My pulse quickened as we walked up the white cement stairs to Ernest Hemingway’s famed Cuban home, La Finca Vigia. His presence lingered throughout the house. It was supposedly exactly how he had left it in the 1960’s— animal heads adorning walls, books and papers stacked on his desk, dust-laden bottles of alcohol on a tray in the living room. The dining room table was set as if Ernest and his wife Mary were going to walk in at any minute and sit down for a meal. Small wire rimmed glasses folded on the bedside table. In the bathroom was Hemingway’s weight hand-written in pencil on the wall above the scale.
A Hemingway fan since my father had given me The Old Man and the Sea for my tenth birthday, I had been eagerly anticipating this visit since we had arrived in Cuba. But the sweaty little hand of my five-year-old daughter Gabrielle wrapped in mine quickly brought me back to reality. Her small body was becoming heavier and heavier as I dragged her around the house. We were on day one of our four days of discovering Havana—and on a break from the Cuban beaches at our all-inclusive resort. My husband George, also a Hemingway lover, was off discovering the property with our eldest daughter, eight-year-old Nathalie. Under the hot Caribbean sun, divide and conquer was our plan.
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“Maman, are you done yet? I’m thirsty,” Gabrielle said.
She knew how I felt about Hemingway and had been impressively patient. To entertain her I was telling her about each room and sharing Hemingway tidbits. She was quiet and calm—maybe the stories were working? I would make a Hemingway lover out of her, even as a child.
“Let’s go visit the pool and fishing boat,” I said with enthusiasm, trying to inject some energy into our visit. Her eyes lit up, a pool? A boat? The pool was cracked and empty. And the boat, the Pilar, had seen better days but I could envision Hem at the helm, enjoying days of fishing and drinking. Gabrielle still seemed to be listening but after three hours at La Finca, I knew I could not expect much more from her small over heated body. She needed a cold drink and a break from endless Ernest babble. As we walked back up the rocky steep pathway to the main house, Gabrielle seemed lost in thought. I sensed an important question looming, most likely about the famed author.
“Maman,” she said.
“Yes,” I answered.
“Did god exist when there were dinosaurs?” she asked.
God, dinosaurs? I laughed out loud. So much for my Hemingway stories sinking in. But I know she will remember this day. And I will still be giving her The Old Man and the Sea for her 10th birthday. She will learn to love Hemingway in her own time.