This one is for Sean. For saving me from daily self-destruction, among other things.
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Jane: “We’re almost there. He said five minutes.”
Cinder: “Mom, you’ve said you have a hard time understanding their Spanish. Are you sure he didn’t say five miles?”
Jane: “I’m sure.”
I’m not, actually, I’m in utter despair—I’m as exhausted as the children, and I want to collapse in the middle of the sidewalk and cry—and why is there never one of those 24-hour convenience stores that sells rum in juice boxes when you need one—but the kids already want to turn around, and we’ve gone so far… you know we have to get there, right?
Flora: “This is a really long five minutes.”
It is the longest five minutes ever. A three-mile five minutes, actually…
Cinder: “Maybe he thought we were driving, because nobody’s stupid enough to walk there.”
Our destination is the Marina Hemingway, on the outskirts of Havana. Built in 1953 as Marina Barlovento, it was of course nationalized in 1959—and rechristened the Marina Hemingway.
It makes total sense. If I were setting up a Soviet-aligned socialist dictatorship, I would name things after an American author… especially one with a thing for Cuba.
Hemingway, who first visited Cuba in 1928, and then just couldn’t stay away, spent most of 1939 to 1960 living in and creating in Cuba, his base a house in the town of San Francisco de Paula, effectively a Havana exburb. Hemingway called his house Finca Vigia—which translates best, I think, as The Look Out. That’s where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.
The Marina Hemingway is nowhere near Finca Vigia.
Flora: “Why are we going to this marina, again?”
Jane: “Because it’s there.”
Flora: “Is it because it’s named after Ernest Hemingway?”
Flora: “You know you’ve just made us hate him, forever.”
Jane: “I know. Did I tell you that four of his favourite dogs are buried in Cuba too?”
Flora: “Oh. Now that, I’d be interested in seeing…”
Hemingway’s on my mind this trip, yeah, he is. Not so much because of Havana’s Hemingway Cult. I’m not pilgrimaging to its assorted Meccas. I don’t think I’m going to make it to the Hemingway Museum at Finca Vigia, even if Flora convinces her brothers that the graves of the writer’s dogs are worth a pilgrimage—what would I get out of looking at a dead man’s moldering papers that I haven’t gotten from his published words? There’s no way the children will let me visit either of his favourite bars, La Floridita and La Bodeguita del Medio, both in Old Havana… but I’m okay with that. Lame, overpriced tourist traps both—Hemingway’s “stool” in La Floridita is, guidebooks report, roped off “to keep the tourists at bay.” No, thanks–give me cheap rum from the mercadito and cigars from the old men on the street instead, all while I read Papa’s short stories… and his interview in The Paris Review.
Which is fucking brilliant. I mean… Listen:
“Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending to Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.”
In. Your. Face. Yes. Thank you, Papa.
“Interviewer: Could you say something about the process of turning a real-life character into a fictional one?
Hemingway: If I explained how that is sometimes done, it would be a handbook for libel lawyers.”
“Interviewer: How do you name your characters?
Hemingway: The best I can.”
I guess people interview writers about writing… and then write about it… because people like me read about it, want to read about it. Here I am, devouring it, aren’t I? Are you? But so much of what non-writers or would-be writers want to know about the process is so… I don’t know. “What was it that had you stumped?” “Getting the words right.” Yes. Because—what else is there?
But now, here’s something that gives me pause:
“Interviewer: You once wrote in the Transatlantic Review that the only reason for writing journalism was to be well paid. You said, “And when you destroy the valuable things you have by writing about them, you want to get big money for it.” Do you think of writing as a type of self-destruction?
Hemingway: I do not remember ever writing that. But it sounds silly and violent enough for me to have said it to avoid having to bite on the nail and make a sensible statement. I certainly do not think of writing as a type of self-destruction, though journalism, after a point has been reached, can be a daily self-destruction for a serious creative writer.”
Ender: “Are we there yet?”
Jane: “Not yet. But those people said it’s just past the bridge.”
Cinder: “You’re sure they didn’t say it’s past five bridges?”
Jane: “Just drink some water. And walk. Walk!”
Hemingway left his politics fuzzy. His much-quoted farewell comment to Cuba as he departed (fled?) the island in 1960:
“Vamos a ganar. Nosotros los cubanos vamos a ganar. I’m not a Yankee, you know.”
