Postcard From Havana-Part 3: Vicente Wolf and Hemingway’s House

One of the most memorable meals of my life was with a small group of friends years ago at the restaurant Georges, atop the Beaubourg (Centre Pompidou) in Paris. It lasted from 2 until 7 – or was it 1 until 8? – and went through I don’t know how many bottles of wine and packs of cigarettes. (People still smoked then.)

Havana cafe
One of Havana's many indoor-outdoor cafes.

New York designer Vicente Wolf, who actually did not smoke, btw, was there with our mutual friend Cathy Whitworth, a designer and travel impresaria from Athens, Georgia. Another was a German prince whose family left everything to flee from East to West at the end of World War II. Vicente’s family had done the same, only 15 or so years later, fleeing from Cuba to the U.S., where he is now a citizen. The German asked Vicente if he thought of himself as Cuban or American. “Cuban,” he answered, without a moment’s hesitation.

Following my trip to Havana last week with the travel company Indagare, I prevailed upon Vicente Wolf for his thoughts on what about his homeland inspired him. His answer came again without hesitation:Despite the somewhat blighted state of Cuba today, he said, “The inspiration is the people – their sense of living and lightness of spirit.” Yes, I felt that too.

And though the fishing was darn good, I think it was the people who endeared Ernest Hemingway to Cuba – the people who called him ”Papa.”

Finca la Vigia
Ernest Hemingway's Finca La Vigia

Critical as he was of the corrupt Batista regime, the writer would be heartsick at what the once-prosperous island has become. Fortunately his own house there has fared better than most, and efforts toward its restoration and preservation have been stepped up in recent years.

EH Living Room
The living room of Finca La Vigia. The drinks cart - Papa did like his cocktails - set up between the two club chairs is just as he left it.

And yet to see it is to have the sense he just got up from his typewriter and left the room.

EH study
Hemingway's study, like every room in the house, displays his hunting trophies - mementoes of another place he loved dearly: Africa. There are said to more than 5,000 books in the house.
EH library
In Hemingway's library, I love how the desk curves around the back of the sofa.

Its high ceilings and graceful arches reflect and frame the light exactly as they did when he composed there The Old Man and the Sea, set in the tiny village of Cojimar, steps from his door.

And that is the second part of what Vicente Wolf says still inspires him about his homeland from a design perspective. “the Latin American Colonial point of view is very different from, say, the Indonesian point of view or the Burmese point of view,” all of which, incidentally, resonate in Vicente’s designs. He mentions specifically the windows, with “all those colors,” referring to the abundant stained glass in Cuban architecture, whose aesthetic is pervaded by greenery and light.

Sunflower window
Stained glass windows adorn even the most modest establishments and buildings in Havana.

Havana window In Cuba, as in all places, the concepts of beauty and grace in design are born from the spirit of the people and the environment from which that spirit arose. I only pray that politics, poverty, and the ravages of time will not erase it. Cubans, after all, are still proud to be Cuban.

View to a courtyard in Havana
View to a courtyard off Obispo Street in Old Havana.

And then I think, you can’t dance the salsa like they dance it and stay in an ugly mood for long.

Carolyn Murphy salsa
Designer Carolyn Murphy fires up her salsa with the help of a pro to the tunes of Buena Vista Social Club at the Cafe La Taverna.

For more impressions of our trip and much better photos than mine, see my new friend, fellow traveler and beautiful blogger Hollye Jacobs’s posts right here at her Silver Pen.

Holly and Jeff
Our Indagare group at lunch, including blogging beauty Hollye Jacobs and her husband Jeff, under the painting, at the Havana ''paladar'' Atelier. Legal since the mid 90s, paladares are small, private restaurants, usually in peoples' homes, and usually very good.
Evidence of Havana's lively art scene was everywhere we looked, including this portrait of Indagare founder Melissa Biggs Bradley's apparent twin.


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