Time Travel in Cuba

Ernest Hem­ing­way’s niece vis­its the au­thor’s fa­vorite is­land

RSWLiving - - Departments - BY HI­LARY HEM­ING­WAY

There are but a few places in the world that seem trapped in a time bub­ble. Ha­vana, Cuba, is one such place. The city sky­line looks much as it did in the 1950s when my un­cle Ernest Hem­ing­way was writ­ing his novella, The Old Man and the Sea. What at­tracted my un­cle to live and write in Cuba was far more than just the fine weather, great fish­ing and good cof­fee. He loved the col­or­ful char­ac­ters, the di­verse cul­ture and the rich his­tory. And Ha­vana still of­fers this mar­velous mi­lieu.

How­ever for Amer­i­cans to­day, travel to this Caribbean is­land is not as easy as it was back then. To visit Cuba, cit­i­zens must first get a travel li­cense. The best way to do that is to join a tour group that is al­ready li­censed by the U. S. Trea­sury Depart­ment. Be­cause of the eco­nomic em­bargo against Cuba, the U. S. govern­ment has re­stricted travel by Amer­i­cans for the last 50 years.

My first visit to Cuba was in 2001, when I was re­search­ing for my book, Hem­ing­way

in Cuba. I re­turned sev­eral times over the next two years with my hus­band, Jeff Lind­say, and pro­duced a PBS doc­u­men­tary on the same sub­ject. But travel to the is­land be­came highly re­stricted af­ter our mil­i­tary moved ter­ror­ists to our naval base in Guan­tanamo. In Jan­uary of 2011, some of these re­stric­tions were eased. To­day, more than 250 travel agents across the U. S. ful­fill the le­gal re­quire­ments to lead Cuban tours. Most are through uni­ver­si­ties and re­li­gious or non- profit or­ga­ni­za­tions. To join a tour, you must fol­low an itin­er­ary that fo­cuses on vis­it­ing his­tor­i­cal, cul­tural or re­li­gious sites.

A year ago, my hus­band and I re­turned to the is­land with a small group of friends and fam­ily mem­bers. Our tour was led by Scott Sch­war, who’s li­censed by the Trea­sury Depart­ment to con­duct Cuba travel pro­grams. We stayed in the el­e­gant and newly re­stored Ho­tel Sevilla just off the Prado, a pedes­trian boule­vard, in Cen­tral Ha­vana. Af­ter check­ing in we did a walk­ing tour of Old Ha­vana and then a bus tour around the Ha­vana Har­bor to El Morro Cas­tle, where we watched the reen­act­ment of the his­toric sun­set can­non cer­e­mony and en­joyed the breath­tak­ing view and lights of Ha­vana and the Male­con, the har­bor’s fa­mous prom­e­nade.

Our days were spent vis­it­ing with artists, stu­dents and teach­ers. We stopped at a bal­let school and in the evening watched a

staged per­for­mance of fla­menco dancers’ in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Phan­tom of the Opera. The next day we toured Cuba’s Na­tional Mu­seum of Fine Arts, then made a lunch stop at the Jose Fuster Art Stu­dio, which takes up three blocks and cov­ers most of the neighbor’s homes and walls. Us­ing col­or­ful tiles, Fuster cre­ates mo­saics that re­sem­ble Pi­casso- like im­ages de­pict­ing a Dr. Seuss story.

On our last day we vis­ited my Un­cle Ernest’s home in Cuba. His es­tate is lo­cated just out­side of Ha­vana in the hills of San Fran­cisco de Paulo and is called Finca Vi­gia, which lit­er­ally trans­lates as “Look­out Farm.” And from the top of a three- story tower, you can see the Co­ji­mar coast­line and deep blue of the Gulf Stream that flows just off shore. When we last vis­ited

my Un­cle Ernest’s home- turned- mu­seum, the struc­ture was un­der ren­o­va­tion and work­men were fix­ing leaks in the roof. Now the home was solid and strong. Metic­u­lous care had been taken to paint the walls the right color and re­cover fur­ni­ture so it would look ex­actly as Papa ( Hem­ing­way’s nick­name) had left it in July of 1960.

One fel­low trav­eler in our group was Wes Wheeler, the grand­son of the boat­builder who built Pi­lar, Papa’s fish­ing boat. Pi­lar is con­sid­ered by many to be the crown jewel among the ar­ti­facts pre­served at the Finca Vi­gia. We were al­lowed un­prece­dented ac­cess to take mea­sure­ments and pho­tos of her hull and en­gine room, which in­spired Wheeler to de­sign a new Wheeler boat based on Pi­lar. It has hard chine and higher horse power, so she can get out to the fish faster, but still main­tains the el­e­gant lines that Papa found so de­sir­able.

Ev­ery­one in our group left Cuba hav­ing gained in­sight into the past. There are ad­van­tages to step­ping into a time bub­ble with open eyes. For starters you can learn how to hold on to your her­itage.

For a U. S. travel- li­censed tour of Cuba, con­tact Scott Sch­war at: ss­chwar@com­cast.net.

Ha­vana’s capi­tol build­ing is the same de­sign as the U. S. Capi­tol in Wash­ing­ton D. C., only the Cubans built theirs a few feet taller.



A vin­tage photo of Ernest Hem­ing­way driv­ing away from his Finca Vi­gia es­tate

From top: Amer­i­can cars from the 1950s still pop­u­late Ha­vana’s roads, and own­ing one is a sign of wealth in Cuba; Hi­lary Hem­ing­way and boat­builder Wes Wheeler with Papa’s Pi­lar ; the kitchen ( left) and din­ing room ( right) in Hem­ing­way’s house at Finca Vi­gia.

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