Thursday, June 11, 2015

Cuba Part 7: Finca Vigia Museo

Courage is grace under pressure
(Le courage est la grâce malgré la pression)
by Ernest Hemingway

My last post on Cuban is about the hilltop “Finca Vigia”, currently “Museo Hemingway”, along with the featured furnishing of ‘Pilar’, a 12 meter long fishing boat, operated by the Cuban Finca Vigia Foundation. The venue is 8 miles east of Havana.

Hemingway’s first visit to Cuba was in 1928. It may have happened as a layover to Spain, as an exploratory trip to Key West by way of Cuba, or as the result of his second wife Pauline’s family connections. However it happened, it was his enthusiasm for sports fishing there that drew him to Cuba again in 1932 and 1933. When his “Esquire” voyage articles with Carlos Guiterrez became a hit, he purchased the Finca Vigia in 1941 and resided there until 1960, when the communist party nationalized the properties belonging to all Americans.

It was at this Finca Vigia that “An Old Man and the Sea” was written, for which he was awarded the Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes respectively in 1952 and 1954. The well known story is about a lonely old fisherman’s struggle to catch a big fish and bring it back to shore through shark-infested waters. It was praised as the most powerful, style forming mastery of the art of modern narration.

However, Hemingway was unable to attend the Nobel Awards Ceremony in Stockholm because he was suffering from severe injuries sustained in two successive plane accidents in Africa. He read a short acceptance speech over Cuban radio, and said in closing “a writer should write what he has to say and not speak it.”

While he recuperated, he paid homage to El Cobre Sanctuary near Santiago de Cuba. Here is what he told Cubans after the visit:

"I dedicated my Nobel Prize Medal to the fishermen of Cojimar. Although I had told this story of an old man and his fish to the whole world, it is their story and they should share this medal. A medal is worn close to the heart and my heart is in Cuba. The good people of Cuba have taken me into their hearts and caused me to live here longer than I have lived anywhere else.

This is my true home. I traveled, with the medal, to Santiago de Cuba and entered the church. I knelt at the feet of the Patron Saint of Cuba and deposited the medal. Silently, I prayed for the protection, the peace and the prosperity of the warm, friendly, generous people of Cuba. In Cuba, the people accepted me unconditionally. I could breathe and be happy. It is my clear, well lighted place."

(The medal was displayed on the altar, but was stolen in the 1980s. It was safely recovered with Castro’s appeal, but had not been on public display since then.)

During the Cuban Revolution, President Kennedy made an exception and allowed Hemingway’s fourth wife Mary to return to Finca Vigia. The Cuban government approached Mary to gift the house to them, to be used as a monument to Hemingway. She negotiated Hemingway’s manuscripts from the house in exchange for the donation.

Shipment of the manuscripts was delayed because Cuba and U.S. teams (with special visas) had to collaborate on microfilming key manuscripts and the final shipping destination had not been determined. Upon her return to the U.S., Mary asked Jacqueline Onassis to store them at the JFK Presidential Library and Museum in Boston and the ‘Hemingway Archive’ was established. It was in the mid 1970’s that the Cuban documents were finally unpacked in Boston. Today Boston Library boasts 100,000 pages of writing and 10,000 photos, all digitized, for Hemingway scholars and researchers.

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