Finding Graham Greene And The Mob In A Havana Hotel

Hotel Mercure Sevilla

Hotel Mercure Sevilla

The Hotel Mercure Sevilla, where we recently stayed, and where Hemingway wrote some of Farewell To Arms, is also known for  Graham Greene, author of many prize-winning novels.

Typically when I go on holidays to some other country, I like to read works that tell me something about the country I’m visiting. So, I read The Old Man And The Sea by Hemingway, and Our Man In Havana, by Graham Greene.

I was surprised to discover, while I was there and in the midst of reading Greene’s novel, that he had used the Hotel Sevilla as backdrop in his Graham Greenenovel, a story about Wormold, a vacuum cleaner salesman, who becomes an unlikely British spy just before the Cuba’s revolution.

Maybe the hotel’s criminal past inspired Greene to use it in his novel to emphasize the shadiness of what his protagonist was involved in.

“They groped their way through the darkness of the Seville-Biltmore Bar. They were only dimly aware of their fellow-guests, who sat crouched in silence and shadow like parachutists gloomily waiting the signal to leap.”

You have to admit, that excerpt from Our Man In Havana is wonderful writing. It’s always a delight to discover a writer, even one that has departed.

5th floor of Hotel Sevilla

5th floor of Hotel Sevilla

And then when I read, “the rooms were built as prison-cells round a rectangular balcony”, I could see it, as our room was on the fifth floor.

And of course, the line, “ Wormold got to the bottom of the stairs while Dr. Hasselbacher was still manoeuvring the first step; 501 was close by”, prompted me to investigate that very room. It was just down the hall from 509, the room where we stayed.

Much to my delight, the hotel had a ceramic plate beside the 501 door, mentioning the fact that the author had written about this room in his novel. I love little surprises like that. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I love writing and reading so much, that I place stock in the well-written word and a story that is rooted in reality.

Graham Greene

 

The hotel is also where mobsters – Lucky Luciano, Al Capone, and Meyer Lansky – conducted business in the 1920s. It was called the Hilton Baltimore back then, and had a casino.

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And Josephine Baker was one of the performers who entertained the guests.

As for the hotel today, I did see some young men on laptops in the lobby, tapping away while a couple of opera singers were entertaining the guests.

Were the laptop enthusiasts writers? I don’t know. But since I’m an opera fan, it bothered me that they were oblivious to the arias that were being sung so beautifully.

But then again, maybe they were writing an epic story. Or maybe they were just using the Wi-Fi in the hotel, a service not easily found in Havana.

Comments are always appreciated.

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