The Ghost of Hem­ing­way

Re­trac­ing the writer’s life in Cuba.

Esquire (Philippines) - - THIS WAY IN - BY Stephen MARCHE ART BY War­ren ESPEJO

OF ALL THE DEAD WHITE MALE WRIT­ERS, Ernest Hem­ing­way is the dead­est and the whitest and the malest, van­quished as an icon and rel­e­gated to the los­ing side of so many his­to­ries. He is an em­bar­rass­ing cliché. Even here in his home, La Finca Vigía, he is a mon­strous joke.

The house is low and flat and white, and de­spite the hus­tlers and the un­load­ing tour buses and the small bar crank­ing sug­ar­cane for over­priced pineap­ple drinks sur­round­ing it, the place re­tains most of its dig­nity. The desks, at which he never wrote, look like he could work on them to­day if he sud­denly gave up the habit of a life­time and de­cided to write sit­ting down. The orig­i­nal sofa Clark Gable slept on be­cause the beds were too short is still there, and the pool in which Ava Gard­ner swam naked—“the wa­ter is not to be emp­tied,” Hem­ing­way told the pool boys—sits empty. The rooms are stuffed with mem­o­ries, which hap­pen to be some of the great­est writ­ten mem­o­ries of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury: an enor­mous Cape-buf­falo head redo­lent of The Snows of Kil­i­man­jaro, the bull­fight­ing posters that could serve as cov­ers for The Sun

Also Rises. With the win­dows thrown open, Hem­ing­way’s house is both airy and com­pact, calm and full of life.

Then the U. S. sen­a­tors show up and Al Franken can’t stop crack­ing jokes. He mugs with a gi­gan­tic set of wapiti antlers in the small din­ing room, ek­ing out a laugh from an au­di­ence of aides. Switch­ing from slap­stick to char­ac­ter work, he tries out an im­per­son­ation of a real es­tate agent, whis­per­ing con­spir­a­to­ri­ally to a by­stander that he likes the place but the kitchen needs re­mod­el­ing. At the dog cemetery—yes, Hem­ing­way had a small dog cemetery, right be­side the swim­ming pool—Franken no­tices a grave marked LINDA. “Was that one of the mis­tresses?” he asks the guide, who joins in the mild, po­lite laugh­ter Amer­i­can big shots are en­ti­tled to. Franken senses a comedic win. “Do me a fa­vor,” he presses. “One out of ev­ery ten tours, you should tell them that’s his mis­tress.”

As the sen­a­tors drift back from the dog cemetery, down a shaded stone path back to the main house, I ask Franken what ev­ery­body here is ask­ing him­self: What’s go­ing to hap­pen to Cuba now that the em­bargo is about to lift? The man takes a stab at be­ing a U. S. states­man in a for­eign coun­try. “Well, I think it’s about to change,” he tries pon­der­ously, with pro­fes­sional non­com­mit­ment. Then he can’t stop him­self, look­ing up with that smile bor­rowed from the Joker. “I just wanted to get here be­fore the Chipo­tle.”

HEM­ING­WAY WROTE HIS FIRST PIECE FOR Esquire a thou­sand is­sues ago, and there’s still a copy of the May 1935 is­sue pok­ing out from a mag­a­zine rack in the liv­ing room of La Finca Vigía. Hem­ing­way in Cuba made Esquire and Esquire, be­fore that, made Hem­ing­way in Cuba.

Be­fore the mag­a­zine had a name, Arnold Gin­grich, its found­ing ed­i­tor, trav­eled from Chicago to New York to stalk Hem­ing­way, even­tu­ally bump­ing into him at a rare-book shop he was known to visit. “It is not too much to say that, at the very ear­li­est point, he was our prin­ci­pal as­set,” Gin­grich re­mem­bered in his col­umn af­ter Hem­ing­way killed him­self in Idaho in 1961—far, far from the Ha­vana he loved.

