Nancy’s Cuba Blog:* The 2015 Hemingway Colloquium, Havana
Returning to Cuba for the third time, I found some changes due to the new relationship between the United States and Cuba. The charter flight from Miami to Havana was on a larger plane and filled with more US citizens than on previous visits. Many of the US passengers expressed attitudes that viewed Cuba as a new land of opportunity. There were conversations centered on entrepreneurial opportunities in real estate and tourism as well as conversations among groups planning to provide aide to Cuban churches and schools. As in previous visits, the plane also heldexcited Cuban families anxious to return to Cuba with goods purchased in the US. Luggage lines were filled with large plastic wrapped bags and boxes containing TVs, medicine cabinets, shower rods and more. Check-in and customs lines did not reward anyone who traveled light.
Once in Havana, the increase in US tourists also was obvious. While Cuba is very welcoming to US tourists, the current infrastructure does not yet support the increase in visitors. Check-in at the hotel was slow, favorite restaurants were now crowded, and the hotel ran out of water on the last day of my visit. Still, the climate was warm and sunny and the Cuban people relaxed and friendly.
The 15th Colloquium Ernest Hemingway was held at Hotel Palacio O’Farrill in Old Havana. The international conference was attended by Hemingway scholars from around the world, who shared a common bond of interest in the life and work of Ernest Hemingway. Each morning and early afternoon was comprised of a program of academic papers. The late afternoons were devoted to a trip to one of Hemingway’s Cuban haunts.
The June 18 academic program included a welcome speech by the President of the National Council ofCultural Heritage, Ms. C. Gladys Collazo Usallán and then the academic presentations, including Ernest Hemingway in His Time: Growing Up in Oak Park, Illinois by Dr. Terence M. Hammer and Hemingway and Nietzsche and Craftsmanship by Peter Hays from the University of California, Davis.
At 4:00 p.m. the group visited the famous Hemingway haunts, La Bodeguita del Medio and the Floridita Bar-Restaurant, and at 6:00 p.m. I attended the meeting of Hemingway organizations at Finca Vigia. I represented the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, Hideo Yanagisawa represented the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Japan, Scott Burton spoke on behalf of the Community Library in Ketchum, Idaho, and Ada Rosa Alfonso Rosales represented the Finca Vigia Foundation. The common thread among the organizations was preservation of the Hemingway legacy, including his homes, his documents and artifacts specific to each location. The evening meeting was held at Hemingway’s Cuban home, which is now a museum. Every room of Finca Vigia is filled with Hemingway’s belongings, and it is nothing less than thrilling to view his typewriter, his large and varied collection of books, his hunting trophies from Africa, his clothes, his shoes, and the bathroom scale on which he weighed himself daily.
The June 19 academic program included papers on The Ethics of the Sporting Life in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises by Russell Reising from the University of Toledo, Ohio, A Joint Effort to Preserve Hemingway´s Cuban Legacy, a discussion by Mary Jo Adams, Executive Director, Finca Vigia Foundation, United States and Ada Rosa Alfonso Rosales, Director Ernest Hemingway Museum, Cuba, Hemingway’s Literary Production: Silence and Charm by Miriam Mandel, and Hemingway and Gellhorn: In Love and War by Prof. Sandra Spanier, Pennsylvania State University. Sandy leads the Hemingway letters project and created an interesting picture of the Hemingway-Gellhorn relationship by reading segments from their personal letters.
After a lunch that included freshly caught marlin, the academic program continued and included The Giant Killer, an exploration of Hemingway’s drinking habits, by Wally Collins, the 2015 winner of the Key West Papa look-alike contest, and then a discussion of the recent initiatives to preserve the Hemingway legacy in Idaho by Scott Burton, Programs Manager at the Community Library in Ketchum, Idaho.
At 5:00 p.m. we visited Sloppy Joe´s Bar. Founded in 1917 by Jose Abeal y Otero, it is the birthplace of the Sloppy Joe sandwich and the namesake for the other Sloppy Joe’s founded in Key West by Joe Russell. Hemingway was a frequent visitor of both establishments.
The June 20 academic program included Hemingway in Sun Valley, Idaho by Jim Jaquet, former Ketchum City Administrator, and Contexts for Hemingway’s Nick Adams by Ronald Schleifer, M.D. and Joshua Nelson. Dr. Schleifer provided a medical perspective on what is not said in “Indian Camp” and discussed his use of the story to train medical professionals to better understand and deal with what is often not said by patients. Mr. Nelson discussed attitudes and economic conditions affecting Native Americans in “Indian Camp” and the “Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife.”
In the late afternoon our group traveled to Cojimar, the setting of The Old Man and the Sea, and the site of the bronze bust of Hemingway cast from boat propellers, anchors and other donations from the local fisherman who honored the writer after his death in 1961. Wally Collins and Brian Gordon Sinclair had the honor of placing the flowers at the monument. Both have been active in raising funds to support Gigi’s All-Stars, the baseball team Hemingway started at Finca Vigia. After the presentation of flowers and a dramatic production of The Old Man and the Sea by local actors, we visited another of Hemingway’s favorite places, Restaurant Las Terrazas. The restaurant and bar overlook the bay where the old man kept his boat and is filled with photos of Hemingway, the fisherman.
June 21 was the final, but very full, day of the 2015 Colloquium. The day began with my presentation on The Adolescent Hemingway, which highlighted the education and experiences Hemingway gained during his adolescence in Oak Park and Michigan, and was followed by Micheal Conners’ presentation on The Fine and Decorative Arts of Finca Vigia, details of The Hemingway- Pfeiffer Divorce by Tatiana Mena Acosta, Behind the Scenes: Research and Discoveries at the Hemingway Letters Project by Michael Patrick Hart from Pennsylvania State University, and The Hemingway DAPTA(Digital Archive Project for Text Annotations) in Finca Vigia, Cuba by Prof. Hideo Yanagisawa from the University of Meijo, Japan.
In the afternoon participants traveled to Finca Vigia. In addition to having the opportunity to view Hemingway’s Cuban home, tennis court, swimming pool and boat, Colloquium participants were treated to performances of Cuban music and song and attended the Finca Vigia awards presented by Ada Rosa Alfonso Rosales, Director Ernest Hemingway Museum, Cuba. The group enthusiastically applauded Hideo Yanagisawa’s award for his work in creating and implementing a process for digitizing the text annotations found in Hemingway’s extensive personal collection of books.
Returning to Chicago on June 22, I reflected on the many opportunities the Colloquium provided to learn about the life, the writing and the personal artifacts of Ernest Hemingway. I believe all the Colloquium participants gained a better understanding of Hemingway’s life and work. I also gained a deeper appreciation for the wealth of information and resources which the Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park preserves and maintains. Our Foundation’s buildings and artifacts are valuable resources to scholars around the world, and many of the participants of the 2015 Colloquium are looking forward to visiting Oak Park in 2016.
*Nancy W. Sindelar is author of Influencing Hemingway: The People and Places That Shaped His Life and Work, Rowman and Littlefield, 2014.