MARTHA AND ERNEST AT LA FINCA VIGIA, CUBA

Both Ernest and Martha had been war correspondents during the Spanish Civil War. In honeyed wartime, they seemed happy. But Martha’s departure to peaceful Cuba seemed a difficult transition. Surrounded by a fat crop of alligator pears and creeping bougainvillea, her desire to return to war strafes her letters like a machine-gun: ‘Only a fool would prefer to be actively achingly dangerously unhappy, rather than bored,’ she wrote, concluding: ‘I am that class of fool.’ Cuba, she complained, was drowning her in ‘flowers and martinis.’

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Short sorties to foreign wars helped satisfy Martha temporarily: Finland in 1939 and China in 1940, as well as hunting submarines in the Caribbean in 1942. But she hungered for Spain: a war of values, of camaraderie, of illicit love. ‘I would like to be young and poor in Milan and with you and not married to you,’ she wrote to Ernest, rather disarmingly, in 1943.

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As Ernest kept up the home front, and Martha finally found a job reporting the war from London, the marriage foundered. When Ernest finally did arrive in London, a fellow correspondent, Mary Welsh, caught his eye. She was to become his fourth wife a year later.

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Though for a time Martha was heartsick about the separation in 1944, what is remarkable in her letters is the war’s energizing effect on her. ‘Maybe the reason one is so very gay in a war is that the mind, convulsed with horror, simply shuts out the war and is fiercely concentrated on every good thing left in the world. A doorway, a flower stall, the sun, someone to laugh with, and the wonderful fact of being alive.’ Ernest wondered, after their divorce, whether Martha wasn’t a little ‘war-crazy’. But Martha’s war reportage, I think, seemed to make her sane.

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The gravestones of Ernest’s cats in the garden of La Finca Vigia. 

MARTHA-cuba-03The beautiful Pilar, which Ernest bought at the princely sum of $7000 in the 1930s, now sits at the very bottom of La Finca’s garden. These are my photographs from my amazing trip to Hemingway’s home in Cuba. You can’t go in the house but you are free to walk around the gardens and see the interior through open windows. 

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