(“We’re going to win. We Cubans are going to win.”)
is open to many interpretations, don’t you think?
This next one… less so:
“The Cubans… double-cross each other. They sell each other out. They got what they deserve. The hell with their revolutions.”
E.H., Islands in the Stream
Anyway. Hemingway on my mind. But this is not a pilgrimage.
The Hemingway Marina, by the way, has no connection at all with Hemingway. He never wrestled marlin here or moored a yacht. He just lends it his name.
Cinder: “Is this it?”
I mean… fucking enormous.
It’s not at all what I expected.
A handful of security guards swarm us, although politely. Can they help us? I smile, shrug. We just want to explore? Is that all right? Of course, of course, enjoy—come ask us if there’s anything you need. One offers himself as a guide, but I manage to wave him off.
We explore. A restaurant in which we can’t afford to eat. A “clubhouse” that looks like something out of a Hollywood movie. And boats, boats, boats. Sailboats. Yachts.
And what is that monstrosity?
Cinder: “I think that one is bigger than our house.”
Flora: “I think that one is bigger than our house, and Babi and Dziadzia’s house, and possibly their neighbour’s house combined.”
It’s a behemoth. Beyond a behemoth. Christ…
This part of the marina is quite well up-kept and reeks of money. And I’m thrust into my recurring Cuban paradox. How was this, ever, justified? I actually understand why Fidel let Havana fall into ruin, why the public places were allowed to deteriorate. The people were fed and educated… during the Special Period, not fed… everything else was icing…
Flora: “So is visiting the Hemingway marina making you a better writer, Mom?”
Jane: “It doesn’t work like that, you know.”
Flora: “Then why did we come here again?”
Ender: “Fish! Fish!”
The marina’s carved into a coral reef, and life perseveres, fights, continues, among the boats of excess.
The further in we go, the less maintained the buildings, the grounds. There’s a derelict playground, a run-down bowling alley.
A ruin of a hotel, at the peninsula’s tip—stunning views, the building thoroughly battered by the sea and its winds, falling apart—although, the scaffolding indicates, under renovations.
The kids taste the spray of the ocean. Search for life on the rocky beach.
Cinder: “Can we go now?”
I ask the security guards about buses. We’re actually at the Marina because I thought it was near Mercado 70—the best stocked supermarket in Havana—but judging by the death march I took the children on, we’re 10 k away, maybe more—and even if the children were willing to walk…
Cinder: “We’re not, we have made that clear, right?”
…I don’t think I am.
While one security guard explains to me how to get to the bus stop and which bus to take—and that then, I’ll have to switch—I know this, that’s fine—another listens, incredulous.
Guard: “Are you crazy? I’ll get you a taxi.”
Jane: “I don’t mind taking the bus. It’s cheap.”
Guard: “I’ll get you a cheap taxi.”
Cinder: “Mom? Taxi. Please.”
I did just make them march almost 10 kilometres in 28 degree heat.
The taxi is a 1957… something or other. I’m not so good with cars. It’s a beautiful shining red on the outside… and virtually naked on the inside.
Jane: “She’s beautiful.”
Cab driver: “Do you want to buy him? I’m not quite sure what’s holding him together anymore.”
(D’ya see what happened to the pronouns there? Translation…)
When Hemingway left Cuba, he left behind a red-and-white 1955 Chrysler New Yorker—willed to his doctor. It disappeared, reports Christopher P. Baker, author of Moon’s Havana, to be found in 2011 in “near derelict” condition. Actor/director David Soul (of Starsky & Hutch fame) is restoring the beast, and Barker and Soul are plotting a movie about the restoration process.
How’s “near derelict” different from derelict, exactly, I wonder? Does “near derelict” mean savable… and “derelict” spells the end?
Cinder: “O-M-G, we’re home, we made it, and you didn’t make us take the bus from the supermarket, I love you, Mom!”
I do know how far I can push them. Also, riding the #179 bus at off-work rush hour with $90CUC worth of groceries including two five-liter water bottles… I’m cheap and crazy, but not that crazy.
This taxi’s a Fiat, and the driver wants $7CUC to drive me to Kohly.
Jane: “Last time it was five.”
I’m totally lying. I’ve never taken a cab from the market to Kohly. It seems to me it ought to be five.
There’s five guys behind him, and they all stand up. If he won’t take me for five, any of them will. (Workers of the world, unite!)
