The Hemingway blues

The living room at Finca La Vigia where Hemingway lived for 20 years. Photo by David Lansing.

Finca La Vigía, the villa in the hills above Havana bought by Ernest Hemingway in 1939, is not looking good. Five years ago, when we first visited, you could still visit the guest bungalow, next to the main house, where his sons used to stay during their summer vacations. Now, it is closed up and the old garage has been converted into ramshackle administrative space. The roof is in bad repair and the whole building lists as if it were slouching down the hill. Not good. The main house also looks worse than it did two years ago, despite the fact that we were told back then that Cuba was embarking on some major renovation projects that would return the villa to the way it looked when Hem and his fourth wife, Mary, hosted the likes of Ava Gardner, Gary Cooper, and Errol Flynn. Instead we arrived to find rooms that were closed (damaged from sun, wind, and rain they are awaiting “restoration,” we were told) and construction projects that looked halted.

Papa and a young reporter in the living room at Finca La Vigia.

There is also a lot more panhandling going on by the women that guard the rooms and the house. First you pay a few bucks to get in, then $5 for a “photography permit,” and another $5 if you want to video, but that’s just the start of it. If you walk up to the front door and try to take a photo of the living room, you will be told that you can’t reach the camera into the house, but the guard will be happy to take a photo for you—for $5. And it’s the same in every room you look at. They’ll take photos for you in his bedroom and in the little room at the top of the tower building where they’ve set up a desk with an old Remington typewriter on it (despite the fact that Hemingway never wrote in the tower, which was used basically as a storage unit for his guns and fishing equipment).

The swimming pool, where Ava Gardner used to swim nude, is in very bad shape, despite the fact that we were told five years ago that it was going to be renovated, the decks replaced, the old arbor repaired. Soon, the overgrown tropical vegetation will reclaim it.

It’s hard to determine who’s at fault here. Obviously Castro’s government doesn’t have the money to pour into a museum dedicated to an American writer, despite the fact that it’s a good draw for tourism. It seemed a couple of years ago that things were going to loosen up a little more between Cuban demands and American offers of aid to rescue the museum, but now, for whatever reason, that seems unlikely. The Cubans we spoke with blame it on American restrictions; America blames it on the Castro brothers who have tried to use offers of cultural aid to demand other financial supports. Who knows what the truth is. But the fact of the matter is that Finca La Vigía is not looking good these days and it’s unlikely that anything good is going to happen to it anytime soon. Such a pity.

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