Undoubtedly Neruda loved the sea, its whisper and its waves. There you have his poems, his conches and houses in Isla Negra and La Sebastiana in Valparaiso. There are two more marine houses important in his life, one in Capri, Italy and the other in Atlantida, Uruguay. It is said that everything happened in 1952, the year of the Dragon. The facts took place in Capri. I think they could not occurred elsewhere.
The previous history: In 1945 Neruda was elected Senator. He was exiled during Gabriel González Videla´s government. In 1949 he goes to exile with his wife, the painter Delia del Carril. In Mexico he suffered from phlebitis and a woman from Chillán arrived to his bedside, she was Matilde Urrutia, to help him and take care of the house. A secret romance was born between them. They lived a furtive romance protected by cohabitation. He invited his lover to Paris; to Germany he had invited her as a "singer" to the World Festival of the Youth. He invited her also to the Soviet Union as the lover of Nicolas Guillén. And so on.
If we believe his biographers´ data the profile of the Year of the Dragon, 1952, should start like this:
From Gothenburg harbour Neruda sent his wife, Delia del Carril to Chile on January 30th. This relationship was clinically death.
Second fact: the Italian Erwin Cerio offers Neruda his house in the island of Capri. One night Neruda arrives with Matilde Urrutia. The fireplace was lit the table was set. We´d better listen to the lovers. Matilde is excited: "Our first dinner in it, our first night in it. It would be foolish to describe it; I would never find the words to give the minimum idea of what it was. The only thing I will say of that night: "what a party!" And Neruda: " All night I have slept with you/ near the sea, in the island / Wild and sweet you were between pleasure and dream / between fire and water.
They open the windows at dawn, they discover a small terrace, and downwards a forest, and further the beach, and behind a forest full of moss. A day of full moon Neruda gave her a ring were it read "Capri, May 3rd, 1952, Your Captain."
Neruda wrote " The Captain Verses" in the white Bungalow over the cliffs. Matilde put them in a wooden box covered with mother-of-pearl. They travel to Naples and visit Gabriela Mistral, who was Consul in that moment. The painter Paolo Ricci, proposed him to publish "The Captain Verses." Everything happened swiftly. The Italian Communist party assumed the costs like homage for the "exiled, comrade and poet". Each one of the distinguished collaborators is mentioned in the last page of the book: Luchino Visconti, Giulio Eunaudi, the writer Carlo Lebi, the famous painter Renato Gattuso, the poet Salvatore Quasimodo, the novelist Elsa Morante and the writer Jorge Amado, among others.
The first edition was printed on July 8th, 1952 in the print house of Typographic Art of Naples, with ivory paper made by hand, the Bodoni typography and illustrations by Ricci. On the cover Medusa's head.
44 copies were printed, and it was published anonymously. It was considered clandestine, in spite of the fact that half of Italy was involved in the book. Moreover, the book was celebrated in Capri with a lot of his friends in "a flowery table, frutti di mare, and transparent wine like water."
Furthermore, let us be clear, the poems did not fool anyone: brewed in a fascinating fire, they smelled to sex and sea: "nude you dive/ I wait / Then in a jump / of fire, blood, teeth / with one strike I knock / your breasts, your hip. / I drink your blood, I break / your limbs one by one."
At the same time, in Santiago, Delia del Carril received numerous epistles from Capri: " My ant": here you have alone your large cicada, under the cold sun of Capri..."
And that was the end of the exile. Neruda Arrived to Canes with Matilde Urrutia to take the ship to Montevideo. Before that they celebrate with the poet Paul Eluard and his wife Dominique, the famous Pablo Picasso, the painter Nemesio Antúnez and his wife Inés Figueroa.
In Santiago, Chile on Sunday, July 26th, the communist rebel leader Volodia Teitelboim, called the commies gathered in the Caupolican theatre to go receive Neruda in the Cerrillo´s airport at 14:00 pm. There arrived the disciplined ones. But Neruda did not show up. Teitelboim awaits the worst. What has happened to the poet? Where was Neruda?
In that moment Neruda was not interested in the communist utopia he had his own and concrete utopia, Atlantida, a fascinating spa of Rio de la Plata, 46 kilometres away from Montevideo. One of his friends, the Uruguayan Alberto Mántaras, came in the same ship and he owned a beautiful house in Atlantida, place with the magic name of the mystic continent lost centuries before. Neruda had been invited to stay there.
They arrived to Montevideo. But the Chilean communist party had sent him a guard of corps, Astolfo Tapia, Carlos Vicuña and Sergio Insunza. Neruda acted carefully to deceive the guard. Matilde hid and continued up to Buenos Aires. Matilde had to cross the Rio de la Plata, and then they were able to meet in the beautiful, 3-story Liberty style mansion next to the sea.
Third Station: Atlantida gave him back " the honey of and its deliciousness." "Smell and movement/ of marine pine groves / you give me back/not only the honey/ of love and its deliciousness/ but the circumstances /the purest of the earth:/ the dry and unsociable /flora of the sea, of the air /of silence."
With the connivance of the sea and the pine forests, the lovers relived their passion. Maybe, holding hands they saw blinded luxurious sunsets. Some times they would go out to roam and they collected herbs to make a delicate herbarium.
Neruda named the place of his frenzy Datitla.
