Papa’s Cuban Home to be Saved

It’s time the US and Cuba made peace.

This would be cheering news for all of us who believe that to continue with a long dispute that makes no sense is below the dignity of the US, who can no longer claim that Cuba constitutes a threat to the most powerful nation in the world – at least up till now.

President Obama’s overture to the Cubans made such a positive impact on the Free World that even Pope Francis welcomed the move.

For me, who has never visited Cuba, it is the only sign in 2014 that long-time enemies can bury the hatchet and stop living in the past.

Ernest Hemingway, one of my favourite authors and who made his home in Cuba for twenty years, would I am sure applaud the initiative of letting bygones be bygones – for a faded palace nestled in the hills that look down on the village of San Francisco de Paula, a thirty-minute drive from central Havana, remains a monument which he endowed to the Cuban people.

For almost a decade some US volunteers have been working with the Cuban government to prevent the property from falling to damp and termites. Now with the easing of sanctions between the United States and Cuba, the effort to preserve the library of nine thousand books and many trophies is expected to get much easier.

‘It’s a very glamorous place where the likes of Ava Gardner, theoretically, went skinny-dipping in the pool,’ said Bob Vila, the US celebrity builder who co-chairs the Finca Vigia Foundation. ‘This was Hemingway’s ultimate success story. Here were his African trophies, his guns, his posters from the bull fights in Spain, his uniforms, his memorabilia – everything, and, of course, his books.’

While the Cuban government has been sympathetic to the cause of preserving the house and its contents, all the work has had to fall within the confines of the sanctions. Vila is midway through negotiating permits from Havana to import building materials.

Most Cubans count Hemingway as one of their own. Although he has other famous houses – such as in Key West, Florida – it was at Finca Vigia that he spent the greatest part of his life, writing works such as The Old Man and the Sea. It was his then wife Martha Gellhorn, the war correspondent, who had talked him into buying the twelve-acre property.

His thirty-eight-foot walnut hulled fishing boat, Pilar, which he sailed from nearby Cojimar, now rests in a dry dock above what used to be his tennis court. His royal typewriter and stacks of sharpened number three pencils still rest on the bookcase.

Hemingway fled Cuba in 1960, after being warned by the American government that he risked being viewed as sympathetic to Fidel Castro’s revolution. Hemingway and Castro had been famously pictured together with the writer’s fishing trophies.

After his suicide in 1961 Hemingway left Finca Vigia and all its contents, including his Nobel Prize, to the Cuban people. His only proviso was that it be preserved as a museum.

I am sure his home will now become a shrine where the faithful will gather to pay their respects to one of America’s greatest writers, whose worldly fame and his lifestyle made him an unforgettable heroic giant.

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