Mar 29, 2007
HAVANA—Cuba has dusted off Ernest Hemingway's books, records and stag
heads, cleaned out his pool and weeded his dogs' graves, hoping to
attract more visitors to his cherished hilltop home overlooking Havana.
Yet the restoration of the American writer's retreat and its
contents—including mildewed rum bottles, a pickled bat in a jar and the
typewriter he used to write The Old Man and the Sea —could take the
cash-strapped communist island two more years to complete, officials say.
"It's a process that requires dedication and time. I predict (a finish
date) perhaps at the end of 2009," said Ada Rosa Alfonso, director of
Finca Vigia, the Spanish colonial house-turned-museum where Hemingway
lived from 1939 to 1960.
Hemingway's widow, Mary Welsh, turned the property over to the Cuban
government after the writer committed suicide in 1961, and much of it
remains as Hemingway left it.
Work to renovate the termite-ravaged house and fix the effects of years
of humidity on its contents was begun in 2005, when the U.S. National
Trust for Historic Preservation placed the estate on a list of
The trust has sent restoration experts to Cuba but, slowing up the
project, the decades-old U.S. trade embargo has barred it and other
heritage groups from sending funds or materials. "The U.S. government
doesn't want to," Alfonso said, after announcing a series of
celebrations planned from April to mark the 45th anniversary of Finca
Vigia, now repainted its original cream color, being opened to the public.
"There are many North Americans who are really interested in protecting
and preserving Hemingway's heritage. The government does not permit them
to," she said.
The restoration, including work on "Pilar," the 40-foot fishing boat
Hemingway used to fish marlin and track German submarines, is seen
costing at least $1 million.
A peep through the windows of the airy house, whose name means "Lookout
Farm," conjures up a forgotten world where 1950s writers and film stars
sipped rum cocktails to the sound of scratchy Glenn Miller records.
The Nobel Prize-winning writer entertained a host of glamorous friends
here, including actress Ava Gardner, who famously swam naked in his
cavernous tree-shaded pool. He also befriended locals, creating a bond
that has endured in spite of the bitter divide between Cuba and the
"I used to ride in his car. I spent a lot of time here learning to swim
in this pool," said Antonio Elizondo, 67, who as the young son of
Hemingway's chauffeur met movie stars like Errol Flynn and Spencer Tracy.
"Hemingway was a marvelous person. Very human, very thoughtful, very
simple. We Cubans have a lot of respect for the American people and
especially for him," he said.
Hemingway left for the United States around 1960 and was devastated when
the U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 meant he could not return.
The house, where he also kept 60 cats, is cluttered with books, stuffed
animal trophies and family photos. A radio and record player are back in
working order, and the bathroom wall is marked with scribbles where he
recorded his weight.
On his desk is a rubber stamp he liked to mark letters with before
returning them unopened. It reads: "I never write letters. Ernest