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.