Monday, May 25, 2009

Finca Vigia

We've all seen the pictures of the 1950s American cars on Cuban streets, and even though we aren't allowed to visit the Forbidden Isle we think we have some faint idea of what it's all about. And then some of us find out different if we are lucky enough to cross the Straits of Florida. Kathy drove four hours to Miami earlier this month, then flew an hour to Havana and took a few pictures of her cultural exchange with the Godless communists across the water.She was part of a Key West Botanical Garden trip to Cuba, and on that trip she traveled in a group that included someone intimately associated with Ernest Hemingway in some manner I can no longer recall, and thus it was she got a rare private tour of the writer's home in Cuba. When she showed me her pictures I begged to post them here and eventually she yielded a glimpse into the rare world that was Ernest Hemingway's favorite tropical retreat, Finca Vigia.
In English the house name means "Lookout Farm" and it is pronounced feenka vee-hee-ah, approximately, with the emphasis on the hee. It lies just southeast of Havana, in a suburb apparently known as San Francisco de Paula, close to the main autopista to Cienfuegos and miraculously enough you can look it up in Google maps! The home was built in 1886 by a Catalan architect who seems to have enjoyed creating a light and airy tropical environment very different to the Hemingway House in Key West, which I wrote about here July 17th 2008.
For Key West, Hemingway is a meal ticket and his stay in the city, which ended in 1938 with a divorce and the arrival of the completed Overseas Highway, is touted as one of the city's major claims to fame. Finca Vigia on the other hand has been closed to tourists by the Cuban government though I have read that they do allow some visitors to stand outside and look in these days. Naturally, thanks to the preposterous continuing embargo I am unable to verify that myself...The World Monument's Fund has, according to the Internet placed it among the one hundred most endangered sites, but there again the house has apparently received major maintenance and now appears in good shape, at least from the pictures. The claim is that the house has been left exactly as it was when Hemingway left for the last time in 1960, down to the place settings on the dining room table and the location of the books scattered around the house. I don't suppose there is any way to verify this for sure of course, but by all accounts it is entirely possible that that is the case as the house still looks lived in- in 1950s style! Furthermore his boat Pilar, still showing it's home port of Key West, Fla, is restored and kept in a cradle under a roof on the grounds of the finca, fully fifteen kilometers from the sea...Hemingway bought the home in 1939 after his wife apparently found an ad for it in the paper. He shot himself while in Idaho in 1961 so he used this house a lot longer than the ten years attributed to him in Key West.Furthermore I have to say I have always found it profoundly odd that the Hemingway home in Key West is privately owned. There is something unnatural to me that a building that is claimed so forcefully by the public imagination in the US isn't actually a National Monument, but there it is. Paradoxically in Cuba where everything belongs to the state, more or less,the Hemingway home is perfectly preserved and at the same time largely inaccessible.While the architecture is very different the interior touches, all those dead animal heads are definitely Hemingway's style:I read somewhere that Hemingway had a library of some 9,000 volumes in the house and apparently they are all catalogued by the caretakers. And a few of them by Kathy too:And I have no idea what this member of the party was photographing, if indeed that was what he was doing:This lot look rather studious:I also read that Hemingway had a collection of records, classical and jazz, and that his phonograph still works. That one I don't know, but the records are in the pictures:I wish I could have been there but I gleaned what I could from Kathy's pictures, little details but stuff that one day soon we will all be able to see in person, perhaps:Just one hundred miles south of where I'm sitting, and it might as well be on the dark side of the moon.


Unknown said...

Mr Conchscooter:
Very interesting post today, and thank you to Kathy for letting you post her pictures. I too am intrigued with visiting Cuba, but while we have not made plans to do so, we are not restricted in the same way as you.

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Mr. Conch;

Thank you for posting these pictures of Ernest Hemingways's home in Cuba. I am a devotee of his work. I was in love with Brett in "The Sun Also Rises" for years. "A Farewell To Arms" was one of the saddest love stories I ever read. Yet "Death in the Afternoon," which remains the quintessential English text on bullfighting, is certainly one of his more pointed literary works.

I was sitting in a doctor's office 37 years ago, with an honest to God case of clap, reading "Death In The Afternoon." I got to the paragraph where the author is asking an elderly American woman, who was attending a bullfight for the first time, what part she liked best.

The elderly woman replied that she liked the part where the horses got gored as it was kind of "homey." The line hit me like a punch. I tried hard to keep a straight face, but felt the redness growing in my checks. I never laughed so hard in my life. A woman sitting next to me asked if the book was "humor." That made me laugh all the harder.

One of the pictures in this post shows several volumes of a Mark Twain collection on a bookshelf. I nearly jumped a foot when I saw them. I thought that was set I had, but it isn't. I own the 1911 Collier's Edition. The thought that Hemingay and I oned the same set of Twain books gave me a momentary thrill.

Wouldn't it be nice to ride a motorcycle to Hemingway's house in Cuba?

Thank you for posting this.

Fondst regards,
Twisted Roads

Trader Scott said...

Excellent article about Pilar:

Apparently the house *is* open, or was at the time of the article in 2005. I want so badly for this ridiculous little pissing match, which has done nothing but hurt the Cuban people, most of whom weren't even alive during the Revolution, to end.

Mermaid Snowbunny said...

Michael, Wonderful articles. Hadn't been to the site in awhile. Loved Kathy's pics and the Capt. Outrageous article and photos. And you are a brilliant story teller in your own right. This is all just great stuff. Love ya. Doll

Conchscooter said...

I'm glad it hit the spot. I plan to post some of Kathy's Havana pictures next week. I think the Hemingway house could only be enhanced by a picture of a Bonneville parked in front.

Allen Madding said...

