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Hemingway’s Cuban house a writer’s retreat

Posted On: 05-06-2015

By Carleton Varney Special to the Daily News

On my recent Cuban sojurn, I spent a day visiting the hilltop house of Ernest Hemingway at San Francisco de Paula. The house, called Finca Vigil, was home to the celebrated writer from 1940 to 1960. He lived there with his wife, Martha Gellhorn, and their children.

At Finca Vigia, Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea,To Have and Have Not and For Whom the Bells Tolls. The estate is near the village of Cojimar.

The house has one level and is Plantation Colonial in feeling, with handsome classic architectural detail and an openness that permits the breezes to pass through. The Hemingways filled the rooms — the long rectangular drawing/living room, the study and the two bedrooms — with what one would expect: bookcases, although they are low in profile. The headboard of the Hemingways’ bed is also a bookcase, five shelves high.

The Hemingways mixed their collection of books with some simple wood furnishings and ornamental high-style gilt hanging mirrors, combined with bullfighting posters and trophy heads of Safari animals, most likely Hemingway’s own prizes from his famous shooting expeditions.

While Hemingway traveled a great deal, he always returned to his finca in Cuba and the plantation house, with its tower addition designed especially for the writer, a hideaway where he could create undisturbed — which, I’m told, he never used. The added tower to the house was the idea of his wife, built as a gift to her husband.

While the plantation comes complete with surrounding terraces for daytime and evening enjoyment, the house also has a down-the-hill swimming pool, which guests such as actress Ava Gardner would frequent when visiting the Hemingways.

The plantation house, now a museum, is worth a visit for all Hemingway enthusiasts, especially if you’ve visited the writer’s house in Key West. From a decoration point of view, one should note Finca Vigia’s tile floors, as all are handsome — the aqua, the blue, the golds and yellows offer a friendly welcome.

’For window treatments at the house, Hemingway had an exceedingly simple preference: There are no interior treatments whatsoever! The windows are uncovered and open to the views of Cuban flora, including rich growing vines, most of which flower in lavenders, whites and azalea hues.

Hemingway’s bedroom was a joy for me to see with walls painted in rich Caribbean aquamarine with white ceiling and trim. It’s a rich-and-refreshing color scheme one could easily borrow for a Palm Beach room.

P.S. If you visit the Hemingway home one day and are looking for a special place for a lunch after the visit, I recommend The El Ajiaco Café in Cojimar, the fishing village where Hemmingway kept his boat, the Pilar.


Source: Carleton Varney, May 6, 2015, Palm Beach Daily News

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