There’s no water in the pool where American actress Ava Gardner once swam—instead, it has been replaced by dead leaves and dappled sunlight that dances its way across the pale blue tiles as elegantly, I imagine, as Gardner did during her dips. Nearby, a 12m-long wooden fishing boat named Pilar sits moored on dry land, another relic at writer Ernest Hemingway’s Cuban home, Finca Vigía, not far from Havana. Gardner provided Hemingway with company and a drinking companion, but it was the fishing expeditions taken aboard this vessel that inspired his last major work of fiction, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Old Man and the Sea.
Set mostly on the Gulf Stream and in a small village near Havana, the story tells the tale of an ageing fisherman on a tiresome quest to catch a colossal marlin. During my nine-day stay in Cuba, I’m so intrigued to see where the book had been diligently typed back in 1951 that I flag down a bright-blue vintage Chevrolet Bel Air Impala to drive me into the countryside of San Francisco de Paula, the suburb where Hemingway lived and worked for more than 20 years.
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