The world-famous Ernest Hemingway was a man whose life encompassed more adventure and historical prominence than perhaps any other writer. He took part in both World Wars, as an ambulance driver in the first, and as a makeshift leader to a French militia in the second. He survived two plane crashes, four wives, refereed underground boxing matches, and even took part in many fabled fistfights of his own! He was a “man’s man”, and yet amongst his turbulent life, he wrote several of the greatest works of fiction of the 20th century. Much of his writing dealt with war, such as For Whom the Bell Tolls and A Farewell to Arms, but many readers know his slimmer, but equally celebrated The Old Man and the Sea. Set in the beautiful Caribbean island nation of Cuba, the Pulitzer Prize winning novel dealt with man’s battle against nature, as a an old fisherman fought a powerful marlin in the high seas.
In many respects, The Old Man and the Sea was about Ernest himself in his later life in Cuba, as sport fishing became one of his favored hobbies aboard his beloved boat, “Pilar”. Hemingway initially moved to Cuba from Key West after splitting up with his second wife, Pauline Pfeifer. Having used the Hotel Ambos Mundos in Havana for several years as his Cuban getaway, Hemingway and his future wife, Martha Gellhorn, permanently moved into the hotel in 1939. Here, Hemingway would begin his work on For Whom the Bell Tolls, which was about the Spanish Civil War that he covered as a journalist. In Spain, Hemingway and Gellhorn, a fellow writer, had worked together and begun an affair.
After a few months in the hotel, the couple moved to a larger home known as Finca Vigia, a beautiful farmhouse set atop a hill with commanding views of Havana, just 15 miles away. Here, Hemingway was able to escape the madness of cultural epicenters like New York City (and Havana itself), and simply focus on his work while relaxing in the tropical paradise and in the company of his wife and his cats that he bred at the house. Today, Ficna Vigia is one of the island’s main tourist spots, and retains much of Hemingway’s personal library. Additionally, visitors can also see his room at Hotel Ambos Mundos, which has also become a museum dedicated to the renowned author. Visitors to the island remarkably will see it in much the same way as Hemingway lived in it.
The relationship with Gellhorn was turbulent and eventually failed. Hemingway had met a new lover, Mary Welsh, and they wed in 1946. Welsh would live alongside Hemingway in Cuba until 1960. During this period, Hemingway wrote two more novels, Across the River and Into the Trees and The Old Man and the Sea. He also worked on several novels that would be published following his death in 1961. Due to his robust and fatherly appearance, Cuban locals knew Hemingway as “Papa”, and he visited several bars frequently, including La Bodeguita del Medio and La Floridita, where he famously enjoyed his favorite daiquiri. Sadly, his often-virulent lifestyle and heavy drinking led to an eventual decline in health slowing the man down. One must imagine his later years to have included many relaxing afternoons.