Havana is crumbling, chaotic, dynamic, energetic, and boisterous–assaulting every sense. The Hemingway research went very well. We visited his home (estate really) a couple of times and I got a sense of the importance of the Finca (farm) to him. I can see why he lived there for almost 20 years. I also got a good feel for Mary’s contribution to his life. She designed most of the furniture in the Finca and looked after organizing things, creating a wonderful environment. She designed and supervised the construction of the tower which stands next to the house from which one has an excellent view of Havana and the sea to the north. This was to be Earnest’s workroom but he missed the clutter of the household and returned to his room in the main house.
In Havana itself we visited his haunts: including most significantly the Floridita bar. It is amazing what a draw Ernesto continues to be. The place is busy at all hours. There is a bronze, life-size statue of Hemingway leaning against the bar. Tourists line up to have their photo taken next to the bronzed Papa. A Mariachi band plays lively music in the background. The waiters can hardly keep up with the demand for Papa doblés, the daiquiri which Hemingway invented. The walls are covered with photos of Hemingway with his movie star friends, including Gary Cooper and Ava Gardner.
I got a personal sense of his celebrity when a group of women decided that I bear a resemblance to Hemingway himself (at least I did as my beard was very full then). The women all wanted to have a photograph taken with me standing next to the bronzed Hemingway. They asked Kate to stand aside. One man in the crowded bar yelled “take off your glasses” which I did. Someone else yelled: “it’s Hemingway’s grandson”. Then there was a never-ending stream of people who wanted to be photographed with me. And then this thing took off and everywhere I went in Havana people were calling me Papa. Ordinary Cubans in the crowded street would suddenly yell out “Hey Papa”. It was quite crazy and I got a sense of what it must’ve been like to be him.
One of the ladies who served us breakfast each day was a young girl when Hemingway lived downtown and she saw him many times. She began calling me Hemingway too. One morning I was helping some French visitors plan their day over breakfast. The signora said to Kate “oh Hemingway speaks French”.
When I finish the book I will take some copies to Havana and set up a little table next to the Floridita. I will grow my beard long and hope ladies ask me for drinks.