Zzzzz Mr Hemingway. (Habana 58)

One of the less likely destinations for visiting tourists can be found in the Ambos Mundos hotel.  The rooftop bar and perhaps the experience of travelling to it in the original metal cage lift, are the draw for most, and with cold mojitos, smooth salsa and views over the city on offer from the shade of its canopies it’s an understandable choice.

Perhaps when they leave they’re a little too unsteady on their feet to venture down the stairs to the fifth floor and specifically room 511.  There was no trace of other interested parties when I ventured there and no queue was building outside as I left.  Nevertheless the room justifies the constant presence of permanent guardian, a white-uniformed guide who answers to your knock and for a few pesos supervises your stay in the room.

Its attraction lies in its former occupant; for this was Hemingway’s base in Cuba at one point and it is preserved in tribute to him along with various personal ephemera and of course his Remington typewriter on its height-adjustable table.  (Hemingway couldn’t sit for long periods of time as a result of an array of injuries and health problems).  The hotel proudly proclaims that this is where he began For Whom the Bell Tolls, the title being taken from a work by John Donne written while convalescing from serious illness.  Deliberate or ironic?

Whatever the answer it seems fitting place to come to rest after my alphabetical perspective on this city don’t you think?


Hemingway (Habana 27)

I’ve read some Ernest Hemingway over the years.  Some, but not enough.

I say that because I’ve unintentionally become something of a Hemingway stalker; it seems that everywhere I travel these days I find myself in a bar that was once frequented by the writer.

The process began many years ago on a trip to Paris with my ex-wife, and continued on my first visit to Venice.  I’ve blogged before about Harry’s New York Bar and Harry’s bar each of which was frequented by Hemingway.  Did he have some fixation about the name?  Not quite.  The common factor isn’t the name but the commodity on sale.

I extended my collection of Hemingway Haunts last December with Locanda Cipriani, a small inn on Torcello in the Venetian Lagoon but then I came to Havana.  There are probably dozens of drinking establishments here that could claim him as a former customer; he came to Cuba in 1939 to escape his second wife and became a resident of one of the hotels in Havana Vieja, plenty of opportunity to discover new watering holes.

There are a couple of particularly notorious spots.  He reportedly wrote

My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita

on the wall of the former, and consequently now the tiny bar has become a tourist trap where visitors queue to add their own graffiti and fight their way inside for the mint based cocktail.  (This piece of art parodying The Scream tells its own story!) I declined to follow them, but I did enjoy the second of his recommendations.

It was nice to see the man was still enjoying life there.


How many Harry’s? (Venezia 16)

In recent months a new bar has opened in Newcastle upon Tyne called Harry’s Bar.  My heart sank.  Another nail in the coffin of the brand.

You see there are lots of Harry’s Bars in the world, many of them as unoriginal and unremarkable as their Novocastrian namesake, but there are two that are more notable.  Independent of one another, yet each with their moment in history.

The first that I visited was the smoke-stained Parisian version, more correctly called Harry’s New York Bar.  Here the Bloody Mary, The Side Car and The Monkey Gland were first concocted, and in the downstairs Piano Bar George Gershwin wrote An American in Paris.  James Bond lost his virginity at age 16 after a night in Harry McElhone’s establishment.

The Harry’s Bar in Venice is a very different animal.   From the moment you squeeze through its narrow doorway into a world of highly polished table tops and white-jacketed waiting staff who will steer you to a table, rearrange the furniture to your comfort and present you with the drinks menu, you know that things are a little different here (and yes that includes the price!).  Owned by the Cipriani group, and named after an American to whom Giuseppe Cipriani leant money, this is where the Bellini came into being, and one of my favourite dishes; carpaccio.  Ernest Hemingway, who was also a patron of Harry’s in Paris, ordered the first Montgomery Martini here, a martini so dry it features 15 parts gin to 1 of vermouth.  I suspect he came back for more.

Harry's Bar
Harry’s Bar



Thinking Differently

“No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness.” – Aristotle

All this week I’ve been inspired to write about creativity and mental health, or more precisely mental illness, following a piece of research published in the Journal of Psychiatric  Research by a Swedish  team led by Dr Simon Kyaga.

Kyaga has long held the belief that madness and genius are part of the same continuum (though he would put it more subtly than that!), and as you can see from the quotation above he is not the first to think it.

Now, after a study involving more than a million subjects, he and his team have shown that there is a higher risk of anxiety and bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, unipolar depression, and substance abuse among writers and their families.  Dancers and photographers are also more likely to have bipolar disorder.  What hope for photo-bloggers then?

Stephen Fry has done much to remove the stigma associated with such a diagnosis, though the understanding of mental illness is still in its infancy, both in the medical profession and the population at large.  (See one of my earlier blogs on the matter here).

Kyaga’s research may help in developing that understanding further perhaps through weighing the losses and gains of treatment, though I note that the mental health charity Mind cautioned against romanticising such conditions.  Nevertheless the list of sufferers who have been great writers includes Hans Christian Anderson and Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf, Jack Kerouac and even Winston Churchill.

One wonders how history may have differed had Churchill been stigmatised as a depressive instead of revered as a great leader.

The trouble with wanting to write about this was my need to publish a portrait alongside it.  Who could I photograph and put here without conclusions begin drawn about their sanity?

A different way of storytelling

Having been away for the weekend I had so many words to share for today’s blog, but as so often happens, the best laid plans…

I visited my cousin Ann yesterday, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, and who was recently hospitalised after an incident involving a morsel of bread and an air ambulance, and I’d written quite a serious piece about the disease, and those people I know who suffer from this dreadful condition.  All I needed to do was to upload Ann’s picture and I was done.  When we met I was saddened to see how much she had deteriorated since we last met, and when she asked not to be photographed I concurred.

Never mind I thought, I’ll come up with something else.  The area in Oxfordshire where she lives is home to red kites, birds that have been successfully reintroduced to this country.  I thought then that I’d write something about the places where I’ve been captivated by these beautiful birds; Montreux, Varenna, and Ngorongoro (though in the last case these were black kites), and find a way to link in a portrait of my eldest daughter’s boyfriend Jack, who is a great wildlife lover.  That was until I was warned off even attempting a photograph by Megan who considered him too shy to be tormented in such a way on our first meeting.  Since most of my subjects are photographed on a first (and last) meeting I thought this a moot point, but conceded again.

Driving home from Surrey, my wife Gill told me of a man who inspired by the Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway in Milan, 1918
Ernest Hemingway 1918 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

six word short story had set up a website to collect other people’s attempts at this challenge.  For me, none had quite the impact of Hemingway’s:

“For sale: baby shoes, never used.”

although I did have a smile at this attempt

“Secretary enters her boss’s cabin. Promotion.”

Telling a tale in just six words is pretty impressive but I think I can top that.

We stopped at Donington Park Services to break our journey where I was disappointed by the lack of inspiration amongst the others taking refreshment (and shelter from the hail).  As we left I saw Manuel, who had not been so lucky as to shelter from the precipitation which was so far removed from his native Portugal.  A story in six words.  Here is a life story in a single image.