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At Home with Hemingway



“Ernest Hemingway writes in the bedroom of his house in the Havana suburb of San Francisco de Paula. He has a special workroom prepared for him in a square tower at the southwest corner of the house, but prefers to work in his bedroom, climbing the tower room only when ‘characters’ drive him up there,” writes George Plimpton in his article for The Paris Review‘s Spring 1958 issue, whereby he interviews and writes about the literary icon in exacting detail.

It’s revealed that Hemingway always wrote standing; that he wore down number two pencils on typewriter paper when beginning projects; that he kept rigorous track of his daily word count (which varied in the 400’s, 500’s or 1000’s depending on the day); that his surroundings were particularly littered with trinkets and ephemera that the writer amassed throughout the years: stacks of books, wood carvings of animals, stuffed caribou heads, shotgun shells, letters and buffalo horns. (He was a hoarder.)

Finca Vigía, which is Spanish for Lookout Farm, was built in 1886 and purchased by Hemingway in 1940 (he began living there in 1939). It was there where he produced some of his most salient works and where legendary actress Ava Gardner famously swam naked in the estate’s pool (he also swam half a mile daily as a break from writing around noon). Following his abrupt death in 1961, the home and its contents were bequeathed to the people of Cuba, whom he had tremendous affection for.

On approach to the house, past the gates, where baseball is still played today in the street outside, his home is kept in perfect form. “Crystallized in time,” describes Valerie Hemingway, the novelist’s last personal secretary in Smithsonian Magazine in August 2007 of the home’s overall look and feel. “Looking at the chintz-covered chair in the living room,” she recounts, “I saw Hemingway’s ample figure as he sat holding a glass of scotch in one hand, his head slightly nodding to a George Gershwin tune coming from the record player. In the dining room, I saw not the heavy oblong wooden table with its sampling of china place settings, but a spread of food and wine and a meal in progress, with conversation and laughter and Ernest and [wife] Mary occasionally calling each other ‘kitten’ and ‘lamb.’ In the pantry, where the seven servants ate and relaxed, I recalled watching Friday-night boxing broadcasts from Madison Square Garden.”

But despite the chatter and noise, Hemingway preferred to write in the mornings, irrespective of whether he was in Paris, Idaho, Key West or Cuba. It was then that the writer did his best work. “I write every morning as soon after first light as possible,” he tells Plimpton. “There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again…When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.”