50 years after death, Hemingway lives on in Cuba

HAVANA - A daiquiri at the Floridita, a mojito at the Bodeguita del Medio and an afternoon at Finca Vigia is the obligatory ritual for enthusiasts arriving in Cuba to honor the 50th anniversary of American writer Ernest Hemingway's death.

In Cuba, devotees can walk in the footsteps of the Nobel Prize-winning author at destinations dedicated to Hemingway's life on the island.

In Old Havana, the Hotel Ambos Mundos offers a tour of the room where Hemingway spent the first months of his 21 years in Cuba, between 1939 and 1960.

In the center of the small room, a typewriter sits as a throne while a sheet of white paper rests in the carriage. The writer's glasses and a drawing pencil wait on the table and a fisherman's vest and bullfighters jacket hang in the dresser. Books and magazines rest on the bed.

"In America, Hemingway is known through his books, through libraries and museums, but in Cuba there is an oral tradition about his life. He belongs to the Cuban scene. To understand him, you have to come to Havana," said Jenny Phillips, the granddaughter of Hemingway's editor.

For this young woman, giving a conference at the Hotel Ambos Mundos for the 50th anniversary of Hemingway's death, the suicide of the writer on July 2, 1961 at his home in Ketchum, Idaho left no doubt he was preoccupied with death and, in a way, fated to commit suicide after he fell ill.

"I'm from the town where Hemingway was born (Oak Park, near Chicago). It's very emotional to be here, in Havana, where he spent so many of these important years in his life," Nancy Sindecar, an expert on Hemingway, told AFP after the inevitable mojito at the Bodeguita del Medio.

In this small bar near the cathedral of Havana, Reinaldo Lima, also known as "Rey" (king), pours all his 26 years of experience into Cuba's classic cocktail: lime, mint, sugar, sparkling water and, of course, rum. "The best in all of Cuba," said Rey, placing down the drink without skipping a beat.

"Hemingway spent every day with a mojito. It's a symbol of friendship between our two people," added the bartender.

To the side of the bar is a painting that depicts the author clinking glasses with Cuban poet Nicolas Guillen, in front of flags from the United States and Cuba, who broke diplomatic ties in 1961.

A little further into Old Havana, the Floridita honors the writer with a statue of Hemingway leaning on the bar where a daiquiri special is dedicated to him: no sugar, but double the rum.

"My daiquiri at the Floridita, my mojito at the Bodeguita," wrote Hemingway who lived some 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the bars in his home, Finca Vigia, a colonial structure in the tropical jungle west of Havana.

Offered to Cuba by his widow Mary Welsh, today the home is a small Hemingway museum where furniture, books, hunting trophies, clothing and his fishing boat, El Pilar, are all available for viewing.

Not far from Finca, the Barlovento Marina served as a frequent point of departure for the novelist's many fishing expeditions. It was here, in May of 1960, where Hemingway met a young Fidel Castro, who had just come to power in Cuba. Renamed Hemingway Marina, the port is now a base for big game fishing competitions.

Hemingway also lives on at Cojimar, a small fishing port on the other side of Havana where Gregorio Fuentes, Hemingway's inspiration for "The Old Man and the Sea," lived. The novel earned Hemingway a Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and was cited when he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954.

Ill and under pressure from the American authorities, who looked poorly on his stay in Cuba, Hemingway left the island on July 25 1960, less than a year before he blew his brains out with a shotgun - a fact many here still find hard to digest.

"He is not dead," insisted Ada Rosa Alfonso, the director of Finca. "In Cuba, he is always alive. Hemingway is immortal."