Port Moody, British Columbia, Canada
It is hot the afternoon we visit Cojimar. Most sensible creatures have sought out the shade. Since the car we've hired for the afternoon lacks an air-conditioner, a stop at a cafe "where Hemingway used to drink"' is suggested. It's a tiny bar, obviously done over since Papa's day. But where I am expecting photos of the famous bearded face grinning on sun washed docks beside prize marlin, there is only a cold display of half-empty liquor bottles encased in uncomfortable, dark blue tiles, hard steel edges and gaudy mirrors. We sit for a respectful period sipping our high priced rum punch, trying to overlook the paucity of memorabilia.
After finishing his own drink, provided free for reeling us in, our driver reminds us time is short. There is more we will want to see. We walk through the little fishing town, down streets of poor, eroded stone buildings to where six fluted columns stand on a raised pediment, supporting a circular capital open to the sky. In the centre is a pedestal on which is a craggy, gilded bust of the writer, with his name and years. Next to it, to heighten the strange contrasts, is La Castelito, an ancient Spanish fortification guarding this fisherman's harbor where Hemingway docked his boat.
Lying quite still in the monument's shade, directly under the bust, an emaciated, scab-and-fly-infested dog has come to die. Many like it wander the streets of Cuba without benefit of human friends, until they lose the will or energy to fight for their next few bits of edible refuse. I have pitied them, so I walk back to the bar for a saucer and a bottle of water to place near the skeleton's nose. But the only thing stirring is a faint heaving in its prominent ribcage, telling me there is still life. When I nudge one hind foot with the toe of my shoe, it opens a baleful, bloodshot eye, unfocused and apparently near death.
"It is risky, Señor," our driver warns, and he urges us away.
His name is Alfredo. He is a pleasant, middle-aged Cuban who gave up teaching high school English for a better living driving a taxi, has read Hemingway, and knows more about him than the typical tourist guide. He particularly loves the novella set in Cuba, The Old Man and the Sea. We agree that Spencer Tracy was the wrong man for the role of Santiago, but can't agree who might have been better. I say Lee J. Cobb. He thinks Anthony Quinn. Then, just as he is about to leave us at our hotel in Havana, like a skillful fisherman he sets the hook. Unknown to us, the restoration of Hemingway's house in San Francisco de Paulo, a cooperative effort between the American and Cuban governments, is finally finished. It just happens to be opening to the public for the first time tomorrow, so if we can be ready at noon, when his shift begins . . . This time it will be worth every dollar, he says.
Despite prior plans, we eagerly give in. The next day we go in together, and I have the pleasure of paying his admission to The Hemingway Museum. It's a fine Spanish colonial house with many rooms, and after extensive repairs, now in the same state it was in when he walked away for the last time in 1960, fully expecting to return. Together we wander through its hushed halls, enthralled.
by the big front door
the ceramic throne
where Papa used to sit
Fight Digest, 1958
teak decks of La Pilar
old fashioned marlin rigs
oiled and ready
the elegant curl
of antelope horns