In Paul Hendrickson’s wonderful book entitled Hemingway’s Boat that focuses on his years–1934-61-in Cuba, Paul writes that in ’34, Hemingway paid two dollars a day for Room 511 at the Ambos Mundos Hotel. (If Pauline, his second wife, came to stay with him, as she did on two separate occasions, it would cost him a half a dollar more.)
Often he would go to Cuba in those early days with Joe Russell, the owner of Key West’s Sloppy Joe’s Bar, on Russell’s thirty-two-foot cruiser, Anita. They would go for two-weeks but often spend two months fishing.
It was here at the Ambos Mundos in Room 511 where Ernie would also carry on an affair with Jane Mason, the twenty-two-year old wife of G. Grant Mason, the head of Pan American Airways in Cuba and the owner of a beautiful estate in Jaimanitas, west of Havana.
The affair did not last long as Jane suffered from manic-depression and attempted suicide at her Jaimanitas estate. Kenneth S. Lynn in his book on Hemingway writes that it is conceivable Hemingway thought of Jane Mason as his “Zelda.” (Zelda Fitzgerald at the time had just been admitted to the Phipps Clinic at the Johns Hopkins University Hospital.)
Meanwhile back at the Ambos Mundos…
In an article for Esquire, Hemingway would describe his hotel room this way:
The rooms on the northeast corner of the Ambos Mundos Hotel in Havana look
out, to the north, over the old cathedral, the entrance to the harbor, and the sea,
and to the east to Casablanca peninsula, the roofs of all houses in between and the
width of the harbor…..You look out the north window past El Morro and see that
the smooth morning sheen is rippling over and you know the trade wind is coming up early.
Visiting Cuba and the Ambos Mundos in the 2000s to research his book, Hendrickson took a government guided tour of Hemingway’s room. He describes the room this way: “On one side of 511 there are three floor-to-ceiling windows with white louver shutters opening onto a balcony. The bed, low to the floor, is in an alcove, giving it a protected feeling. There’s an old hulking black phone in the room and also a black typewriter on a wooden desk. In the carriage of the typewriter is a blank page.”
It was in this hotel where Hemingway, in 1939, would begin to write his novel of the Spanish Civil War.
While there is no sign outside the hotel that states “Hemingway Slept Here” the immense lobby (it is a hotel of one hundred rooms) has two interior walls filled with oversize photos of Ernie from his Cuban days.
In front of the Ambos Mundos Hotel is the Plaza de Armas, a small park built in the 1600s. It is filled with immense trees, a fountain, and is a gathering spot for tourists ready to venture into Old Havana. It is also lined with portable book sellers hawking copies of Hemingway’s books, in Spanish and English, as well as paperback guide books of the island.
By 1938 Hemingway and Pauline were in the final days of their marriage and Hemingway was to spend more time out of Key West and living in Havana at the Ambos Mundos. He was also about to turn his affair with Martha Gellhorn into his third marriage.
Martha, who had already spent time at the hotel, didn’t like the Old City or the hotel and when she arrived in Cuba in early 1939, she decided to look for a more permanent place to live. Terry Mort in his book, The Hemingway Patrols, said she discovered Finca Vigia-Lookout Farm and he writes, “Perhaps she detected a trace of irony in that name.”