(Translated by: Fernanda Manzano and Claudia Pérez)
Ernest Hemingway presence in La Havana, Cuba, is irrefutable for any wanderer. In La Bodeguita del Medio you can drink mojitos (rum with mint and sugar) that Hemingway would drink. In El Floridita the tourist should drink a "Daiquiri", the drink Hemingway liked. Moreover, I’m aware nowadays there is a special Hemingway drink: a big measure of rum, a finger of Toronja juice, a half green lemon squeezed, stirred and served very cold. While you drink the special you can watch on the wall some photographs of the writer with the actors Errol Flynn and Spencer Tracy.
The places where Hemingway drank, ate or slept are a tourist station. For example Hemingway stayed from 1932 to 1939 in the room 511 in La Havana Vieja in the Ambos Mundos Hotel. That room is a museum.
The cultural visitor, looking for something else than a spot on the beach where to put his towel, will also go to the Hemingway museum in the Vigia Ranch 15 kilometers away from La Havana, in the neighbourhood of San Francisco de Paula. Hemingway bought the estate in 1940 and shared it with her 4th wife, Mary Welsh, his 4 dogs and with his 57 cats. Hemingway’s museum is in the same condition he left in 1960. Includes, apart from the descendants from the cats, 9000 books, 500 vinyl records, personal belongings, hunting trophies and his famous yacht "El Pilar".
In 1932 a hurricane left the Hemingway’s yacht isolated. Gregorio Fuentes, a fisher born in The Canary Islands, rescued him. In 1936, he asked him to get in charge of his yacht and become his fishing guide.
During 2nd world war German submarines operated in the Cuba keys with the mission to torpedo down American merchant ships, which carried raw material to make armament in the United States. Hemingway and Gregorio Fuentes painted the yacht in black, then armed it with a machine gun and sailed away to hunt submarines. In the yacht, among others, was a radio operator from the North American embassy. From the El Pilar, they warned the American air force when they spotted a submarine.
Finally, the visitor will take a short trip to Cojimar, sailors’ village, 15 kilometres away from La Havana, the pier where they left El Pilar.
Here the writer met fishers that used to fish with bottles of water, sugar and cookies, they would venture to the sea to fish with lines, and bare handed, some fish bigger than their boats. Gregorio Fuentes and Ernest Hemingway would sit in the bar La Terraza to observe the sea and drink mojitos. If you are a lucky tourist you may find Gregorio Fuentes at the bar smoking a Habano. Gregorio Fuentes is today 104 years old and he is part of the national asset as the Dike of La Havana the place where lovers kiss and where there are lots of Cadillac of the 50’s.
The legend says that Gregorio Fuentes is the alter ego of the old Santiago, from the novel "The Old Man and The Sea", he himself has delivered version-myths: once they were navigating through Pinar del Río and they saw an old boat with an elder and a boy. The elder was fighting with a swordfish bigger than his boat. They approached to help him. As they approached the old man started yelling: "American, son of a bitch, get out here". Hemingway told him:" don’t mind him". When they were away, he said: "I am going to write a book about this story".
Everything could be doubted. But, what we cannot doubt in is that there in Cojimar, between fishers, was spawned "The Old Man and The Sea". We must also believe in the legend, that he wrote it, as usual, standing up and in his portable Royal typewriter.
Gregorio Fuentes has said too that he named the novel. Hemingway would have asked him: "What title should I give it, Gregorio?" And he answered: "haven’t we met an elder? And wasn’t he in the middle of the sea? So, there you have the name".
Everything could be doubted, but I don’t have any doubt that the old Gregorio knew Hemingway better than his 4 wives.
50’s. Hemingway was a star. But his works were suffering the sourness of the critic. His editor returned him some manuscript because it was not publishable. But he liked the story about an old Cuban man and his dramatic story, 84 days in the sea obsessed with catching a swordfish.
In 1952 in Life magazine, The Old Man and The Sea was published. It was a success. Critics were talking about a classic then. The Old Man and The Sea won Pulitzer Prize. In 1954, Hemingway won Nobel Prize. That distinction was dedicated to the fishers and he deposited the medal before the Virgin of Charity of The Copper, Catholic Patron of Cuba.
The last time Gregorio saw Hemingway in 1960 he told him: "take care of Pilar as you have been doing."
Then he came back to his country and the next year he committed suicide.
Of this suicide, for respect to the dead, we cannot doubt.
Neither I hesitate to believe that the writer left the yacht El Pilar to Gregorio in his will. I think it was an act of brotherhood
But Gregorio could not guarantee the yacht security. He says that he talked to Fidel Castro when he went to visit it. The truth is that shortly the Comandante sent a crane and a van, took it away. The ship where he caught needlefish and "hunted" German submarines along with Gregorio Fuentes sits now at the Vigia Ranch, in its yard, between ferns, mango trees, and the sons of his cats.
That is the truth.
(Hemingwey y el mar, por Omar Pérez Santiago, Fuente: Escritores y el mar, Ecoceanos ediciones, 2000. )