It seems Hem­ing­way wanted a $7,000 boat. He had $3,500 from his sec­ond wife, Pauline, who was re­cov­er­ing from a ter­ri­ble Cae­sarean birth and was de­ter­mined not to get preg­nant, and be­cause she was Catholic and didn’t be­lieve in birth con­trol, they had only coitus in­ter­rup­tus, and she gave him money for the boat be­cause she needed to bind her hus­band to her in some way. Gin­grich man­aged to find most of the rest—to bind Hem­ing­way to Esquire— and to­gether they bought Pi­lar, a mar­lin-fish­ing ves­sel built to Hem­ing­way’s spec­i­fi­ca­tions that sits on a dry dock at his house in Ha­vana now.

The history of the star mag­a­zine writer be­gins with this pur­chase.

Here’s a boat. Go write about the sea.

WAS HEM­ING­WAY AN ASS­HOLE OR A PIECE of shit? The dis­tinc­tion mat­ters. Any­body can be an ass­hole from time to time, but a piece of shit is a piece of shit for­ever. Ex­is­tence or essence?

Even a cur­sory look at Hem­ing­way’s in­ti­mate life, the life he kept from his writ­ing, shows that it’s one or the other, very prob­a­bly the lat­ter. If you were his friend, he was more than likely to be­tray you. If you were his kid, he was go­ing to ig­nore you. If you were his wife, he was go­ing to beat you. His mon­stros­ity was at least half of him. A fish­ing rod and a pen and his prick were much the same de­vice to him: a stick for pok­ing the dark­ness, a weapon with which to en­counter and de­feat the world. Hem­ing­way’s love for na­ture was in de­stroy­ing it. The rhinoceroses hunted in “The Short Happy Life of Fran­cis Ma­comber” are now so near ex­tinc­tion they have armed guards to pro­tect them from the kind of per­son Hem­ing­way was. The thou­sand­pound marlins that Hem­ing­way wres­tled from the Gulf Stream have more or less van­ished; the wa­ters off Cuba have been emp­tied of the beasts he craved killing.

His man­li­ness has also been de­pleted by time. The ma­cho of Hem­ing­way now ap­pears so ob­vi­ously as a front. Gertrude Stein knew it when they met in Paris. “When I first met Hem­ing­way he had a truly sen­si­tive ca­pac­ity for emo­tion,” she wrote, “and that was the stuff of the first sto­ries; but he was shy of him­self and he be­gan to de­velop, as a shield, a big Kansas City-boy bru­tal­ity about it, and so he was ‘tough’ be­cause he was re­ally sen­si­tive and ashamed that he was.” That was the modus operandi of an­other gen­er­a­tion: the grand­fa­ther who came back from the Sec­ond World War and never spoke about it, the un­cles who drank them­selves and their se­crets into obliv­ion. Hem­ing­way kept up the front of the hard man to hide the thorny vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties within him.

Now men have fig­ured out an­other trick: We act weak to hide the hard­ness of our hearts. We dis­play vul­ner­a­bil­ity to pre­empt judg­ment. We have been over­whelmed by sanc­ti­mony; the pub­lic sham­ing of the In­ter­net means that out­rage is the dom­i­nant tone of the dom­i­nant medium of our time. Some­how we have drifted, all of us, into the gen­eral as­sump­tion that the ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse to ev­ery­thing—even co­me­di­ans and R&B songs, never mind nov­els— is to test them against the es­tab­lished pieties of the mo­ment. In this mi­asma of af­fected virtue, cor­rect­ness be­comes para­mount in our per­sonal lives as well. How many men do you know who live oh-so-cor­rectly? Not em­bar­rassed, not say­ing the wrong thing, not say­ing it in the wrong way; vir­tu­ous and use­less. The new sanc­ti­monies of the Left and the Right are much the same; they have the same re­sult, any­way: cer­ti­fied writ­ers who leave no trace be­hind and ap­prov­able men and women who amount to noth­ing. The would-be blame­less ones.