Thanks for sharing Kathy's review and pictures of The Cuba Hemmingwahy House. Of course, I will have to deduct 10 posting points as this was not your original work or photographs.

Good luck with the clap. I hear the burning will eventually cease (according to Richard Nixon and Bill CLinton).


Singing to Jeffrey's Tune said...

Wow, impressive for your friend to see the forbidden fruit from the Godless Communists.

Hemingway has always been a mixed bag for the US. He is considered a great American writer, but it seemed he was more in tune with "Worldly" past times (albeit more Teddy R type - a man's man).

Creative as the man was, it was unfortunate he was not balanced as his creativity might have been enjoyed longer by himself as his writing have long been enjoyed by others.

Interesting how the last 2 posts have been about artists in KW. Does the island have some mystical prowess to bring balance to the extreme creative type? At least while they are there?

Be well,


Unknown said...


Her is a website of a local Key
West musician who was on the same trip to Cuba. Go see her if you get a chance, she is very entertaining and funny.

I hope you enjoy it.


blameitonbuffett said...


Excellent as usual... The photos appealled to my Cuban heritage in much the same fashion booze appealls to my Irish blood. Very much looking forward to the rest of the series...

Apropos of nothing... should be down to the lower latitudes in a couple of weeks and the wife is adamant that we need to bring the 70lb. Yellow Lab along. Does Smathers allow dogs or can you suggest an alternative. I know how much you hate being the tour guide, but I thought I'd ask...

Conchscooter said...

Thanks for the link and I did read Troia's blog !!! but I found no pictures !!! but a series of random impressions with the blogger's promise of more to follow!!! Which would be nice. My blogspot takes an age to upload Kathy's pictures for some technical reason I can't fathom perhaps because her card was formatted for her Nikon camera and I cavalierly stuck it in my Canon to put the pictures in my computer.
As to dog beaches you can take your dog to the end of Vernon Street where there is a tiny handkerchief next to Louie's Backyard (a grossly overpriced restaurant)or you can take your dog to the beach between White Street Pier and the West Martello which is across the street from the official fenced dog park. For the more adventurous I would recommend Boca Chica Beach which is at Mile Marker Ten, turn south at the Circle K/ Shell and stop when the road is barricaded. get out and romp. The submarine pens are now closed and the state parks don't allow dogs on the beaches.

blameitonbuffett said...

Thanks Conch... We know Louie's Backyard well.. I concur with the pricing, but, it's a staple for us when we are down (or at least it was prior to the economy taking it's current dump)... Thanks again for the info, it will be our first trip with a dog so it should prove to be interesting. I'll be keeping an eye out for the Bonneville-- I'll be bringing my camo cod-piece, so I should be relatively easy to spot... Also, I usually bring some patches to the PD when we get down there, so I'll try and save a Marshal's Star for you and leave it with the nice folks behind the window, that is if you're into police patch/paraphernalia collecting (which actually I'm not)... Thanks again.

Anonymous said...


Key West has several homes of famous writers which are privately owned, alas--not only Hemingway, but Tennessee Williams, James Merrill, John Hersey, Elizabeth Bishop for starters. What are we thinking?

Keep writing your excellent blog, btw.


Lenore said...

Hi Conchscooter,
William got me connected with your blog...fantastic...yes I was in Cuba overlapping Kathys' trip...I believe she was at dinner with us on the last night I was there....there is so much to tell about the trip and I do have a handful of pictures up on my site under the photos page, I have so many photos and I am trying to find time to put together a presentation of some sort....I also have video I haven't even had a chance to look at...anyway, I will let you know ASAP...probably the most amazing thing I experienced was the 50th Aniversay of the Revolution May Day Parade...just atounding to witness the "Viva Fidel, Raoul and Socialism" that is still going on...half a million people in the parade!!!
Give me a bit of time to put it all together and I think you will find it all of interest...
You have a great blog!

Anonymous said...

very interesting

don't forget to visit a new key west blog

Jane Dionne said...

Thank you (seven times) for the wonderful pictures and comments.
The Hemingway Society needs to be convinced to RETURN to Cuba for its international conference in this century...soon!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

The conventional wisdomm is that Hemingway and his family fled the island because of Castro. He actually just left on his way to [I can't recall where] and only afterwards decided it was not safe to return. This was probably a good thing for historians as most of his possessions where left intact at the house rather than being scattered to the four winds.
Mary would later help the Villareals flee the island. They were the caretakers of the house and grounds and now live in NJ, USA

The dinnerware was designed especilly for the Hemingways. It's not in the photos but there is what looks like a W with an arrow through it on both sides of the bow of the Pilar. It is not because the boat was built by the Wheeler Boat Yard in NY, but it represents the Three Mountain Press, he press that printed Hem's first book, Three Stories and Ten Poems.

The home in Key West was sold to a private individual, a woman, by Mary who thought it would be a good tourist attraction and has never been made a national site. Most of what they tell you on the tour in not true but was made up by Toby Bruce and his wife to enhance the interest of the place. Would you believe there were no cats there when Hemingway lived there?
7000 volumes. For some reason he donated the approx. 200 volumes of Conrad to Key West when he left. With the number of 1st editions he owned, many simply sent to him by the authors, it must be worth a fortune.

I think that person is photographing an African mask. Hemingway owned several of them. Think Picasso and Madmoiselles.

Hemingway was apparently a good dancer and used to go up to the top of the La Concha Hotel which is still in Key West and dance to the Cuban band that played there. (He supposedly also refereed cock fights at what would become Blue Heaven in Key West)

Re that caricature of Jack Kennedy, Hemingway was asked to say a few words at the innageration but writer's block kept him from even penning a few paragraphs or two.