Hemingway, socialism and remnants of the Soviet Union

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January 6th 2013
Published: January 24th 2013
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There are so many wonderful things to share with you about Cuba. The revolutions, life in everyday Cuba and the reminders of the Soviet Union all make up what is the Cuba of today. This island nation of some 11 million people has taken a unique path to arrive where there are today, yet they still hold many traditions that make them very special and unlike any other nation.

Retracing the path of Hemmingway

When you come to Havana you will find many photos of Ernest Hemmingway hanging in bars, restaurants and hotels. He is famous for his love of this city and this country. He spent many years living in Havana, enjoying the good life, the music, the people, drinking and he even found a bit of time to do some writing.

When in this city one finds themselves learning more about “Pappa” Hemmingway whether they want to or not. It comes naturally because his soul is intertwined with their history before Fidel’s revolution. On New Year’s Eve we had a drink and listened to music in the famous Floridita Bar. It was one of Hemmingway’s favorite hangouts. They have a bronze statue of him standing at the bar where he enjoyed a drink (most likely on a regular basis). A stop here cannot be missed, as it is full of history.

A few days later we stopped by the Ambos Mundos Hotel, where Hemmingway lived for seven years. We had a tour of his room, which has been turned into a small one-room museum and contains some of his effects. One can almost picture him seated at the typewriter, banging out “The Old Man and the Sea.” We had a drink on the rooftop of this hotel on a couple of afternoons and enjoyed the view of the city and the enjoyed the January breeze all while listening to a trio of musical artists singing “Guantanamera,” one of Cuba’s most famous songs.

Hemmingway’s third wife was a clever lady and managed to get him to purchase a wonderful estate about twenty miles out of Havana. She knew he was spending too much time drinking and socializing to write so she removed him from temptation as much as she could. We had hoped to tour this home but it was closed for filming a movie. We went out there to take
A bronze HemmingwayA bronze HemmingwayA bronze Hemmingway

At the Floridita bar
a quick look and hoped we could bribe the guard to let us in. We imagine he would have agreed but the director was on site when we arrived. And so it goes…..

But back to his wife. We were told that she had taken him out into the country and shown him this house but it needed refurbishing and he didn’t like it and refused to purchase it. She could see the grandeur of the old home, so while they were in Key West she spent the money to have it remodeled. When they returned to Havana she took him out to the home, he fell in love and purchased it. Ah the wisdom of a good woman!

We had lunch at the La Bodeguita del Medio, which was another one of Hemmingway’s hideouts. The walls are covered with graffiti and photos of famous people who have visited the establishment. It made us feel like we were back at Tony Packo’s in Toledo, with all the autographs of famous folk. And finally, we drove out to Cojimer, which is a fishing village where Hemmingway kept his boat. We are told it was the setting for his book,
Best use of a corona bottle!Best use of a corona bottle!Best use of a corona bottle!

Ladies and gents, we present tomato sauce!
The Old man and the Sea. It is not far-fetched to consider having a Hemmingway tour of Cuba for the real diehard fans of his works. They most certainly would include a pub-crawl to add some authenticity.

Ration Stores and organic farms

There are many things interesting and unique in Cuba.

Locals have three ways in which they can purchase food and supplies. They can go to the ration stores, the farmer’s market or the more regular market. The ration stores provide them with very inexpensive staples, the farmer’s market has the fresh veggies and the like and the regular market is much more expensive for them and provides other necessary items for daily living. The food in the ration stores allows citizens to purchase a five-pound bag of rice for very little money. Of course five pounds won’t get them through the month but it is a start in the right direction. While we were in Cuba most of the stores were out of toothpaste and they had no idea when it would be replenished. Not the kind of life we are used to.

One of the more interesting places we visited was an organic farm co-op. The land is government owned but it is farmed privately. We are told there are several hundred of these in Cuba. It was fascinating to visit and we learned that in addition to the monthly salary that all the workers are entitled to a share of the profits. Evidentially 50 percent goes back into the farm while the workers share 50 percent. Inching closer to some capitalism, no? They grow many different kinds of fruits and vegetables without the aid of any chemical fertilizers, as manure is king here. We watched to workers bottling tomato sauce that they had made and they were storing it in Corona bottles. Since neither of us care for Corona we thought this was the best use of a Corona bottle that we had ever seen. Check out the photos.

The Soviet Influence

When you drive around Havana you will see many cars that have come from Russian manufacturers. We imagine that people who come from Russia or other states in that area are as excited as we Americans are to see older vehicles stopped in a time warp. We cannot explain what
Grilled LobsterGrilled LobsterGrilled Lobster

Cuban style
is feels like to stand on a street corner watching all these older cars going by. It is a scene out of The Outer Limits. There are also Russian-make tractors as well, seemingly all the same model as the state owns them all. Many of the factories near Havana’s harbor were no doubt also built by the Soviets. They spew smoke and steam continuously. Our guide told us there were plans to relocate all of these factories and refineries elsewhere to develop this part of the harbor for tourism. This is a big plan and will take massive amounts of foreign investment to accomplish as the socialist government does not take in much revenue in the form of taxes.

