Thu, Jul 08, 2004 - Page 6 News List

US tourists run gauntlet to admire Hemingway


Fans of Ernest Hemingway visit his former home in Havana, Cuba, on Tuesday.


Many tourists in Havana pay tribute to Ernest Hemingway by drinking a frozen daiquiri alongside the life-size bronze statue of the late author at El Floridita restaurant, his one-time watering hole.

But few of them used to drink with the man himself at the restaurant's bar, like Lee Minor, a 90-year-old resident of Fort Myers, Florida.

"We had drinks together at the bar," said Minor, who spent much of the 1940s and 1950s in Cuba as president of a US electrical company operating here. "He enjoyed friends, enjoyed knowing people."

Decades later, Minor returned to the island with his 60-year-old son for a tour of "Hemingway's Cuba" with a group of American Hemingway fans.

The travelers are among just a sprinkling of US groups still coming to Cuba after tough new US restrictions against travel to the island took effect last Wednesday.

Organizers of the group said the travelers came to Cuba, via Mexico, on a humanitarian license. They brought bags of clothing, medicine and school supplies to give to Cubans they meet on their week-long trip, which ends on Sunday.

Other groups come in direct defiance of the US measures. Brigada Venceremos, a group of US activists, arrived via Canada earlier this week to the eastern city of Santiago, telling reporters they came in solidarity with Cubans and in protest at US policy against the communist island.

The new US rules are meant to squeeze the island's economy and push out Cuban President Fidel Castro by cutting the amount of cash coming in from the US and limiting visits to Cuba by cultural and academic groups, as well as Cuban Americans.

On Tuesday, the Hemingway group visited the rambling hacienda of Finca Vigia, just east of Havana where the author lived from 1939 to 1960, a year before he committed suicide in Ketchum, Idaho.

They toured the inside of Hemingway's home, preserved much as he left it and filled with thousands of books by authors including Fyodor Dostoyevsky, J.D. Salinger and himself. Posters of Spanish bullfights and stuffed animal heads cover the walls, and a leopard animal skin stretches across a wide couch in front of Hemingway's massive mahogany desk.

The group stopped to listen to a group of Cuban men in their 70s who recounted tales of playing baseball on Hemingway's hacienda. They were allowed to run all around the grounds and eat as much fruit as they wanted.

"He was like a second father to all of us," said Jose Rodriguez, 76, another of the baseball players.

The Americans said they loved experiencing such living history.

"It's about Hemingway the man, not Hemingway the writer," said David Martens, of Anacortes, Washington. "It's about the humanitarian side of Hemingway, and his connection with the Cuban community."

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