The prob­lem with sanc­ti­mony is not that it’s wrong but that it doesn’t ac­knowl­edge the fun­da­men­tal messi­ness of hu­man na­ture and of life as it’s lived. Breath­ing in Hem­ing­way is like breath­ing in the foul Ha­vana air, half-per­fume, half-diesel. He is raw­ness and boast­ful­ness and bloody-mind­ed­ness and he once shot him­self while he was try­ing to shoot a shark and he never had a kind word to say about the men and women who es­tab­lished his ca­reer and he

slept with vul­ner­a­ble straw­berry-blond girls and he pa­trolled the wa­ters off Ha­vana for Ger­man sub­marines in a fish­ing boat like some boy’s own ad­ven­turer and he took strange young men who showed up at his door on month­s­long fish­ing ex­pe­di­tions and he tipped big with his wives’ money and he de­spised Ful­gen­cio Batista and he shot lions and he wrote books. It’s all there in The Sun Also Rises: Go and watch a man kill a bull and then watch the man who killed the bull fuck a woman. Call it life.

HEM­ING­WAY’S FIRST PIECE FOR ESQUIRE was “Mar­lin off the Morro: A Cuban Let­ter,” a great es­say crack­ling with that elec­tric Hem­ing­way stuff. It ap­peared in Esquire’s first is­sue in fall 1933. “The 468 pounder was hooked in the roof of the mouth, was in no way tan­gled in the leader, jumped eight times com­pletely clear, towed the boat stern first when held tight, sounded four times, but was brought to gaff at the top of the wa­ter, fin and tail out, in six­ty­five min­utes.” Read­ers ate it up. Esquire, at the low­est point of the De­pres­sion, sold half a mil­lion copies a month at 50 cents a copy, mostly on the strength of Hem­ing­way. Dur­ing the ’30s, Hem­ing­way wrote 26 ar­ti­cles for Esquire, along with clas­sic short sto­ries like “The Snows of Kil­i­man­jaro.” He left in 1937 to write for the short-lived left-wing mag­a­zine Ken, also edited by Gin­grich, mostly on the Span­ish Civil War, but even when he was gone Esquire kept print­ing him. In the for­ties, Esquire reprinted the en­tirety of “The Snows of Kil­i­man­jaro,” all of the thing’s nearly ten thou­sand words, but ac­ci­den­tally called F. Scott Fitzger­ald by his real name for the sec­ond time. Hem­ing­way was pissed.

When you think nov­el­ist now, the first word that pops into your head is meek and the sec­ond is wounded—def­i­nitely not pissed. Writ­ers to­day are Brook­lyn and Hem­ing­way was Ha­vana.

From a brand per­spec­tive, Jonathan Franzen is the clos­est thing to a Hem­ing­way-sized writer now liv­ing. When I e-mailed him to ask about his thoughts on Hem­ing­way, he was po­lite but wrote that he didn’t want to talk about him; he just didn’t care enough. I as­sumed Ch­eryl Strayed, a writer who, like Hem­ing­way, reck­oned a wild iden­tity in the strug­gle with na­ture, would hate him. He was, af­ter all, a hunter and a prick, ex­actly the kind of dan­ger­ous man she had to avoid on her jour­neys as chron­i­cled in Wild, but she only vaguely re­mem­bered him from high school English class. She re­called, dis­tantly and fondly, the sad beauty of “In­dian Camp”—like a long-dead great-great-un­cle whose vices as much as his virtues bring out a sen­ti­men­tal but dis­tant at­tach­ment. He didn’t mat­ter enough to hate him.

Of all the great mod­ernist writ­ers, Hem­ing­way is the least ad­mired but the most im­i­tated. Se­ri­ous read­ers wor­ship James Joyce. They wor­ship Kafka. They wor­ship Borges. But no­body tries to write like them, not in Amer­ica, any­way. And yet ev­ery sec­tion of the book­store shows Hem­ing­way’s in­flu­ence. “When you find a good line, cut it” was Hem­ing­way’s ad­vice to the writ­ers of the fu­ture. In his lack of metaphors, em­pha­sis on curt de­scrip­tion, strong ac­tive verbs, and masses of dia­logue, he has had more in­flu­ence on some­one like

El­more Leonard than on even Ray­mond Chan­dler or Jim Thomp­son. Two of the great­est film noirs of all time—The Killers and To Have and Have Not— are Hem­ing­way sto­ries.

