By ALFONSO NACIANCENO
The careful work by Cuban specialists to preserve documents belonging to the Ernest Hemingway archive will make it possible for the delivery of copies of over 22,000 pages of writings by the author to the John F. Kennedy Library of the US Congress.
The section of that library specializing in the life of the Nobel Prize winner will be receiving an invaluable heritage on Hemingway’s life in Cuba between 1939 and 1960, recovered thanks to a conservation, restoration and digitalization process, said Marta Arjona, the president of Cuba’s National Council for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage.
Among the copies that will be handed over to the US cultural institution are letters where Hemingway, as a journalist, dealt with topics like the Spanish Civil War and the World War II, as well as reproductions of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” (1940) and “The Old Man and the Sea” (1952).
The Bush administration has torpedoed the cooperation agreement signed in November of 2002 between the US Social Science Research Council and the Cuban National Heritage Council, to begin the initial phase aimed at the recovery of more than 11,000 letters, booklets and books kept at the Hemingway Museum in Havana.
However, Cuba will comply with its part of the agreement and will make this first contribution to the Kennedy Library despite the fact that it has not received the materials and equipment that was agreed with the US organization.
The original Hemingway documents will remain at the “La Vigia” farm in the San Francisco de Paula neighborhood, northeast of Havana, where the Museum is located.
The US technicians - that have worked at La Vigia for short periods - are very highly qualified, and describe the effort so far as successful. According to Arjona, they can testify to the fine work being done by Cuban architects, engineers and construction workers. She also noted the sincere interest to help shown by Congressman James. P. McGovern (D-Mass)
Without a doubt the results of this very serious effort influenced the decision by the US National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) to exclude the La Vigia museum from the list of 11 historical sites in need of urgent attention, according to the criteria issued by that non-governmental organization last year.
The only site outside US territory that was selected to cooperate with the main entity in charge of the protection of cultural heritage in the US was precisely the Hemingway Museum on the outskirts of the Cuban capital.
Richard Moe, president of the NTHP, said recently in Washington that the work “is not yet completed, but it will be finished in the near future,” in a statement that evidently shows the trust in the quality of the restoration work done by the Cubans. In that same meeting, Moe presented the 2006 list of the historical sites under risk.
Cuba has gone ahead with the total restoration of the museum with its own resources. No funds have been requested from anyone to revive this colonial mansion, the bungalow, the El Pilar yacht, the tower, the garage, the swimming pool or the lawn areas, Marta Arjona underscored.
ONE OF THE BEST 100
Henry Moss, an American architect and a very respected professional in his field, assured in a recent conversation with Cuban engineer Rafael Ibanez, from the Cuban Forestry Research Institute, that the restoration effort ranks among the 100 highest quality ones done in the world.
La Vigia was repaired between 1982 and 1984, but not in such a complete way as is being done now, architect Enrique Hernandez Castillo told Granma.
Hernandez is the expert in charge of the general project. He noted that when the Americans came for the first time in 2004, “we had already dismounted the two roofs of the residence, there was a clear idea on how to proceed, and a contract had been signed with the Office of the City of Havana Historian’s Monuments Restoration Enterprise for phase one.” (The decision to place a second roof on top of the original one was first conceived by Hemingway, to eliminate the leaks, and avoid big expenditures in demolishing the basic structure, or polluting the environment with the movement of rubble.)
Work on the house is going ahead well. Cedar brought from the Escambray mountains, twice cured to repel termite attacks, was used in the replacement of frames, doors and windows. A detailed study of the floor tiles that belonged to the writer’s room made it possible for the restoration in color and texture as close as possible to the original ones. The plaster finishing of the walls, together with the analysis of the tones of the paint that is going to be used in the residence, and the retouching of its outside walls, will contribute to the residence recovering its charm.
The men and women involved in the careful restoration of the Hemingway Museum are not pressed for time. When they receive pressure regarding a specific date for the completion of the job, they take you by the hand to show the extreme degree of precision and dedication required to recover everything to its original state, even in its most minute detail.