"And when / coming back / your mouth shone under the pine grove /of Datitla and up there /whistled, crepitated /and sang / bizarre/ birds/under Montevideo´s moon, then / I have come back to your love / to the happiness of your wide eyes;/I went down and touched the dirt/loving you and loving/my venturous trip /."
Nowadays Atlantida´s house is a museum. You can visit the rooms and imagine how they were when the lovers lived there. Perhaps in the objects that are preserved there the perfume of the love can be smelt.
Mean while the Chilean communists waited until August 12th of the Year of the Dragon when Neruda finally arrived to Chile.
When the militants saw him getting off the plane they emotionally sang the national anthem.
Ernest Hemingway presence in La Havana, Cuba, is irrefutable for any wanderer. In La Bodeguita del Medio you can drink mojitos (rum with mint and sugar) that Hemingway would drink. In El Floridita the tourist should drink a "Daiquiri", the drink Hemingway liked. Moreover, I´m aware nowadays there is a special Hemingway drink: a big measure of rum, a finger of Toronja juice, a half green lemon squeezed, stirred and served very cold. While you drink the special you can watch on the wall some photographs of the writer with the actors Errol Flynn and Spencer Tracy.
The places where Hemingway drank, ate or slept are a tourist station. For example Hemingway stayed from 1932 to 1939 in the room 511 in La Havana Vieja in the Ambos Mundos Hotel. That room is a museum.
The cultural visitor, looking for something else than a spot on the beach where to put his towel, will also go to the Hemingway museum in the Vigia Ranch 15 kilometers away from La Havana, in the neighbourhood of San Francisco de Paula. Hemingway bought the estate in 1940 and shared it with her 4th wife, Mary Welsh, his 4 dogs and with his 57 cats. Hemingway´s museum is in the same condition he left in 1960. Includes, apart from the descendants from the cats, 9000 books, 500 vinyl records, personal belongings, hunting trophies and his famous yacht "El Pilar".
In 1932 a hurricane left the Hemingway´s yacht isolated. Gregorio Fuentes, a fisher born in The Canary Islands, rescued him. In 1936, he asked him to get in charge of his yacht and become his fishing guide.
During 2nd world war German submarines operated in the Cuba keys with the mission to torpedo down American merchant ships, which carried raw material to make armament in the United States. Hemingway and Gregorio Fuentes painted the yacht in black, then armed it with a machine gun and sailed away to hunt submarines. In the yacht, among others, was a radio operator from the North American embassy. From the El Pilar, they warned the American air force when they spotted a submarine.
Finally, the visitor will take a short trip to Cojimar, sailors´village, 15 kilometres away from La Havana, the pier where they left El Pilar.
Here the writer met fishers that used to fish with bottles of water, sugar and cookies, they would venture to the sea to fish with lines, and bare handed, some fish bigger than their boats. Gregorio Fuentes and Ernest Hemingway would sit in the bar La Terraza to observe the sea and drink mojitos. If you are a lucky tourist you may find Gregorio Fuentes at the bar smoking a Habano. Gregorio Fuentes is today 104 years old and he is part of the national asset as the Dike of La Havana the place where lovers kiss and where there are lots of Cadillac of the 50´s.
The legend says that Gregorio Fuentes is the alter ego of the old Santiago, from the novel "The Old Man and The Sea", he himself has delivered version-myths: once they were navigating through Pinar del Río and they saw an old boat with an elder and a boy. The elder was fighting with a swordfish bigger than his boat. They approached to help him. As they approached the old man started yelling: "American, son of a bitch, get out here". Hemingway told him:" don´t mind him". When they were away, he said: "I am going to write a book about this story".
Everything could be doubted. But, what we cannot doubt in is that there in Cojimar, between fishers, was spawned "The Old Man and The Sea". We must also believe in the legend, that he wrote it, as usual, standing up and in his portable Royal typewriter.
Gregorio Fuentes has said too that he named the novel. Hemingway would have asked him: "What title should I give it, Gregorio?" And he answered: "haven´t we met an elder? And wasn´t he in the middle of the sea? So, there you have the name".
Everything could be doubted, but I don´t have any doubt that the old Gregorio knew Hemingway better than his 4 wives.
50´s. Hemingway was a star. But his works were suffering the sourness of the critic. His editor returned him some manuscript because it was not publishable. But he liked the story about an old Cuban man and his dramatic story, 84 days in the sea obsessed with catching a swordfish.
In 1952 in Life magazine, The Old Man and The Sea was published. It was a success. Critics were talking about a classic then. The Old Man and The Sea won Pulitzer Prize. In 1954, Hemingway won Nobel Prize. That distinction was dedicated to the fishers and he deposited the medal before the Virgin of Charity of The Copper, Catholic Patron of Cuba.
The last time Gregorio saw Hemingway in 1960 he told him: "take care of Pilar as you have been doing."
Then he came back to his country and the next year he committed suicide.
Of this suicide, for respect to the dead, we cannot doubt.
Neither I hesitate to believe that the writer left the yacht El Pilar to Gregorio in his will. I think it was an act of brotherhood
But Gregorio could not guarantee the yacht security. He says that he talked to Fidel Castro when he went to visit it. The truth is that shortly the Comandante sent a crane and a van, took it away. The ship where he caught needlefish and "hunted" German submarines along with Gregorio Fuentes sits now at the Vigia Ranch, in its yard, between ferns, mango trees, and the sons of his cats.
That is the truth.