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Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Front entrance to Finca Vigia in the San Francisco de Paula neighborhood near Havana, Cuba.
Photo: Michael Shess, Pillar to Post Daily Online Magazine, April 2015
Editor’s note: On a daily basis from June 1 thru June 30, 2015 Pillar to Post Online Magazine is featuring articles, photos and insights resulting from a recent group tour, an adventure we dubbed: the April 23 Brigade’s Tour of Cuba 2015. 


Reportedly, Ernest Hemingway wrote much of “A Farewell to Arms” in his small rented room in the Hotel Ambos Mundos in Old Havana.  Soon after, he purchased Finca Vigia (meaning: farm with a view or lookout) in Havana’s suburb of San Francisco de Paula. He called Finca his winter home from 1940 until the Cuban government took it from his in 1962 family after the author died in 1961.

Built on a hill 15 miles from downtown Havana in 1886 by Spanish architect architect Miguel Pascual y Baguer, Hemingway paid $12,500 in 1940 for the home and surrounding 15 acres.
Writing desk at Finca in a study just off his bedroom.

While at Finca Vigia he penned much of “From Whom the Bells Toll” and “The Old Man and the Sea.” In the early 1940s, during the Second World War, Hemingway's three sons visited him often at the Finca, sometimes staying in a small guest house that was converted from a one story wooden garage, which is now used as the offices for the museum director and staff and for meetings.

When Mary Hemingway (wife #3) moved into the Finca in 1946, she had a writer's workshop atop a tower constructed adjacent to the main home, but Ernesto preferred to work at his desk in a study adjacent to his bedroom, and the workshop was for show like it is today. 

"The Tower" built in 1946.
Photo: Mike Shess
It is interesting that on one wall in the bathroom, Hemingway penciled a daily account of his weight.  Neat handwriting at first then it became almost illegible nearer to his demise.  The last entry had him at 242 pounds, up from 1959’s average of 203 pounds.

At the Hotel Ambos Mundos, Hemingway’s old fifth floor room (511) is a big tourist draw.  It is also convenient to two of Hemingway’s saloons of lore: La Floridida and La Bodeguita del Medio.  No one would be surprised if Hemingway visited all bars in Cuba, including La Terraza in Colimar, a village on the coast near Finca Vigia, where he berthed his yacht Pilar.
The boat is now docked at Finca on what used to be the tennis courts.
During the last years of his life, Hemingway kept track of his weight on the bathroom wall
Poundage ranged from 200 in the late 1950s to 242 in February, 1960
Photo: Michael Shess, Pillar to Post Daily Online Magazine, 2015.
Jean Patchett, the fashion super model of the late 40s, shares a stare with Hemingway at Finca Vigia, 1950.
Photo: Vogue Magazine
Living room at Finca Vigia in 2015 reportedly much the Hemingway's left it in 1960. Fidel claims the property
was deeded to Cuba by the family; his widow Mary said the government stole the land.  Photo: Michael Shess.
Actor/Documentarian Michael Palin visits with a Hotel Ambos Mundos employee in Hemingway's Room 511, where he was living prior to 1940 and where reportedly much of "A Farewell to Arms" was written.
Palin's documentary on Ernest Hemingway appeared on PBS.
Castro and Hemingway met at a deep sea fishing tournament,
where El Presidenter handed out the trophy to the winner. 
Hemingway's yacht, Pilar, sits atop what once the estate's tennis court
Photo: Michael Shess
In happier days, the Pilar at sea.  Hemingway purchased the yacht from Wheeler boat builders, Brooklyn, NY for $7500 in 1934.

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