I walk from my hotel to a park on Nob Hill, steep above the city, where a three-hour walking tour starts at one o’clock. It is a fogless day and the sun is burning.
The park is opposite Grace Cathedral, a hollow pastiche of Middle Ages architecture with Norman towers, Gothic arches and a copy of the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth inside a flamboyant Gothic doorway that mimics Florence’s Baptistry and faces east, not west. Its bells peal off descending semitones over three mournful octaves. I walk away.
The guide comes and after three days of walking I’m relieved she is fair skinned, greatly overweight and wearing a shadeless Florentine hat thing that flops on her head like gathered velvet. Then the eighty-year old Richard and his sexagenarian partner, Richard, from Palm Springs shuffle up and we spend most of the afternoon walking downhill in the shade.
“A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” Gertrude Stein, born 1874 in Pittsburg, raised in Oakland.
I walk and I walk and I walk and I walk.
I walk on the steep carved hills. I walk to the tops of the hills and over the tops of hills. I walk down the hills. I let the busses go past. I do not get on the streetcars. I hear the cables whirring below the tracks. I cross streets of black veined tar that fills the fault lines of tired and rubbed out roads.
I walk on the pavements and pass by many people. I walk along long streets of three-storey houses, their walls conjoined, their textured and coloured facades and the shapes of their windows all different.
I walk into the cafes on Columbus Avenue that make thick syrup espressos and listen to the talk of animated men getting older. ‘Can you imagine having Eugene O’Neil as a father-in-law? Holy shit.’ The best coffee is made by quiet men in black cotton shirts.
It is sixty years since Ernest Hemingway published the Old Man and the Sea and just over fifty since he leant on the trigger of his favourite shotgun in Ketchum, Idaho, with the barrel in his mouth.
He wrote the novella at his house in the outer hills of Havana and set it in Cojimar, a small town twenty minutes east of Havana’s Prado by the No.58 bus, where he moored his boat after fishing for marlin in the Gulf Stream.
In Cojimar the sun is hot and the air is clean and cool. The sea is calm. The roads are quiet. There is only one tout who says I am paying too much for my hotel and that I should stay at a bed and breakfast he knows. There is almost a breeze.
It feels far away from the heat and humidity of Havana and its taxi? … taxi? taxi drivers, cigar, sir, cigar cigar sellers, I want to buy your hat hat sellers, Cuban Musicians playing high-school rhythm for tips in public plazas and the prostitutes who sit in pairs along the Malecon.