Cuba marks anniversary of Hemingway death

SAN FRANCISCO DE PAULA, Cuba Wed Jul 2, 2008 7:58pm EDT

SAN FRANCISCO DE PAULA, Cuba (Reuters) - The bell tolled for Ernest Hemingway on Wednesday as Cubans marked the 47th anniversary of his death by ringing a bell and playing music from the opera "Aida" at his home outside Havana.

A spray of flowers sat next to a bust of the Nobel Prize winning author on the front terrace of tree-shaded Finca Vigia, where he lived for 21 years and wrote some of his greatest works.

"Hemingway is a beloved master," said Ada Rosa Alfonso Rosales, director of the museum that the home is now.

"Glory to Hemingway," she said in a simple ceremony watched by a handful of tourists and a dozen Cuban soldiers.

The music, from one of Hemingway's favorite records, wafted out of the airy Spanish-style home while those present silently looked in the open windows at the remainders of a famous life.

Most prominent was evidence of three great passions in Hemingway's life -- shelves of books, walls hung with the heads of African animals and a well-stocked liquor cabinet in the middle of the living room.

All of it looked frozen in time -- July 25, 1960, to be precise, the day Alfonso said Hemingway left Cuba for the last time, more than a year after the Cuban revolution and less than a year before he killed himself in Ketchum, Idaho.

Hemingway moved to Finca Vigia, or Lookout Farm, in 1939, the year before "For Whom the Bell Tolls" was published, and he wrote "The Old Man and the Sea," "A Moveable Feast" and "Islands in the Stream" while he was there, Alfonso said.

He was living there in 1954 when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Before buying the 15-acre (6-hectare) property, he had worked off and on in the Cuban capital, writing in a room at the Ambos Mundos Hotel in the heart of Old Havana.

The room, like his home, is now a museum, part of the Hemingway trail that draws thousands of tourists every year to Cuba. Not far away are La Bodeguita del Medio, where he drank mojitos, and El Floridita, his daiquiri place.

El Floridita has a statue of a smiling Hemingway, standing at the end of the bar. Tourists sit next to it to get their picture taken with the bronze version of the bearded Papa.

'UNIVERSAL MAN'

Hemingway's popularity has less to do with marketing to visitors than his greatness and the universality of his work, said Alfonso. And that was why she wanted to mark the anniversary of his death.

"Hemingway could be a tourist destination but more than that he's a legend, a great writer," she said. "He's a universal man."

By the time he left Cuba, Hemingway was struggling with the depression that would bring his demise. He admitted to interviewers, Alfonso said, that he would sometimes practice suicide.

On July 2, 1961, in Idaho, after therapy, drugs, electric shock treatment and hospitalization failed to stop the gathering darkness, Hemingway put a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

He was 61 and, from Cuba's point of view, a long way from home.

(Editing by John O'Callaghan)

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