By John Zarrella
This news analysis was written for CNN Interactive.
HAVANA (CNN) -- Only when the sun is at its midday highest are there
no shadows cast.
The old buildings rise up on either side of the narrow streets like steep
canyon walls. Drying clothes hang off rusting balcony railings that overlook
the maze of streets that are Old Havana.
The old and young sit and stand in doorways without doors that are
entrances to labyrinthine apartment buildings. A mother walking her son from
school pushes up against a building as a car makes its way by. The squeeze
You wonder if Old Havana, "Habana Vieja" in Spanish, is much different
than when Ernest Hemingway caroused here some 40-plus years ago.
To drink where Hemingway drank
On one nondescript street, the sounds of music and laughter resonate off
building walls. Even before you get to the source of the commotion, you can
hear ice tumbling into glasses.
La Bodeguita de Medio is a bar and restaurant. The interior is cut from
stone like the catacombs of ancient Christendom.
It's no wonder this was one of Hemingway's favorite watering holes. He
came here for the atmosphere and the mojitos, a Cuban drink made with rum
and mint and lots of sugar.
Now, tourists strawberried from the sun pack the bar stools to drink mojitos.
go home and say they drank where Hemingway drank. To say they drank
what Hemingway drank.
An ironic revolutionary
A few years ago, on a trip to Havana, Hemingway's granddaughter Mariel
her grandfather was one of the three icons of Cuba.
"There is Che and Fidel and my grandfather," she said.
There is an irony here. Che Guevara was a revolutionary. So is Fidel Castro.
Hemingway cared little for politics. But Mariel is right about her grandfather's
place in history here. He is everywhere.
A few blocks from La Bodeguita is another popular spot, La Floridita. On
the walls of the restaurant are pictures of the author with actors Errol Flynn
and Spencer Tracy. The house drink: daiquiris. What Hemingway drank
when he stopped here.
In Cuba, the name Hemingway is good for business. Everywhere he drank
or ate or slept is a tourist stop.
There is a marina named after him. A hotel at the marina is named after
novel "El Viejo y el Mar," "The Old Man and the Sea." For $3, tourists can
tour room 511 in the Ambos Mundos Hotel.
Hemingway lived here for awhile, and here they say he wrote another of
novels, "For Whom the Bell Tolls."
In communist Cuba, Hemingway inspires good old-fashioned capitalism.
A man's man, and a friend
But it is clear that in Cuba, Hemingway means far more than just a way
make a dollar.
The old timers will tell you he was a great man, a wonderful man. He
was certainly larger than life. He was, as they say, a man's man.
And in Latin culture, that's important.
Why he has become one of the most singularly recognizable figures
here is difficult to say. Perhaps he represents a time and spirit that no
longer exists here except in the vintage American cars of the 1940s and
1950s that still fill the streets of Havana.
"I will always miss him," says Gregorio Fuentes. Gregorio knew Hemingway
perhaps better than anyone here. He was Hemingway's boat captain. The
main character in "The Old Man and the Sea" is said to be based at least in
part on Gregorio Fuentes.
Gregorio just turned 102 years old. When I interviewed him last month,
Gregorio wore an old fishing hat, the word "Capitan" stitched across the
front. He met Hemingway in 1928. The two men fished together, went on
safari together in Africa and, during World War II, patrolled the Cuban
coast in Hemingway's boat for German submarines.
The last time Gregorio saw Hemingway, he says, Hemingway told him,
"Listen to me. Take care of yourself as you've done, as well as take
care of my Pilar as you've been doing."
The Pilar was Hemingway's boat. In the writer's will, he left it to Gregorio.
After Hemingway's death, Gregorio says people always called offering large
sums of money to fish with him on the Pilar. Gregorio says he always refused.
Gregorio lights a cigar and puffs as he recounts what happened next to
boat. He went to see Fidel Castro, he says. Hemingway and Castro met
once at a fishing tournament. There are pictures of that at the marina.
Gregorio says he asked Castro to help him preserve the boat. "'Where
would you like to take it?' he asked me. And I replied to him, 'To his home.'
And so we did it."
The boat now sits at Finca Vigia, the writer's home in Cuba turned museum.
Gregorio and I met for our interview at the La Terraza restaurant, just
street from Gregorio's home in the seaside town of Cojimar.
From here Gregorio and Hemingway often set out to sea. On a street that
runs along the water across from an old Spanish fortress there is a monument.
Sitting in the middle of a circular base surrounded by stone columns is
statue of Ernest Hemingway gazing out across the ocean he loved so much.
It was built by the people of Cojimar to honor the man they called Papa.
man they knew as a friend.