Hemingway's retreat: good books in Cuba
Another time-warp feature of Cuba is the cars, which include a load of US 1950s cadillacs (they come one layer lower in the Cuban vehicle stratigraphy than the Ladas). We were unable to resist taking one of these (pictured above) to go out to Ernest Hemingway's house just outside the city. Hemingway, who lived, wrote, fished and drank in Cuba for many years, on and off, from the 1930s till just after the revolution. Although he left pretty soon after Castro came to power, his few remarks on the new regime can fairly easily be taken as broadly supportive, and there are one or two pictures of him with Castro (most notably and characteristically at a fishing competition -- the daughter with one on the left).
After Che and Jose Marti, he seems the closest thing to a Cuban national hero. His numerous watering holes in the centre of Havana certainly boast of their famous client (and one, La Floridita, which was near our hotel, even has a nasty bronze <?> sculpture of him propping up the bar). And his books are everywhere in a variety of languages. Books, I should say, are a big deal in Havana. The picture on the right is of a book launch in the open air...getting more than the numbers that usually go to a British book launch.
Anyway, the Hemingway house has been left as it was when it was confiscated (when Hemingway had left for Idaho -- and shortly to shoot himself). You cant actually walk into the house itself, but you can walk round the verandah and look into the rooms.
An odd idea at first
But actually, without the troop of visitors plodding through it, it gives the place more of the feel of the house 'as it was' (though realistically I suppose it must have been considerable reconstructed). He obviously did himself very nicely. There are wonderful grounds, with a big swimming... oh and that on the right is me on Hemingway's verandah, with his no doubt well used drinks trolley (you'll need to click on it to see it properly).
We actually pushed the trip a bit further than the house. We went on to the coast (to a fantastic beach where we were served the strongest mohitos we had even tasted -- rum and mint, basically), and to Cojimar (left), where Hemingway used to fish and was the inspiration for The Old Man and the Sea.
outside (right), but absolutely stunning on the inside, with extraordinary lavish carved woodwork for the main altarpiece, pulpit and side-chapels. Since looking it up at home, I have also discovered that there is a Veronese painting over one of the altars, but I have to say we missed it. (You'll need to click on the images to get the full glory.)
Needless to say, there were no other tourists around (nor for that matter more than a handful even at the Hemingway house -- or on the beach, which was full enough, but definitely with locals). At this stop the beverage of choice was not mohitos, but guarapo -- basically the juice of crushed sugar cane with ice, made on the village square with a magnificant sugar cane crusher, as you can see below.
So that's the end of the Cuba visit. Thanks for all your comments etc. I have to say that I am still just a bit puzzled about what to make of it all, and how to weigh up what are the decidedly nasty side of the Castro regime. I think Paulo hit the nail on the head though in one of his comments... first you destroy their economy and permanently threaten invasion, then you sneer at them for their failure and poverty. And, if I understand him right, Lord Truth made the point about 'freedom' that I was going to make: ie that it isn't unidimensional. Modern western democracy has invested in some kinds of freedom (of speech, to travel), other states prioritize freedom of access to heathcare, education or whatever.
And it has to be said that there are some pretty unpleasant voices on the anti-Castro side. My first post got picked up by this site, which I suggest you have a look at, particularly the comments.
"This Beard woman looks like the airhead version of the witch from Snow White. She sounds even worse, like a vacillating, fence-sitting, can't-make-up-my-mind twit." is typical.... kind of thing that gets freedom of speech a bad name!