He has been equally in­flu­en­tial on the high­lit crowd. He in­vented youth­ful Amer­i­cans suf­fer­ing anomie and wan­der­ing in­ter­est­ing ci­ties with­out ex­pla­na­tion, a pat­tern fol­lowed at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals ever since, the lat­est ex­am­ples be­ing Tao Lin’s Tai Pei and Teju Cole’s Open City.

The self-writ­ing of Karl Ove Knaus­gaard, Ben Lerner, and the rest—the lit­er­ary trend of our hour—draws a pe­cu­liar kind of strength from in­vert­ing Hem­ing­way’s project. Their trick is that they tell you about the ba­nal­ity of their lives and do so in such a bor­ing way that it must be true.

Just to enu­mer­ate those un­der Hem­ing­way’s in­flu­ence—Ray­mond Carver or James Salter or Cor­mac McCarthy, say—kind of misses the point. It’s not like writ­ers are read­ing his books and ad­mir­ing the sen­tences and im­i­tat­ing them or im­i­tat­ing his im­i­ta­tors. Be­cause they no longer have to. The man is gone—a vi­o­lent white male chau­vin­ist, bet­ter left in the rear view of history. But his style lives on. In high schools across the coun­try, clear, con­cise writ­ing is sim­ply taught as good writ­ing. Hem­ing­way—if not his name, then his style—be­came the rule.

If any­thing, it’s the Hem­ing­way propo­si­tion— that a writer should live a life worth be­ing writ­ten about—that to­day’s nov­el­ists still wres­tle with. He was there at the ori­gin of our par­tic­u­lar cri­sis of au­then­tic­ity: the realest man alive and then, soon af­ter, the fak­est, writ­ing his life but only a tiny frac­tion of it, the tiny frac­tion that he wanted the world to see. Paul Hendrickson’s

Hem­ing­way’s Boat in­cludes a let­ter Gre­gory Hem­ing­way wrote to his fa­ther: “When it’s all added up, papa, it will be: he wrote a few good sto­ries, had a novel and fresh ap­proach to re­al­ity and he de­stroyed five per­sons—Hadley, Pauline, Marty, Pa­trick, and pos­si­bly my­self. Which do you think is the most im­por­tant, your self-cen­tered shit, the sto­ries or the peo­ple?” Sixty-five years later, Gre­gory’s ques­tion can have only one an­swer: The sto­ries mat­tered much more than the peo­ple. The peo­ple, ex­cept for Pa­trick, are all dead. The sto­ries aren’t.

Like his clean, pared-down style, his sto­ries live. They haunt. Last sum­mer, I saw my son sit­ting on a dock, his feet drag­ging in the wa­ter in the light of lazy con­tem­pla­tion, and I thought of that line from “In­dian Camp”: “In the early morn­ing on the lake sit­ting in the stern of the boat with his fa­ther row­ing, he felt quite sure that he would never die.” I heard that my grand­fa­ther had fi­nally moved into a veter­ans home and I thought of that line from “The Killers,” spo­ken by a boxer about to be killed: “I’m through with all that run­ning around.” A friend’s baby died from SIDS and I thought of that line from The Old Man and the Sea: “A man can be de­stroyed but not de­feated,” and I won­dered if it was true. Lit­er­a­ture sur­vives for the crude rea­son that, in the crises of our lives, it is use­ful. Hem­ing­way re­mains use­ful.

HEM­ING­WAY IS A VERY USE­FUL GUIDE in­deed, for bars and ho­tels and fish­ing in Ha­vana. The Hem­ing­way ex­pe­ri­ence is not so much a mov­able feast here as a desul­tory amuse­ment park. In the Am­bos Mun­dos ho­tel, you pay two dol­lars to visit the room, un­touched since his de­par­ture, where Hem­ing­way wrote

Breath­ing in Hem­ing­way is like breath­ing in the foul Ha­vana air, half-per­fume, half-diesel.

