Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Watchtower

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.

10 comments:

bluzfrek said...

Thanks for the tour, you ol' "Peeping" Tom. Hemmingway lived life to the fullest, with all the ups and downs that includes. My thanks to the Castro regime for keeping Finca Vigia intact, and for providing cooperative(for a price)tour personnel. Did you take in any of the local music while you were there? If Cuba is once again opened to US travel, the music would be an exciting part of taking a trip south of F-L-A. Frank

Abner Mull said...

I'm conflicted. My first reaction: Wow.

But then, a nagging from the back of my mind. Mark Germino's "Fire in the Land of Grace"

Well that night I went to sleep and dreamed that I burned Graceland down
Took a bunch of matches and some gasoline and burned the whole place to the ground
And all his fans they gathered around me and each one held a noose
Said how could you do such a hateful thing to this memory we've produced

I said I don't know but there's one thing I'll never do again
And that's take a glimpse into someone's life just to claim I know 'em from within
You see I loved him just like you do but that's no cause to judge or touch
You see he don't owe us nothin' and we owe him that much


Hope that's not too much of a downer for everybody...

Shergar said...

Hi Tom, love the blog, but enough of all the gushing stuff let me get down to the nitty gritty, the reason Im writing you is this. Are you familiar with Michael Palin? him of Monty Python fame, well to cut a long story short in the late Ninties he was commisioned to do a documentry for the BBC called Michael Palin's Hemingway Adventures, and I thought it just may interest you, some of it is on youtube but you can also buy the whole series from amazon, well worth the spondoolicks. heres the link to the youtube links. http://uk.youtube.com/results?orig_query=michael+palin+hemingway+cuba&search_query=michael+palin+hemingway+adventure ....Yours Shergar

Saddle Tramp said...

WHITEHEAD STREET TO TUPELO
[ Writing lofts to the bedroom of birth ]

Tom . . . The closest I ever came to Havana was on 907 Whitehead Street in Keywest, Florida on a 1990 honeymoon. Regarding the "bribe" what a bargain. I don't think the Old Man would object. Back to Whitehead. His typewriter in the loft. The dozens of mutant cats pawing about the place still. The swimming pool with a penney imbedded in the deck that he had put there claiming that his wife might as well have his last penney. Hemingway
saying that Sloppy Joe's should give him their urinal for all of the money he poured down it. But to see his place in Havana treated as a sacred place. Proper. O' Keefe's Ghost Ranch is intact but unavailable to the general public. It cuts both ways. You get what you get.
I have stood at graves and I have stood in the bedroom where Elvis was born in Tupelo, Mississippi , a two room house built by his sharecropper father with a loan from the
plantation owner. He defaulted on the loan and they were evicted and they landed in Memphis and you know the rest. Elvis bought it all back. Yeah, he bought it back. I also stood on the very spot in the still working Tupelo Hardware Store whete he settled on a guitar instead of the .22 cal. rifle he really wanted. You know the rest. Everything sacred or nothing sacred. I think not. Blatant
exploitation. Too many times, perhaps.Tom, I think Castro
and Yourself has got it right.
As far as the critics go, if it was up to them I would not get out of the bunk in the morning. We need 'em though, however, I will never offer them any of my self-criticism. Too much ammuntion!
So many of the great ones ran with the black dog. No list is needed. How can you scribe that thin line between pathology and creativity. Would Prozac have saved Hemingway? We'll never know. Some drink themselves out, some write themselves out while others paint themselves out or a combination of and on and on. You can't kill it. Only put it to sleep for awhile. I know the dark all too well.

My marriage did't last, but my memories of 907 Whitehead Street have . . .


-ST Driving a tightrope . . .
everyday

Via: North Las Vegas at The Petro sleeping above
bowl of burning neon.

Saddle Tramp said...

MORE PEEPING TOMS & THE NUMBER 13


Trail Note:

Address of the Washington State Penitentiary Wall Walla:
1313 North 13th Avenue

Track listing of your song " Box of Visions " on the Philo So Far disc is 13.

