Hardly unusual for the male of the species, Ernest Miller Hemingway enjoyed a loo read.
How do we know? To the left of his nature calling position in his Finca Vigia home, from where he could also enjoy a stunning view of the Havana skyline, is a well-stacked bookshelf.
Throw in a few reptiles in formaldehyde jars and you’ve got yourself a rough sketch of what this extraordinary man’s ‘throne room’ resembled – and still does to this very day.
Hemingway’s love affair with Cuba was the longest in a life which traversed war, bullfights, continents, plane crashes and marriages.
For the healthier part of 30 years, that splendid and friendly island was the place he called home.
Yet to visit the Finca today gives one the impression that he’s just popped into town for a daiquiri, though he departed in 1960, as Fidel Castro’s rule took root.
Just a year later on July 2nd, Hemingway, wearing a dressing gown and pyjamas, loaded a double-barrelled shotgun in the hallway of his home in Ketchum, Idaho and ended his life.
In a New York Times report which ran that same day, the widowed Mary Welsh-Hemingway, married to ‘EM’ since 1946, said that her husband had accidentally killed himself while cleaning the weapon.
For a man who was given his first shotgun at the age of 10 to end his days in such an accidental manner was considered highly unlikely from the off.
But in the immediate light of such a death, what else was Mary to say, just hours after her enigmatic husband’s passing?
While his mortal existence ceased at 7.30am that midsummer morning, it’s hard to avoid the sentiment that something inside Ernest Hemingway died the day the Cuban coastline disappeared behind him forever.
For a man whose many pursuits and passions took him to Paris, Italy, the bullfighting arenas of Spain and the hunting grounds of Africa, it was in Cuba where the Hemingway anchor was most firmly dropped.
And once you’ve been there, as this columnist was a month ago, it’s easy to see why.
The Finca, with its accompanying guest house currently under renovation, occupies a beautiful hilltop locale, dotted with mature trees occupied by many melodious creatures of flight.
There are literally dozens of spots within the walled grounds where one could easily cosy up with a pen and Moleskine notebook, as Hemingway did, and convert one’s thoughts to print.
One imagines an idea or two surely came to him in the bathroom, that malest of male dominions, as he literally looked down upon the Cuban capital, dominated by the dome of the Capitolito.
Yet he hardly sat there for too long, given the discomfort sitting caused him due to the 227 leg wounds inflicted via a mortar shell and machine gun round in Italy in July 1918.
The vast majority of this journalist/author/war-time ambulance driver/hunter/fisherman/gun, woman and alcohol lover’s typing was executed while standing up. It explains the rather ‘high’ location of his typewriter at the Finca.
The typewriter occupies a shelf space to the right of his bed, beneath some of the several mounted animal heads that dominate the walls of his home, many of them trophies from his African hunts.
Nearby, there’s a lounge seat which Gary Cooper slept on, as the beds in the guestroom were too short for the movie star’s frame.
There’s a wall medallion by Picasso which Hemingway bought for a song hanging in his office, while on his desk sits a rubber stamp he used on unopened letters. It wryly reads: “I never write letters. Ernest Hemingway.”
And there are books – a staggering 9,000 of them to be precise inside the Finca, which visitors can view from its perimeter only.
Plans are afoot to digitise the entire Hemingway archive, which, given how slowly things move in Cuba, could take decades to record, never mind years (there’ll be more on Cuba in future columns).
To the rear of the Finca in an open shed lies Hemingway’s famous boat, the Pilar, currently under restoration. It sits next to a now water-less swimming pool which Ava Gardner once famously swam in minus a swimsuit.
Aboard the Pilar, to occupy himself when not reporting from Europe during World War II, Hemingway hunted for U-Boats in the Gulf Stream. There was little that this fascinating, complicated man didn’t fit into the life he prematurely ended.
“My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way,” Hemingway once said.
It’s what every writer aims to do, but few truly achieve in a way which ensures that their work far outlives the human existence of its creator.
In this and in so many others facets of an extraordinary life, Ernest Miller Hemingway truly achieved. All this, and a bookshelf in his bathroom too. What a man.