Cuba and Spain are linked by a common history and language, and similarities in the character and genetics of the people. The two countries also share –like almost any country in the world– an appreciation of bars. And when it comes to anything related to alcohol, they share one of the fundamental figures of the 20th century: Ernest Hemingway.
The American writer is known for his literary legacy, but one of his aptitudes was his considerable tenacity at patronizing bars until closing time. At the Floridita in Havana, he was a legend, and today there’s a life-size bronze statue of him leaning on the bar. He was also a regular at some bars in Montparnasse during his time as Paris correspondent for the Toronto Star. And his drinking, and literary production, continued in Spain, when in 1937 he went to cover the Civil War for the North American Newspaper Alliance.
Starting in that decade (he was born in 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois, and committed suicide in 1961 in Ketchum, Idaho) he came back to Spain again and again. He was a very popular writer whose works included The Sun Also Rises (Fiesta in England), published in 1926 and a portrait of the post-World War I “lost generation”; A Farewell to Arms (1929), a great love story set in that same war; and another love story, set among the Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). He never abandoned his interest for things around him, that “mixing with life” that he recommended to all writers, and his ceaseless search for truth in every phrase he wrote, which led to him to eschew experimentation in the novel.
And his interests were complementary. He was in love with bullfighting and the running of the bulls in Pamplona; he enjoyed Madrid and its Café Chicote on the Gran Vía; and he was pleasantly surprised by the cultural atmosphere and freedom of Barcelona. Several bars there became his “branch offices”: the Marsella, a tavern dating from 1820 in the Ravel district, and the Boadas, just off La Rambla. “He used to sit at the last table on the right,” says Adal Márquez (36), head barman at the latter establishment, “although in reality he sat where he could, because the place was usually full.”
What is clear is Hemingway’s favourite cocktail: a daiquiri a la cubana. “Since he had lived in Havana, he asked us to add crushed ice, which wasn’t common at the time, and he wanted lemon instead of lime, because he was tired of limes,” says Márquez, who is proud that many other famous people have visited the bar in the more than a century of its existence. “Instead of sugar we put in maraschino liqueur, because he was diabetic.” Guess what the cocktail is called now: ‘Daiquiri Hemingway’. On the website HiddenBarcelona.com it’s also noted that the writer developed a taste for carajillo (coffee with a dash of brandy).
“He met here with Picasso, Dalí and Miró, who were regulars. He found us because the owner, Miguel Boadas, was the son of emigrants to Cuba. In Cuba he worked in El Floridita, and each time that Hemingway returned to Spain he saw Boadas, because they were friends, and spent hours in the bar,” says Márquez, who knows the stories and has seen the photos.
By chance, the woman who inspired the heroine in For Whom the Bell Tolls, a nurse named María Sans, was from neighbouring Lérida and spent her life in Catalonia, something that Hemingway often recalled while wandering through his favourite parts of Barcelona: it was from this city that he left Spain when he finished reporting on the war, and the two would never meet again, as both lamented until the end of their days.
What else did Hemingway leave in this great Mediterranean city? Not much, in fact. From time to time he returned with his friend the matador Antonio Ordóñez to watch him perform in the Monumental bullring. And soon Hemingway, who was claimed as a son by many different places from Ronda to Florida, was eclipsed by other writers who lived and worked in Barcelona, like Manuel Vázquez Montalbán or Roberto Bolaño. Hemingway never celebrated the city in the way he had immortalised Paris. And it probably doesn’t matter: there are bars in every city, and Hemingway, whether he was in them or not, unites all those cities.
Fotos cedidas por coctelería Boadas