that seems all but fiction over 50 years later as generations of post-Castro Cubans struggle daily for more than a bragging-rights fish, but for food and freedom itself. Hemmingway’s old Cuban dwelling outside Havana also has not escaped the decay of communism’s lack of incentive and general maintenance…
Of all the places Hemingway lived, none had such a hold on the author as his home outside Havana—now being restored through an unlikely alliance. Here, a guided tour of the Cuban haunts that shaped a literary legend.
FIVE MINUTES’ STROLL down the shore from La Terraza is a narrow beach cluttered with driftwood, plastic bottles and other flotsam brought in by the tide, and where the fictional Santiago dragged the sad remains of his once-majestic shark-chewed marlin. Cojimar’s fishermen dock their creaky wooden boats in an inlet just beyond the beach. Three men just back from the sea, stripped to the waist and smoking cigars, are merrily fixing their ancient engine beneath the open deck when I come across them. “Any swordfish?” I ask the skipper. “Lots,” he responds, with the confident laugh sports fishermen always seem to have but which I don’t often notice among professional ones. “We caught six in 24 hours. The Gulf Stream is always easy,” he adds, puffing on his stogie.
Fishing provided the only occasion for Hemingway to meet Fidel Castro. In 1960, Cuba’s new leader entered a fishing contest sponsored by the author. Off a harbor west of Havana, where sailboats from all over the world (including a few illicitly from Florida) now dock at the renamed Marina Hemingway, Castro caught a 54-pound marlin, winning the competition. Afterward, Hemingway himself presented Castro with his trophy. Castro claimed to have kept a copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls in his backpack while engaged in guerilla fighting in the Sierra Maestra mountains. But the conversation didn’t go far.
“I’ve always regretted the fact that I didn’t… talk to him about everything under the sun,” Castro said later. “We only talked about the fish.” As relations between Cuba and the U.S. became increasingly strained, Hemingway was encouraged by American officials to leave lest he be seen as a Castro supporter. “He was very sympathetic to the revolution in Cuba until things got too difficult,” recounts Patrick. “I don’t think he had much respect for Castro. When he left, he knew he would never be returning. And that depressed him greatly.”
… In late 1960, battling writer’s block, alcoholism, deteriorating physical health and his inner demons, he checked himself into Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic, where he got electroshock treatment. During a layover in Casper, Wyoming, he tried to step into a moving propeller. He finally managed to end his suffering less than a year after leaving Cuba by shooting himself in the entry foyer to his strikingly banal ranch-style home in Ketchum, Idaho, a setting unimaginably far from the Finca…
And so Hemingway’s Cuban heritage rolls on, sometimes literally, waiting to be rediscovered by compatriots who are so close, but still an embargo away.
Well, Hemingway didn’t stick around long enough to see what an apartheid mess his pal Fidel would change and transform his beloved Cuba and her victimized people into … the reality and source of which socialist/communist-romanticizing Western elitists simply ignore, or deflect blame from and onto an embargo, but NEVER the failed ideology and corruption of their communist hero.