A Farewell to Arms and Green Hills of Africa on a stand­ing desk scav­enged out of a stout piece of square wood, with a pair of ro­tat­ing screws un­der­neath for rais­ing and low­er­ing the height. In the open­ing of “A Cuban Let­ter,” Hem­ing­way de­scribed the view: “The rooms on the north­east cor­ner of the Am­bos Mun­dos ho­tel in Ha­vana look out, to the north, over the old cathe­dral, the en­trance to the har­bor, and the sea, and to the east to Casablanca penin­sula, the roofs of all houses in be­tween and the width of the har­bor.” It is ex­actly the same to­day. A photograph of Hem­ing­way and Fidel looms over the bed.

They make mo­ji­tos at La Bode­guita del Medio the way they make burgers at a church pic­nic—with­out fuss, to be knocked back with­out think­ing about it too much. Here, the first wave of Amer­i­can tourists has al­ready landed. Not just the ad­ven­tur­ous ones who used to come through Canada or Panama and made sure their passports weren’t stamped. I’m talk­ing lit­tle blond girls from Cal­i­for­nia who look at the hand­made beaded-han­dle purses on the street and dis­cuss plans for mass­man­u­fac­tur­ing im­i­ta­tions in China—not re­ally for the cost sav­ings but “for the con­sis­tency of the prod­uct.” “You know what these peo­ple need to learn is to bring the drinks faster,” a light­ing de­signer from Mil­wau­kee drunk­enly slurs in my ear. “That’s where the money is.” A north­ern Cal­i­for­nian, sport­ing a guer­rilla hat with the red star on it and a shirt with Obama’s face trans­posed onto the im­age of Che, ex­plains his choice of men’s wear: “You need to leave the house with a nar­ra­tive.” He was hav­ing “a Com­mie weekend.” You can buy an apart­ment in Ha­vana, they say breath­lessly, for ten grand. What’s that go­ing to be worth in 15 years?

At El Floridita, the self-pro­claimed “Cra­dle of the Daiquiri,” a life-sized bronze sculp­ture of the man watches an end­less pro­ces­sion of tacky, ex­cel­lent bands play Cuban mu­sic that tour groups might rec­og­nize as Cuban, and the drinks are the out­ra­geous price of six dol­lars a pop. Which means that two drinks and a tip comes to the monthly salary of a typ­i­cal Cuban worker. El Floridita may be tacky and touristy, but it is a hell of a fun bar. Smok­ing a cigar in the af­ter­noon as you sit in a cool, dark place slowly drink­ing syrupy cock­tails through a lit­tle pink straw is its own shadow of par­adise. El Floridita is the kind of bar where you find your­self buying rounds for strangers and then they’re buying rounds for you, and even­tu­ally you’re tak­ing pho­to­graphs with a bunch of fish­er­men as they storm the small stage to dance with slim-hipped women in fuchsia dresses with plas­tered-on smiles, and then you re­al­ize it’s only three in the af­ter­noon. Hem­ing­way is al­ways there, smil­ing benev­o­lently from the cor­ner. Ev­ery­one wants a pic­ture with him. Ev­ery­one wants to throw an arm around him. He dig­ni­fies the pro­ceed­ings—the sin­ful pa­tron saint of al­co­hol and fish­ing sto­ries.

Here’s the thing: When you are in Ha­vana, you are not see­ing cars like the cars Hem­ing­way saw. You are lit­er­ally see­ing the same ex­act cars. Hem­ing­way suits this out-of-time­ness—his relics are sa­cred in the most di­rect way. Hem­ing­way left his No­bel prize medal in the sanc­tu­ary of El Co­bre, the Cuban equiv­a­lent of Lour­des, out­side San­ti­ago de Cuba, on the south­east­ern coast. It, too, is a crum­bling city with dark cor­ners and sev­eral dif­fer­ent pasts. The Hem­ing­way busi­ness sells his essence of life, but that essence is not so dif­fer­ent from Cuba it­self—raw and un­hinged and trapped in sev­eral dif­fer­ent his­to­ries, and hand­made and gor­geous and fleshly and oc­ca­sion­ally cruel.

