Sunday, August 19, 2007

Smithsonian Triggers Travel Memories

A friend passed along the August Smithsonian Magazine a couple of weeks ago; I was smitten by the several articles that reminded me of my own past -- fairly recent and long gone.

*An piece about present-day Prague, jumping with a current generation of ex-pats, which also mentioned the stultifying effect that the communist days had on Czech glasswork. One of my recollections from a 70s trip is of a rather grand rooftop cocktail lounge atop a hotel (the International, I believe) that had been financed by the Soviets. A feature of the facility was a set of stylish glass panels and room dividers, all designed around the theme of the idealized worker.

*The second article that brought back memories was a spread of pictures of Elvis impersonators. On another business trip in the 70s, this time to Memphis to interview the CEO of Holiday Inns, I was astounded by the Elvis look-alike who pranced the hallways of my hotel and evidently was this particular Holiday Inn's prime entertainer. Little did I realize that he was a harbinger of today's worldwide legions of Elvis copycats. He must have been one of the earliest -- the King died in 1977.

However, it was the third article, about Ernest Hemingway's days in Havana, that really captured my attention. I had recently sequestered the postcard above from Mom's apartment; it pictured one of Pan-Am's Miami-based Clipper Ships that carried more than 60,000 passengers per year to ports in the Caribbean and South America. My father, an internal revenue (tax) agent, boarded such a plane in the late 30s to check the tax returns of ex-pats living in Havana. One was Ernest Hemingway.

This plate with a postcard-style picture of the Marti or Prado -- main drag -- of Havana was one of the souvenirs Papa brought back. That plus tales of how Hemingway invited him for more than one evening of drinks, perhaps at the Floridita bar, said to be the writer's favorite watering place. The bartender there regularly tossed dice with customers for drinks; Pop lost more than he won and had the title of La Paloma, slang for the sucker or fall guy, bestowed upon him.

Some weeks after his return home to Jacksonville, Pop received a letter from Hemingway, who was in the middle of For Whom the Bell Tolls. He wrote that he had this group of people in the middle of a bridge and he was wondering what he should do with them; perhaps he should just blow the bridge up and be done with it! He also apologized for not having any books handy to sign and send to us. The books -- A Farewell to Arms and To Have and To Have Not -- arrived a couple of weeks later, signed. I was forbidden to read the latter book, which presumably was a bit "too old" for me. Yes, I still have both the letter and the books. Somewhere. Put wherever by my late husband -- he left an inordinate amount of paper work behind.

9 comments:

Hermano said...

Dont forget the castanets, maracas and genuine key to the city of Habana thermometer (made in Scranton, Penna). The centre of Havana is pretty much as depicted on the plate.

Hermano

sheoflittlebrain said...

Wha interesting stories, GJ! Especially to one who has never been east of the Mississippi! You've never talked much about your travels or your Papa. Please tell us more.........

Granny J said...

Bro -- thanks for the laundry list. I remembered the castanets but completely forgot that famous thermometer! And of course, you saw Habana last year catching your ship. Like a city caught in amber...

Brain -- Odds and ends of my tales come out when something triggers them, such as that postcard (which I don't ever recall seeing) plus that Smithsonian article.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post. Enjoyed it immensely.

Steve

Granny J said...

steve -- I thought that might interest you, as a writer.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if you considered taking a picture of the letter or scanning it for a post, but that would be special.

Steve

Granny J said...

Steve -- I will, when I find the dang thing. Unfortunately, the LH sequestered the letter & stashed it someplace, like in one of 18-20 file drawers.

Catalyst said...

My god, GJ, those signed EH books are certainly worth money! Better find them.

Granny J said...

Cat-A -- I'm pretty sure I can lay my hands on the books. It's the letter that concerns me -- I suspect it's worth more.

 
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