Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Sacred Door

With irrational enthusiasm, I opted to climb five flights of stairs and experience the hotel as I’d been lead to believe He had in the 1930s, '40s and ‘50s. My destination? A door so sacred that bus tours stop here to let tourists see it. A door so famous that it has websites devoted to what rests - and who rested - behind it. I needed to see this door. To open it. To step inside and breathe in the remnant oxygen molecules expelled by Him. I knew that the room behind that door would have the answer to a question I’d been too afraid to ask out loud.

I wasn’t alone in my journey up the five flights but it was my compulsion to sit where He had created His masterpieces that kept us from experiencing the offerings of the chocolate museum or spending our converted pesos on Che key-rings or photographs of vintage cars at the tourist-oriented craft fair.

“You’d rather visit an empty hotel room than taste world class chocolate? The heat must have melted your brain,” my husband, Dave said.

“You don’t understand! His energy will still be in that room. I need to stand in his chi, to absorb his vital force.”
The door to room 511 was grubby and stained, the residue of thousands of hands having pushed it open, many like me, with reverence. I truly believed that if I opened the door slowly enough, quietly enough, I might catch Hemingway at his typewriter, bleeding his stories on to the pages. But the room was empty of men. His bed was made and roped off, making it difficult--but not impossible--to lay where Papa had once slept and dreamed. His typewriter sat under the cover of a plexi-glass box, its keys protected from dust and the inexpert fingers of wannabes, like me.

I stood and I gazed and I closed my eyes and I breathed deeply and I tried to open myself to the brilliance that I knew must still be hanging in air, waiting to be absorbed by anyone open to receiving it. But nothing came. Room 511 was… a creative void.

“I don’t understand,” I said, almost in tears.

A Cuban man with near-perfect English stepped into the room, “So, what do you think?” he asked.

“It’s not at all what I expected. I’m disappointed,” I admitted.

“Did you ever hear that the cigars made by the Romeo and Julieta cigar factory were rolled between the thighs of virgins?” he asked.


“And do you believe it?”

“Of course not.”

“Of course not! So why would you believe that simply because Ernest Hemingway is said to have stayed at the Ambos Mudos Hotel that he wrote anything here? What do you see in here?”

He didn’t leave me time to answer, “Nothing!” he said. “Hemingway lived and wrote in Havana for over twenty years, but not from this room. He lived in a giant hacienda on ten acres of land with a swimming pool and a library where he hosted friends like Ava Gardner and Gary Cooper and Jean-Paul Satre. He didn’t live in this small hotel room. The very idea is ridiculous!”

I felt like a fool. Snookered. I’d given up the chance to eat a chocolate Che Guevera head and buy grey market, communist trinkets for the false promise of artistic inspiration. As though reading my mind, the man said, “I can take you to a place where Hemingway did find inspiration-- Bar Floridita.”

“That sounds perfect,” said Dave with the enthusiasm of man who’d very quickly grown to love the Cuban rum that was served all-you-can-drink at our resort.

We sat at the bar with the Bronze, life-size Ernest, dressed as casually was we were, down to his sandals. We each ordered a ‘Hemingway daiquiri.’ Then a ‘Papa Doble,’ the same, but as Hemingway drank this lime and grapefruit slurpee, as a double.

“You know,” said our new friend, “Hemingway wrote that daiquiris felt, as you drank them, the way downhill glacier-skiing feels running through powder snow.”

“Then we need to order another round because I’m not feeling the snow yet!”

Before I left Bar Floridita I finally had the courage to ask the question that I'd been worrying over for weeks.  I leaned over to Mr. Hemingway and with drunken enthusiasm, whispered into his cold ear, “Papa, is my novel ready to be submitted to publishers?”

Papa leaned heavily on the bar and put his hand to his hip. Looking into my eyes without blinking, he said, “Donna, I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

“Thank you, Papa. I’ll hire an editor.”

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