Hemingway’s House

As I write this I am doing one of the most stereotypical things possible in Havana: sitting on the back porch of Earnest Hemingway’s home, overlooking the beautiful city he left suddenly to never return. It’s a definite tourist destination though the feelings evoked from this place are absolutely substantial.  

Tour guides offer assumptions and generalizations while people snap pictures and bump into one another. One has to wonder if this is how he would want it to be. Our class learned yesterday that there are no statues erected of Che Guevara, he saw doing so to be a vain attraction. I find myself rolling that idea over and over again in my head on this visit to the residence. Hemingway, by taking his own life put assumptions in the hands of the hundreds of thousands of people who have come from far and wide to catch a glimpse of the place where this intriguing man wielded his craft.

A posthumously prescribed manic-depressive I find it hard to believe anyone could be anything less than happy in a place as beautiful as this, but of course we are all slaves to our own minds. Sitting here I wonder why. Why take a life so beautiful and full and end it so abruptly? What could have troubled him so, eaten away at him so to the point there was nothing left?

As I stare through the palm trees, through the leaves and down the slight berm a tour bus sputters and leaves in the distance behind me, taking a horde of tourists with it. The place a bit quieter, the scene a bit more serene, these questions matter less. The chatter of others falls away and I slowly shift my gaze to the dirt trail leading from the tower his last wife, Mary, built for him, down to the bottom of the hill.

A stray dog trots along, lazily hopping scattered fallen branches, passing a drained swimming pool, disappearing from view beyond a row of trees. I begin to imagine the man, years earlier, rising from the water after a late-morning soak, gingerly pulling his body, battered from a life lived, from the artificial sea, grabbing sandals and a towel; a glimpse of contemplation before ambling up the stone path leading to the house, passing under coconut trees and past berry bushes. I imagine him grabbing the handle of the side door before thoughtfully letting go, the cool breeze slowly drying his exposed torso.

Walking through the back patio, past the tower, I imagine him crossing the small grassy patch and sitting where I sit now, soaking it all in with a deep breath and a sigh, his brow furrowing with some deep despair; a moment of patience before a start to the day.

Behind me comes the stomping of feet, the ominous babble of different languages and suddenly I am surrounded on all sides by the clicks of digital cameras, the moment suddenly lost amid cigarette smoke and French gossip. This may not be exactly what Hemingway had in mind, but it may have been a slice of what he wanted. Perhaps the great Cuban poet Pablo Armando Francisco summed it up best when he wrote in his piece, “The Other Adam”, “But he did not conquer/the restlessness that the evening murmur/of tropical death/produces in men from the North.”

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