Driver: “Ok, ok.”
I give him six. I’d have given him seven, because he carried my bags, walked Flora across the street, and didn’t mow down any pedestrians while driving us, except that when I was taking the groceries out of the trunk of the cab, the wooden stick holding up the hatch slipped and the hatch hit me on the head while the stick poked me in the ribs.
Driver: “This is very bad service by me.”
Jane: “It might be karma.”
Jane: “Never mind. No harm done.”
After I unpack the groceries and hydrate the children, I take Papa, rum and a cigar to the verandah.
“Interviewer: What would you consider the best intellectual training for a writer?”
Hemingway: Let’s say that he should go out and hang himself because he finds that writing well is impossibly difficult. Then he should be cut down without mercy and forced by his own self to write as well as he can for the rest of his life. At least he will have the story of his hanging to commence with.”
True story: I suddenly want to edit Hemingway. Strike out that “commence.” Replace it with “begin.”
In the morning… actually, you know what? I’m going to let Hemingway tell this part. He did it better, and I don’t want to edit it at all:
“When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there.
You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next
and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again.
You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that.
When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again.
It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.”
For more on Hemingway and Cuba:
The Atlantic: Hemingway in Cuba— 2016 reprint of a 1965 article reflecting on a 1954 interview with Ernest Hemingway
The Smithsonian: Hemingway’s Cuba—August 2007, a look back at the writer’s final years in Cuba by his last personal secretary (and post-humous daughter-in-law)
The Telegraph: Ernest Hemingway House in Cuba to be Preserved with US Money–June 2015 piece that highlights the perverse US-Cuban financial-cultural relationship…
BONUS: Retro 1970s Style Slideshow
The best things in life and on the Internet are free. Feeding and sheltering three children, whether in Cuba or Canada, is not. If you enjoy the Postcards project, please express your delight and support by making a donation via PayPal:
You: “But how much should I give?”
Jane: “I get $1 each time a sell a traditionally published book, so my bar’s set really low, love. Want to buy me a cup of coffee? That’s $4.75 if you’ll spring for a mocha or latte. Bottle of wine? My palate’s unsophisticated: $19.95 will more than cover it.”
If you’d like to make a contribution but have PayPal issues, email me at nothingbythebook@ gmail.com and we’ll work something out.
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I was in Cuba before Obama. And I want to tell you all about it… in pictures… in words… through sound:
So, I introduce the project, and then…
…I shower you with pictures:
Then (drum roll, please) release the first listening postcard:
PfC: blame it on Hemingway (post + photographs + podcast)
It’s not really about Hemingway, but you know, #hemingway is a good hashtag.
Next I show you:
& then I teach you some
PfC: Cuban math (post + photographs + podcast) & I also pick up / get picked up by a 25 year old Cuban boy. Seriously. Check it out, and then check out
PfC: this is also Havana (image)
& find out why I’m going to hell:
PfC: Necropolis (images + riffs)
after which you can watch how the entire country of Cuba is trying to prevent me from buying eggs:
PfC: egg hunt (post + photographs + podcast)
then try to figure out what this photo’s all about:
PfC: the view from here (image)
& then pray for me. Just pray:
PfC: we will survive (post + photographs + podcast)
Thank you. Now come with me to a beach. No, not that kind of the beach. The kind of beach that isn’t kept pristine for tourists:
& now you’ve got to meet Jack Gilbert, and understand what having children (in Cuba, anywhere) really means:
PfC: and she asks, is being childless good for a poet (post + photographs + podcast)
Now, have a look at a haunted house:
PfC: haunted house (image)
& then cringe as I explain to Flora the relationship between poverty and crime:
PfC: but is it safe? (post + photographs + podcast)
Then meditate on this photo
PfC: through bent bars (image)
& listen to me try to buy matches:
PfC: matches (post + totally unrelated photographs + podcast)
then take on a hustler:
& then fall in love:
PfC: Lazaro’s farm (post + photographs + podcast)
and then decompress with:
Now get ready to get all political and cultural with:
PfC: flora, fauna + waiting (post+ images + podcast)
then look at pretty things:
PfC: behind closed eyelids (images)
& take a ride…
PfC: on the bus (short podcast + post + images)
to explore a castle: PfC: castillo means castle (slideshow + postcard images)
& consider PfC: a boat is not a boat (image)
And how you’re caught up.
Until next week.