In a more desperate time I worked for awhile putting up event tents. They called the owner " The Irish Mafia ". He had a few sideline enterprises. It got me through a tough patch. A Cuban called Smooth taught me the ropes and the knots. It was a motley crew. I remember another guy whi had a crude prison tat on his forearm. The number 13. He said it was for the 12 jurors and judge who put him away for his stretch. The work kept me fed.

Barry Feinstein in the collaborative book with Dylan " Hollywood Foto-Rhetoric ( The Lost Document ) has a shot of that fatal prescription bottle of Marilyn Monroes that he shot through her bedroom window after her death was discovered. Dylan's most serious comments were on Marilyn. That's a tough one.


-ST Mitchell, South Dakota at Marlin's Restaurant where a group of guys in the next booth are talking about Bruno, a guy who would rather settle things with his fists. They say he even has insurance to cover himself for it. I'm not lyin'.

editor said...

I've got deeply mixed feelings about Hemingway. Admiration for his genuine genius and his zest for life;revulsion at his bullying and lying.

An object lesson in the destruction wrought by drink and depression. We romanticize Papa's drinking, but it ruined the man and the writer.

BTW, his second wife, Martha Gellhorn, was a pretty damned fine writer herself.

Neil Crabtree said...

I think Hemingway wrote better short stories than novels. The stories in In Our Time alone are enough to establish him as heir to Tolstoy. Note, there is a reference to Big Two Hearted River in McCarthy's The Road, where the character recalls the America he's lost.

Also, why are the pictures of TR on the website always making him appear sad and depressed. He seems so full of life and talent. That's worth a smile right there.

Saddle Tramp said...

Yes Editor . . .
Your refined and honest views are always relevatory.
I have mixed feelings towards all great artists. All the great ones are complex, and contradictory with their depredations. No romance to it. Some say you need not suffer for your art. The ones I admire most always have. I lost a very close friend in the wake of EC treatments. He took his own way out all too young. Thoughts of Townes Van Zandt's mother saying her greatest regret was allowing those same treatments on Townes. Did it harm his art with all the excesses he endured or did he go through hell for
the sake of his songs? I also know the ravages of mental illness and addictions in my family. Living hell ! I know of which I speak. Maybe Sisters in the spring . . .

Mr. Crabtree . . . Regarding Tolstoy and Hemingway ,
Hemingway stated in self deprecation that he would never

have gotten in the ring with Tolstoy. Two hearts that swam in different rivers. Both excellent swimmers.
For some shots of Tom beaming consider ordering his new Veterans Day Anthology ( if you only had one of his cd's this might be the one ) and his Mano a Mano DVD. Yo will
catch Tom grinning ear to ear.

Trail note: One of the best things gained for me with the now hybrid Sirius / XM Satellite Radio is Dylan's Theme Time Radio where Dylan dispenses fatherly advice along with an esoteric tour de force of music delivered with warmth, mystery and humor. " He plays harmonica like I do
; short and sweet with a steady beat " comments Dylan in
his inimitable voice that you can actually understand even
all the way from The Abernathy Building in New York . . .


Tom, still awaiting your foray into the format, just be sure to offset your time slot from his. It would be hell to have to choose . Dylan's program is worth the price of the subscription alone. A high priced education for penneys for
those of us with hungry ears.

-ST Via: Shawnee, Oklahoma en route to California to warm my bones after being in 50 below zero with wind chill in Albert Lea, Minnesota. Killer cold seizing the night. Huge fingers if drifted snow on I-90 across South Dakota and Minnesota
pulling an empty thermos bottle on wheels dancing with the wind.
Winter Winds . . . Winter Blues

P.S. Ain't never lied to ya yet . . .

You can address me by my first name Saddle or you can
call me Mister [y] Tramp and I am onlosthighwayloston . . .

Saddle Tramp said...

Sorry Editor . . .
That should be " revelatory "

Side trail: Heard a song sung live on Outlaw Country by Roger Allen Wade from his new" Stone Traveller " cd that was about Hemingway and a cast of characters in Paris.
Timely tune . . .

Remi said...

I made my pigrimage to the old house too. Anyone who has a built in bookcase beside the toilet can't be all bad.

They say Ava Gardner swam naked in that pool.

Anyone else see the irony in Obama and McCain both citing For Whom the Bell Tolls as one of their favourite books?