He called him­self a “Cuban sato”—a Cuban mutt—in an in­ter­view with Cuban tele­vi­sion af­ter he won the No­bel, telling them that The Old

Man and the Sea was “based on Co­ji­mar, more or less my town.”

The Amer­i­can Hem­ing­way failed. The Amer­i­can Hem­ing­way killed him­self in Idaho. He got tan­gled in the wires of his self-mythol­ogy and fin­ished with the line “The world is a fine place and worth the fight­ing for and I hate very much to leave it.” The Cuban Hem­ing­way never failed. He didn’t need to de­fend the world. The Cuban Hem­ing­way some­how is more alive now that he’s dead. He has just left Ha­vana and will prob­a­bly come back any mo­ment. You can still imag­ine him bring­ing old friends and some dancer he just picked up to the bar for a long af­ter­noon binge. You can pic­ture him writ­ing in the morn­ings and then strolling off to the nearby woods for a bit of shoot­ing. You can imag­ine him set­ting off for a day of wrestling with the sea. The ghost of Hem­ing­way in Ha­vana is a benev­o­lent spirit. He watches over fish­er­men. He brings tourists into bars to pay

for ex­pen­sive drinks.

GOOD OLD ARNOLD GIN­GRICH, A BLITHE, life-lov­ing spirit and an ex­cel­lent writer on fish­ing him­self, built the Hem­ing­way in­dus­try and fell vic­tim to it. In an ed­i­tor’s note he came to re­gret, Gin­grich com­pared his star writer to Cézanne for chang­ing the “way of see­ing” in Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture. Later, he mar­ried one of Hem­ing­way’s mis­tresses, a volatile straw­berry blond, the lovely and glam­orous Jane Ma­son, whom Hem­ing­way re­duced to the wealthy bitch wife in “The Short Happy Life of Fran­cis Ma­comber” (in­tended for Esquire but pub­lished by Cos­mopoli­tan in 1936). To

Have and Have Not con­tained a nasty por­trait of Ma­son too, and while Hem­ing­way and Gin­grich were out fish­ing, the ed­i­tor brought up the slan­der against his fu­ture wife. Hem­ing­way thought she should be flat­tered to be men­tioned at all. Gin­grich re­mem­bered the scene in Esquire and later in his mem­oir:

“It’s a lit­tle like hav­ing Cézanne in­clude your fea­tures in a vil­lage scene,” [Hem­ing­way] pointed out mod­estly.

I thought he was kid­ding, so I asked, “you aren’t mix­ing your métiers, by any chance?”

“Not re­ally,” he went on evenly. “Af­ter all, what I can’t get through your Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch skull is that you’re not deal­ing with some penny-a-liner from the sports depart­ment of the Chicago Daily News. You’re ask­ing for changes in the copy of a man who has been likened to Cézanne, for bring­ing a ‘new way of see­ing’ into Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture.”

I al­most fell out of the boat. This out­sized ham was quot­ing me to my face, and with­out giving me any credit.

The Cuban Hem­ing­way never failed. He didn’t need to de­fend the world. The Cuban Hem­ing­way some­how is more alive now that he’s dead.

IN 1963, GAY TALESE WROTE ABOUT the first wave of his dis­ci­ples in “Look­ing for Hem­ing­way.” For a par­tic­u­lar breed of spoiled Ivy League dilet­tante, Hem­ing­way was a ci­pher for Ro­man­tic-pe­riod lit­er­ary es­cape from East Coast pro­pri­eties. The great­est net­worker of them all, Ge­orge Plimp­ton, led these dis­ci­ples. “One lonely night, be­fore re­turn­ing home, Ge­orge took a walk through Mont­par­nasse down the same streets and past the same cafés that Jake Barnes took af­ter leav­ing Lady Brett in The Sun Also Rises,” Talese wrote. “Ge­orge wanted to see what Hem­ing­way had seen, to feel what Hem­ing­way had felt. Then, the walk over, Ge­orge went into the near­est bar and or­dered a drink.”

