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A Mojito with Hemingway j

ith eager anticipation we slowly make our way on foot through

ancient narrow streets into the historical city of Old Havana. The tour guide pauses now and then to explain the historical significance of a particular building that has withstood the changing centuries. Quite a number of the structures are in various stages of restoration, but sadly, far too many of them bear evidence of age and neglect. Crumbling cement, windows devoid of shutters to keep out the elements, and disintegrating, ornate balustrades are the sad remnants of a once vibrant metropolis. Nevertheless, the old city is truly spectacular, and one can’t help but feel the tugging of time, pulling you back into centuries long gone by. In and out of narrow cobblestone

streets, we meander through Old Havana, imaginations piqued by the Spanish architecture and evident former grandeur of the city. Amid a seemingly endless sea of drab grey buildings, we are pleasantly surprised when a completely restored, brilliantly painted hotel suddenly appears before us. The façade of the building is classically Spanish, with a bright, salmon-hued stucco exterior. Shuttered windows framed with intricately carved white cement open onto tiny balconies overlooking the street far below. The conquistadors created a perfect blend of splendour and romance when they built the

Meandering through the narrow streets of Old Havana.

magnificent Hotel Ambos Mundos! Aswe drawnear, soft pianomusic drifts

into the street from the open windows of the CaféAmbos Mundos that encompasses the entiremain floor of the hotel.An elderly Cuban gentleman at a worn baby grand piano just inside the café greets us with a warm smile, his deft fingers not missing a note of the sweet melody he plays. Senses tingling, I imagine him playing those same

tunes to a relaxed Ernest Hemingway, seated at a nearby table with his notebook and pen. I am standing inside Ernest Hemingway’s favourite bar, in the Hotel Ambos Mundos, deep in the heart of Old Havana. He kept a room here on the fifth floor for many years, and frequented this café where no doubt he felt inspired to write. A20 foot high ceilingwith ornate crown

mouldings towers above the gleaming marble floor that encompasses the entire room. The cafe is tastefully furnished, offering the relaxation associated with lounging in ones own living room. Quite near the entrance, there’s an ornately designed mahogany bar with matching bar stools comfortably worn from a lifetime of patronage. A dark, handsome young bartender takes my order, beckoning me to a seat next to an older Cuban gentleman sipping rum and coke, savouring a thick, aromatic Cuban cigar. I find myself daydreaming about how

An elderly Cuban gentleman greets Annabel from the worn baby grand piano just inside the Café Ambos Mundos .

many times the greatHemingway sat in this very spot, his arms resting comfortably on the bar while he sipped a Mojito, casually chatting with the locals. The bartender crushes fresh mint leaves in a tall frosted glass, and works his magic with the remaining ingredients. Around the room,

Bread ‘ n Molasses September/October 2010 • 7

by Annabel Sheila

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