We took a taxi to the edge of Havana, into a little village called San Francisco de Paula.
Street vendors sold canned soup and cheap cigars; gaunt, skeletal dogs yapped and whined; limping down dead-end alleys. Somewhere up the road was the Old Man's house, Finca Vigia, which meant "watchtower farm" or "lookout farm." Around a dusty corner and there it was; a large tropical bungalow hidden in the overgrowth of palm trees, orchids, jasmine, avocados, hibiscus and bougainvilleas. Lush and decadent. Decaying in the wet heat. I day-dreamed that he'd be standing on the porch, with his white beard, fishing cap, and a tall gin drink in his paw. The Old Man lived here once. Hemingway. Nothing has moved since he handed over the keys to Castro. Out of respect, Castro allowed Finca Vigia to stay exactly as it was when the Old Man walked away. Only Miro's painting - The Farm - went with him. It hangs in The National Gallery in Washington.
First thing I noticed was the empty swimming pool, where he swam laps every afternoon after writing. His fishing boat, The Pilar, was dry-docked poolside, next to four little graves for his dogs: "Negrita," "Blackdog," "Linda," and "Neron." Blackdog was his favorite."The Black Dog," was also the term he used for the deep depression which would eventually cripple his mind and lead him toward the shotgun rack one Idaho morning.
But none of that now. I peered through the windows, like a peeping Tom. You weren't allowed inside. A female guard approached me and offered to let me go in for a five dollar bribe. "Three minutes. You no touch nothing. I watch." And so I climbed in a window and saw and felt it all. The half-empty gin bottles on the living room table, next to his reading chair. The marvelous bullfight posters. His bedroom, with the typewriter where he stood to write at first light. There were hundreds of books and, unlike the libraries in most people's homes, these volumes looked like they'd all been devoured. Chewed-on. The covers were tattered; they matched the feel of the place. It was the house of a writer. A good one. Forgive him the late inning macho-bully ness, and the posturing. Praise him for the finely honed sentences; the essays in "A Moveable Feast;" some of the short stories; a few of the novels; and, especially the last chapter of "Death in the Afternoon." The one where he reveals all the wonderful things he left out of the book.
Raymond Chandler said: "The critics waited for him to write a bad one. Then they clobbered him. But when the Old Man couldn’t throw the fast ball, he threw his heart." And when they were sure the old lion was down; wounded and defenseless, they went over and kicked dirt on the body. That is our American way.
As we drove out through the bougainvilleas, below the watch tower where he flirted with Ivana; we were happy that the rum and lime Mojitos in Cojimar were waiting for us. And they tasted perfect that afternoon. Sweet and sour, like the Old Man's life.
I wished him peace-filled eternities.