James Bald­win knew all the wannabe Hem­ing­ways and saw through them all. “‘They also used to go to Mont­par­nasse, where all the painters and writ­ers went, and where I hardly went. And they used to go there and hang around at the cafés for hours and hours look­ing for Hem­ing­way,’ “he told Talese. “‘They didn’t seem to re­al­ize that Hem­ing­way was long gone.’ “

By 1967, Esquire was al­ready re­port­ing on the par­ri­cides of Papa—crit­ics and scholars and other nov­el­ists who were start­ing to dis­miss the work be­cause they so ev­i­dently needed to dis­miss the man. Esquire joined in with the oth­ers as his aura de­clined. In 1981, James Wol­cott de­clared the re­lease of Hem­ing­way’s Se­lected Let­ters, at 948 pages, as “the last big bang of the Hem­ing­way in­dus­try, the last log to be kin­dled in his honor.” Mal­colm Cow­ley de­fended him. So did James Salter. But it’s all a piece of the fun­da­men­tal sad­ness that in Amer­ica, ev­ery­thing that grows too big must be taken apart and sold for pieces. To­day, you can buy Hem­ing­way glasses and watches. You can buy Hem­ing­way fur­ni­ture. Hem­ing­way is just an­other god­damn life­style, with an­other god­damn in­dus­try to feed and feed off it. Like any brand, it has a shelf life. What you buy, you even­tu­ally throw away.

Here is what Cuba has said in re­sist­ing the Amer­i­can block­ade over the past 53 years: We can­not be bought. And for bet­ter and mostly for worse, they have not been bought. And nei­ther has their Hem­ing­way. The open­ing of Cuba is not re­ally an open­ing of Cuba. It’s an open­ing of Amer­ica. Cuba isn’t tear­ing down any walls. Amer­ica is. In Cuba’s new open­ness, Amer­ica will find in Ha­vana a glo­ri­ous, fetid hu­man mess, and it will find in Hem­ing­way its ap­pro­pri­ately messy, ap­pro­pri­ately glam­orous ghost. ON ANY GIVEN EVENING, THE MALECÓN, the five-mile prom­e­nade along the Ha­vana sea­wall, is the most in­ter­est­ing street in the world. The hous­ing cri­sis in Ha­vana is so se­vere that some fam­i­lies sleep in shifts, so in the evening, in the re­lief of the cool, the city eases out from its cramped neigh­bor­hoods and moves to the col­lec­tive street. It is a spec­ta­cle of sec­u­lar love. There are young bod­ies draped over each other, and mid­dle-aged bod­ies en­sconced in each other like stacked fold­ing chairs, and old bod­ies tucked be­side each other like worn bricks. There are stone-eyed fa­thers and sons silently shar­ing rum, moth­ers and mid­dle-aged daugh­ters ar­gu­ing over the hang of a blouse, brothers scream­ing at each other about the minu­tiae of base­ball. Po­lit­i­cal cri­tique plays out in jokes. “Cuba has 11 mil­lion peo­ple and six mil­lion po­lice.” “We have three sources of in­for­ma­tion: Fidel, Fidel, and Fidel.” What is se­cret in other ci­ties is forced into the open here: An old white man lugubri­ously makes out with a young black woman; a girl pulls away from the bite of an overea­ger mouth; a fam­ily stops short, all at once, frozen in the shared, un­spo­ken mem­ory of an­other time by the strum­ming of a pass­ing gui­tar. A few in the crowd face the sea, where 90 miles or so into the dark­ness, the United States of Amer­ica lurks.