As you travel around the city you will see Russian housing projects that were built in the 1970’s and 1980’s. They were once new but now are run down, over crowded housing units. We are told these complexes, which are six-story, concrete block buildings are common in Russia. In Cuba you will find them in some strange places. Driving in what appears to be the countryside, you will all of a sudden see these structures once in a while. It seemingly makes little sense, given that most people lack transportation to get to town to buy groceries and the like. The buildings are poorly built and are in need of at least a coat of paint. Very dreary looking in this otherwise beautiful nation.

The main roads were also Soviet-built and are beginning to show signs of wear, as they have not been kept in good repair since the downfall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s. The main highway in the country in many places has three lanes in each direction, with almost no traffic. Most Cubans cannot afford cars, let alone travel far in them with gas at about $5 USD per gallon.

Looking to the future

For decades the average Cuban was not allowed to own a house, a car or stay in a hotel. This has changed in recent years. The people we met in Cuban are very hopeful for the future. They are hoping for changes that will make them more prosperous and give them more opportunities. We are not as optimistic as they are that those changes will be fast in coming….but for their sake we
Local Cuban musicLocal Cuban musicLocal Cuban music

The musicians are mostly self-taught and quite talented.
hope they are right.

As Raul Castro looks to make changes, he is faced with a two-fold problem; one is that socialism and capitalism will eventually collide if enough freedoms are granted to the people, the other is that many high-placed government officials are most likely not willing to give up the current system as it benefits them so well. We wish this nation and its wonderful citizenry all the best.

Additional photos below
Photos: 28, Displayed: 27


Cuban books & historyCuban books & history
Cuban books & history

Maybe a bit of propaganda
Holiday pupHoliday pup
Holiday pup

Working for tips and raking it!
Strong cuban coffeeStrong cuban coffee
Strong cuban coffee

Stand you on your head

24th January 2013
Vibrant and lively

She looks familiar
I think we took a shot of the same woman
24th January 2013
Vibrant and lively

No doubt
She must be earning a good living.
24th January 2013

oh what fun......
It is so much fun to be reading about your trip to Cuba while sidelined with yet another day of torrential rains. I love having Pompei to myself but putting up with day after day of rain is getting to be quite a drag. Loved your pictures of the cars.....
24th January 2013

Rain, rain go away
Hopefully, you will enjoy all the things you came to see. Embrace the rain and move on to indoor activities.
24th January 2013

The mojito you mentioned in the previous blog made me thirsty, but I loved how insightful this blog was on Cuba outside of the bars--the toothpaste and co-op farms. I really wish you had been able to bribe your way into Hemmingway's house...maybe next time!
24th January 2013

Cuba is far more than rum and cigars!
The Cuban people have a vibrance and energy that is hard to explain when one considers the lack of things available to them. Glad you enjoyed our observations. It is a great country.
24th January 2013

Thanks for keeping in touch. Interesting to see what Cuba looks like now.
24th January 2013

You would enjoy Cuba. You will have to keep it in mind.
26th January 2013

The Power of Community
Interested to hear about the organic gardening firsthand, well ok, secondhand, as we saw fabulous film called The Power of Community - How Cuba survived Peak Oil in my other persona as community gardener. Really aim to go to Cuba in the near future. Love your photos..
26th January 2013

Resilient people
Cubans find ways to make it work. I do hope you will get there as I think you will truly enjoy the experience. The organic farms were very interesting.
2nd February 2013

So vibrant!
Incredible colors and tastes! And how fun to follow Hemingway--I love his driveway! I´m now in Bolivia, land of Nescafe and would love some of that strong coffee. I can identify with that lack of toothpaste--I can´t buy drip coffee or a filter here (mine was stolen), my allergy medicine or get my broken computer fixed. Traveling certainly helps one appreciate the luxuries we enjoy at home. Good luck in your new jobs, and I look forward to a blog about your new home. Cheers, Tara
2nd February 2013

Common amenities vs luxuries
Travel does challenge us with some of the things we take for granted back home but....that is the reason we hit the road. If we wanted it all the same...all of us would be sitting at home watching TV. Ouch, a broken computer. Not good at all. I guess you can make a coffee filter out of a paper towel. We now have time to reads other blogs and we are looking forward to reading about Bolivia.
20th February 2013

the colours of cuba...
this post is such a lovely read, and I loved all the photos too - brilliant as usual.
20th February 2013

We loved Cuba
You should go before it changes too much. Lovely country, music and people.

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