Josefa Garcia, a guard at the Hemingway museum here and a longtime admirer of his writing, remembers Ernest Hemingway as a "culture worker" from a poor family.
Fidel Castro remembers the Nobel Prize-winning American author as a source of inspiration for his own "audacity" and a guide to guerrilla tactics transplanted from the fiction of "For Whom the Bell Tolls," about the Spanish Civil War, to the reality of the Sierra Maestra, from where Castro's forces carried out the revolution.
For many reasons, Cubans have adopted Hemingway's memory as part of their own, citing his 22 years of residence on the island and the references to Cuba in his work. From frozen daiquiris at the Floridita cafe' to spring fishing tournaments in the Caribbean, the Hemingway name has lingered in the affection of Cuba through a quarter-century of Communist revolution.
Castro, the inspiration for most of what happens here, has played a large role in Hemingway's continued prestige in Cuba. On several occasions since the author's suicide in 1961, Castro has called him alternately "my favorite author" or "one of my favorite authors." He has particulary mentioned "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "The Old Man and the Sea" as Hemingway works he has read and admired.
"The Old Man and the Sea," whose aging hero battling a fish was partly modeled on a Cuban friend of the author, has been called a "masterpiece" by Castro. And the Cuban president has talked several times of lessons learned from the warfare in "For Whom the Bell Tolls."
"The book illustrates life behind the lines, the existence of guerrilla forces and how they act with complete freedom in territory supposedly controlled by the enemy," he told Cuban author Norberto Fuentes last year.
Fuentes, who recently published the book "Hemingway in Cuba," wrote that Castro met Hemingway personally only once, when the Cuban leader won a trophy in the May 1960 Hemingway Fishing Tournament in Cuba. Castro has told other interviewers the two men met on several occasions but never for any length of time. In any case, Castro received Hemingway's widow Mary Welsh when she came to Havana a month after the author's death. He personally agreed with her on the preservation of Finca Vigia, the Hemingway estate on the outskirts of Havana.
The elegant hilltop villa, which still contains many Hemingway belongings, has been turned into a museum run by the culture ministry to show visitors what Hemingway's life here was like.
According to Fuentes, the author's routine consisted mainly of morning writing, standing up at a typewriter, and afternoon entertaining for visiting foreigners and Cuban friends.
Hemingway's attitude toward the Castro revolution has been much discussed, with anti-Castro Cubans declaring he opposed what went on here after 1959 and Castro supporters citing comments that appeared laudatory.
"We won't go so far as to say he was a Communist, but he was certainly progressive," Garcia, the museum guard and Hemingway fan, told a recent visitor to Finca Vigia. "He turned up everywhere there was a just cause."
Hemingway himself never defined his views on the Cuban revolution with clarity. In his introduction to Fuentes' book, the Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez said Hemingway, trying in 1949 to explain his residence here, cited the fishing, the cockfights, the Caribbean breezes, then added:
"You live in Cuba because you can plug the bell in the party-line phone with paper, so that you won't have to answer and that you work as well there in the cool early morning as you ever have worked anywhere in the world."
Political sentiments aside, Hemingway's memory has become an institution here. The waiter at Floridita proposes a "Papa Hemingway" daiquiri -- double dose and not so sweet. A sign in La Bodeguita del Medio, a nearby eatery and bar in Old Havana, claims that while Hemingway liked his daiquiris in La Floridita, which calls itself "the birthplace of the daiquiri," he preferred La Bodeguita del Medio for his mojitos, a powerful Cuban speciality with rum and fresh mint leaves.
The Hemingway Fishing Tournament was held again this May and one of Cuba's water-sports centers has been baptized the Hemingway Marina. The National Tourism Institute has put up one restaurant called Papa's in the marina and another called Fiesta in reference to "A Moveable Feast." It has announced plans for a hotel in the same complex to be called The Old Man and the Sea.
The institute advertises Finca Vigia as an attraction for visitors, and the culture ministry has begun preparing a wharf just down the hill to exhibit the Hemingway yacht, Pilar.
The Hotel Ambos Mundos, now used as an education ministry guest house, has preserved the room where Hemingway began his residence here in Old Havana, before success enabled him to buy Finca Vigia.
Aside from the places and whatever tourists they may bring, Cubans perhaps have a warm spot for Hemingway's memory because he admired in them what they like best about themselves. Castro, who has spoken for Cuba since 1959, talked to Fuentes about Hemingway's love of the sea, easy friendships and macho sense of adventure and honor.
"Man can confront adversity, even must do it," Castro said, drawing lessons from the Cuban fisherman's ordeal in "The Old Man and the Sea."
"The end will not be written, the triumph will not always be obtained, but the imperative is to seek it, struggle for it. And this is the message of Hemingway that we had present here in Cuba in the middle of a revolution. Truthfully, Hemingway accompanied us in crucial and very difficult moments that we went through."