In Cuba, the mem­ory of Hem­ing­way is the stand-in for the mem­ory of Amer­ica, the loved and de­spised other coun­try, the adored en­emy, the clos­est place that is im­pos­si­bly far away. His house, La Finca Vigía, is the rare case of a cul­tural ar­ti­fact of gen­uine geopo­lit­i­cal im­por­tance. On the Cuban side, gen­er­a­tions of preser­va­tion­ists have strug­gled against the em­bargo. It’s not just the to­tal lack of funds that has made the preser­va­tion so dif­fi­cult; it’s also the fact that most of the nec­es­sary equip­ment is pro­duced in the United States—it was il­le­gal to ex­port Book­keeper-brand paper preser­va­tive to Cuba, for in­stance. Then, in 2001, Jenny Phillips, who is, among other things, the grand­daugh­ter of Hem­ing­way’s ed­i­tor, Max Perkins, vis­ited Cuba and en­listed the aid of Jim McGovern, a con­gress­man from Mas­sachusetts, to help pre­serve this le­gacy. They be­gan work­ing with the Cuban au­thor­i­ties and the State Depart­ment to find ways to bring in Amer­i­can equip­ment and ex­per­tise. In 2002, the Finca Vigía agree­ment was signed. To ev­ery­body’s sur­prise, Fidel him­self showed up at the sign­ing. (Due to the risk of as­sas­si­na­tion, Fidel’s vis­its tend to be sur­prises, with com­man­dos hid­ing out in the trees.)

“I gotta be hon­est with you,” McGovern says to­day, “it was a lit­tle bit sur­real. That I was sit­ting there, sign­ing a doc­u­ment with Fidel Cas­tro. And I was think­ing, I hope I’m not vi­o­lat­ing the Lo­gan Act or some­thing.” Hem­ing­way is syn­ony­mous with the hope of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­tween the U. S. and Cuba. “He’s the one thing we have in com­mon. Ev­ery­thing else we fight about. The one thing that peo­ple can­not dis­agree about is Hem­ing­way.”

The em­bargo is still af­fect­ing the work of the house. Hem­ing­way’s old Chrysler needs pieces they can’t yet bring in legally. There’s a space for the Ken­more stove that he used in the kitchen. I as­sume some tourist who works at Chrysler and an­other who works at Ken­more will show up soon and just send them the parts. But they can’t yet. I asked the di­rec­tor of the mu­seum, Ada Rosa Al­fonso, a woman with an aunt­like sense of per­sonal pride in the place, how many tourists she was ex­pect­ing when the em­bargo lifted. They have 80,000 vis­i­tors now, she ex­plained, light­ing a com­pla­cent cig­a­rette, and they were ex­pect­ing 20,000 more. Surely she meant 200,000 more? No, she meant 20,000. To my dis­credit, I laughed. Ada Rosa didn’t laugh. She shrugged.

“You can­not fit Amer­ica into Cuba,” she said. We will see.

NO ONE IS HAV­ING A BET­TER AF­TER­LIFE than Ernest Hem­ing­way. No one is en­joy­ing eter­nity more. Late into the night at El Floridita, drunk Que­be­cers plant kisses on his bronze cheeks. A Shen­zhen busi­ness­man places a lit cigar to his lips for a laugh. In a qui­eter mo­ment, in be­tween sets, a mid­dle-aged man with sloppy drunken eyes slides over to the statue. This man, I can tell, is an Amer­i­can be­cause he re­gards Hem­ing­way as his equal. He ap­pears to be hav­ing some kind of con­ver­sa­tion with the dead man, telling him his se­crets, de­scrib­ing his di­vorce.

“I like to lis­ten,” Hem­ing­way once said. “I have learned a great deal from lis­ten­ing care­fully. Most peo­ple never lis­ten.”

He re­mains as om­nipresent as ever—the Papa we hate but al­ways come back to. In a dark tourist bar, on a tum­ble­down cor­ner of one of the most iso­lated ci­ties in the world, with ev­ery­thing about to change and ev­ery­thing about to stay the same, Papa lis­tens, wait­ing for the rest of his coun­try­men.

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