The end of the Cuban idyll

Sunset over Havana

The BBC is running a story today that the Cuban government has removed the need for its citizens to have an exit permit to travel abroad. There are many beginnings, even to ends, but this is another because ends the Cuban idyll for all which Castro established when he won power in 1959 and restricted foreign travel.

The restriction’s lifting reminds me of Milan Kundera’s Book of Laughter and Forgetting, a stinging critique of Communist government in Czechoslovakia, first published in Czech in 1978 and in English translation in 1980. In the first section of his novel “Lost Letters”, he writes of the idyll for all:

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Travelling with Ernest: Havana

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.

CojimarIn 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.

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Travelling with Ernest: it is easy to be happy in Paris

Ernest Hemingway tagged Paris as A Moveable Feast in 1950 more than 20 years after he had left. Its meaning is often misunderstood as the number of good restaurants and markets people can discover if they are adventurous.

For Hemingway it was not the person who is moveable, but Paris itself:

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man,” he wrote to a friend “then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

The following post was written in Paris a year ago. It half brings this blog up to date with my previous writing on Travelling with Ernest; but mostly it is here because Paris and the friends who are there stay with me.


Luxembourg GardensIt is easy to be happy in Paris and if you go to the Luxembourg Gardens on a clear afternoon in early Autumn the sun will be shining into the lower branches of the almost leaf-fallen trees and people will be facing their chairs to feel its warmth.

Every sound will be distant: the barely audible traffic from the Boulevard St-Michel, the emptying rustle of leaves on the trees, the crunch of fine gravel under walking feet, the slow metal scrape of heavy chairs when old women drag them over dirt into the light, and young people laughing anywhere.

Around the centre, the last crimson geraniums of summer will be blooming in large pots on a stone white balustrade that rings a sunken garden.

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Orwell and Hemingway: Paris and Hunger

George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway had little in common except hunger in Paris and their accounts even of this are very different. Orwell wrote of desperate and urgent starvation in Down and Out in Paris and London. In A Moveable Feast Hemingway leaves you thinking he just gave up dining for a while to write stories.


Paris, Tour Eiffel

The two writers shared a few circumstances in Paris. They both moved there around the same age: Hemingway was 23 and Orwell 25. They lived in the same part of the Latin Quarter, Hemingway in the rue du Cardinal Lemoine and Orwell in the rue du Pot de Fer, and they both worked as journalists and wrote fiction. That is the extent of their intersection.

They lived in Paris consecutively. Hemingway left in March 1928 after six years, having enjoyed the company of the expatriate American literati and achieved success with The Sun Also Rises. He also left with a different wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, the daughter of a wealthy Arkansas family. Orwell arrived about six months later in the Spring and stayed less than two years before he returned to England destitute. Continue reading

The Orwellian Handout

In the recollection of his poverty in Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell ends with a beginning:

“I shall never again think that all tramps are drunken scoundrels, nor expect a beggar to be grateful when I give him a penny, nor be surprised if men out of work lack energy, nor subscribe to the Salvation Army, nor pawn my clothes, nor refuse a handbill, nor enjoy a meal at a smart restaurant.”

The Orwellian Handout

Orwell would not be the friend of every blogger who is well-off, educated and energised enough to try to influence other web users, but every blogger would welcome his attitude of never refusing a flyer.

There are probably around 100 million blogs worldwide and, with nearly 2.5 billion people connected to the web, about 25 people for each one. On these numbers, bloggers really ask people to accept their ideas as if taking a pamphlet from a speaker on a Sunday soapbox. Continue reading