Wednesday 17 October 2012

Pieces of Me, Pieces of Havana

Nobody knows when the graffiti first appeared or who'd written it. All we knew at the time (late 80s to early 90s) was that overnight the wall on the corner of G Avenue and 21st St had been daubed in blue letters with the intriguing caption "LINA CARLOS AUN TE BUSCA" (LINA CARLOS IS STILL LOOKING FOR YOU). Its capital letters could not hide the solecism, though; the absence of the mandatory comma between the two names, as if the executioner had been in a mad rush to get out of the crime scene before being caught. Immediately the speculation started. Who had dared to decorate the wall of this famous spot in Havana in such a defiant manner? Who had decided to bare his (we all assumed the author was a man) soul to thousands of passers-by?

Not even the proximity of the Faculty of Journalism (situated on G Avenue, or to give it its official name, Presidents’ Avenue) to the enigmatic scrawl brought succour to our confused minds. The message, blue and clear, announced its take-over of this hitherto well-preserved part of the Cuban capital.

G Avenue. Or, as mentioned before, Presidents’ Avenue, though nobody called it that. We all called it G, and not even avenue sometimes. Calle G had a nicer sound. It rolled off your tongues, like dogs rolling and gambolling on the green, manicured lawns that populated the road (and let’s not forget about the mini-trees with their perfectly coiffed mini-Afros in various mini-combinations), all the way from 29th Street down to Malecón Avenue. Tall dogs and shorts one, too, fat and skinny ones, German shepherds and Chihuahuas, dogs with owners attached to their leads and stray, skeletal canines, all playing and defecating happily on the green, manicured lawns. And in the midst of it all, Lina and Carlos turned up to play, too. But theirs was a game with which we never came to grips.

The graffiti remained unnoticed for some time, ignored even by the crowd waiting for Alamar-bound route 116 starting its journey a dozen feet away. But once the mysterious caption began to attract attention, theories about its provenance developed rapidly, like mosquitoes breeding in stagnant water. The first explanation was a simple one: Carlos was a broken-hearted man who, resigned to losing his inamorata, decided to go for broke and declare his love for her to all and sundry. It certainly seemed to chime with the times. Those of us who were in college in those days were still innocent enough to use Neruda’s opening verses of his unforgettable Poema 20 as a chat-up line: “Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche/Escribir, por ejemplo: 'La noche está estrellada/y tiritan, azules, los astros, a lo lejos/El viento de la noche gira en el cielo y canta/Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche/Yo la quise, y a veces ella también me quiso/En las noches como ésta la tuve entre mis brazos/La besé tantas veces bajo el cielo infinito/Ella me quiso, a veces yo también la quería/Cómo no haber amado sus grandes ojos fijos.” And this was before Subiela’s El Lado Oscuro del Corazón with Grandinetti in the lead role. Please, don’t tell us that we weren’t ahead of our time.


Carlos had ulterior motives to find Lina.  As demonstrated by a woman interviewed on En Confianza, the famous cutting-edge television show that was broadcast between 4pm and 6pm every Saturday and was presented by a young and moustachioed Alexis Núñez Oliva. Faced with the question “Why do you think Carlos is looking for Lina?” the woman stared straight into the camera and drew her forefinger across her throat in a horizontal motion. Her words were hardly needed: “Well, you know… he’s looking for her to…” up to this day the elliptical ending to her answer has always brought me in a cold sweat. Was that the real reason why you were searching for Lina, Carlos?


Lina was an acronym, a mute scream from the generation who saw the Berlin wall collapse and a different one being erected in Cuba, separating locals from the soon-to-arrive foreign tourists whose currency the government would slavishly pursue. Lina, Las Ilusiones No Alcanzadas (Unachieved Illusions). And Carlos, the idealist, still thinking that somehow something could be saved.

Lina, Carlos Aun Te Busca. You were an unsophisticated and primitive five-letter stamp on a wall defying font size and type. An improvised, spur-of-the-moment quick scrawl that contrasted starkly with the refinement found at the Tea House across the road, on the corner of 23rd and G. and the elegance of L’Alliance Francaise, a stone’s throw away. I’m sure that at the latter someone, at some point attempted to figure out your enigma using the perennially difficult subjunctive in the Gallic language (je voudrais que quelqu’un m’explique qui est Lina et qui est Carlos…). But nobody could explain you. Nobody could work out who you were, Lina, and why you were looking for her, Carlos.

© 2012

Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music”, to be published on Sunday 21st October at 10am (GMT)


  1. I saw the romantic connations but I read it as an ominous threat like that woman indicated. I know that if someone had put my name up there and told me he was still looking for me I would have freaked out and called the police.

    But your suggestion that it was perhaps a political statement seems to me to be very powerful. I think every political system will disillusion at some point. It's inevitable but still we keep the hope alive and keep looking for justice.


  2. interesting....i love graffiti and wall art and there are def some i wonder at the intention of....and at hidden meaning as well...i like the thought that it is not random and there is something to it....i like the romantic view that they are looking for them and not to give up on them...pretty cool as well...

    hey maybe it is a U2 tribute....smiles...

  3. I often wonder how much of a difference there is between graffiti, rock art and petroglyphs.
    I will say that spray art has it's place in the world of art.
    We have many ways in which to have our 'voice' heard, don't we?

  4. What an intriguing mystery! Thanks for sharing a slice of life from Havana. I grew up with a lot of graffiti in NYC during the time when the art establishment first recognized them as artists. One of the newly rich graffiti artists dated a friend of mine. His name was Toric but he went by Toxic. Her parents were art dealers. Some of it can be artistic but some is just hostile vandalism that costs the city or intimidates people. I wish that rage could be redirected into art in approved public places.

  5. Loved reading your thoughts of this...wrote a paper freshman year at college on graffiti and learned so much & still appreciate the talent as I watch trains go by in little ol' Ohio! Much like Carlos & Lina...I often wonder about these artist and what they are trying to tell the world!

  6. see this is what i love about graffiti, poetry and makes us think and is open to many interpretations...really cool sir..and cool on weaving in neruda..would love to be able to read him in spanish..ahhhh...i envy you...smiles

  7. Or

    A protest against elegance and refinement?

    Nah, upon reflection I prefer your first explanation.

  8. Many thanks for your kind comments.

    Of stuff like this are urban legends born. When I was last in Cuba, 2009, I forgot to check ot if the graffiti was still there. I would be surprised if it was.

    Rumour has it that the "LINA CARLOS AUN TE BUSCA" caption was the inspiration for the Cuban singer songwriter Carlos Varela to write his beautiful melody "Graffiti de Amor". Go figure! :-)

    Have a nice weekend you all.

    Greetings from London.



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