13 October 2014

Culture Shock

Coming in on the Marginal Tietê
What bumpkins we’ve become! We lived in New York, for heaven’s sake, we’ve been in a Big City before. But much to my surprise and consternation I started feeling the first signs of certain anxiety on our approach to São Paulo a few weeks ago. The tall buildings were looming on the horizon, growing higher and more menacing as we got closer. The traffic was getting heavier, with huge trucks and lumbering buses crowding the little cars and blocking the traffic signs. How would we see our exit? I’m convinced that if you miss a turnoff in São Paulo you can easily end up caught in Johnny Carson’s Slauson Cutoff routine! The overpasses and underpasses and highways feeding into São Paulo were becoming more and more complex. It was dizzying.

The monstrous Holiday Inn Anhembi
Mark and I had been invited to attend a congress/convention event in São Paulo on behalf of a business magazine back in the States. Since this invitation was a great opportunity for us to get out of the house and actually go somewhere, we accepted. We hadn’t been in São Paulo for years! I was excited! How was I to know how frightening and bewildering and unpleasant it would be once I was actually in such a vast expanse of concrete, steel, fumes and noise. It didn’t help that we were put up at the largest hotel in all of Latin America, the Holiday Inn Anhembi. A great hotel if you have business in the adjacent convention center. A dreadful place if you don’t. When your day’s business is done at the convention center you’re completely trapped out on São Paulo’s periphery in an enormous complex of buildings and arenas and parking lots. Want to explore nearby restaurant offerings? There are none. Want to do some window shopping? No dice.

There were days when we thought, Hey, let’s ditch the event and take the subway to our favorite São Paulo neighborhoods. At least that way, we figured, we’d be reminded of the best of São Paulo. Unfortunately, the closest subway stop was so far from the hotel that we needed to take the hotel’s shuttle bus to get there. Then there was the subway itself. When did it get so big? When did the transfers get so complicated? Where did all those people come from? I tell you, during one of these rides (okay, it was a Friday at rush hour) Mark and I were so packed and wedged and shoved in that we panicked and forced our way out of the car at whatever the next stop was. We managed to find a taxi, only to end up stuck in one of São Paulo’s forever and endless traffic jams.

But it wasn’t all bad, since we did find our way to São Paulo’s renowned Bienal exhibition of avant-garde art in beautiful Ibirapuera Park, where the piece we liked best was a huge mural on the entrance wall called "Map," by the Chinese artist Qiu Zhijie. Since it was all in English, most Brazilians walked right by. But Mark and I spent a long time studying it, sometimes laughing out loud at its ingenuity.

We also passed through the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art right next door, where an exhibit of hundreds of personal shopping lists caught me up. I must have read each and every one. How could I not? I’m a list-maker from way back!

Doesn't look like much in the pictures, but once you get up close and start reading . . .

We also did our share of ooh-ing and ah-ing at São Paulo’s Municipal Market, an absolute must-visit for me. Walking around the Market, with its unbelievable wealth of gastronomic offerings, I almost — just almost — thought about moving to São Paulo. For about a minute.
Here's just a slice of what's on offer:

A visit to Avenida Paulista is always de rigueur for us; it’s the heart of the banking and office building sector and there are always interesting art exhibits in, or just off of, the bank lobbies. There’d been lots of changes, but we did, as always, pass by one of the last — if not the last — old coffee baron mansions still standing, albeit on its last legs.

Residência Joaquim Franco de Mello, circa 1905 . . .

. . . and circa 2014 . . .

Still and all, what for us was the best part of getting away? Coming home.

Dear Readers,
I’ve ended my third year of blogging! I made a half-assed promise (to myself) to continue through the 2016 Olympics. Maybe by then I’ll have said everything I have to say about Brazil. Or not.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you experienced some of the worst of SP. I'm so glad we're living without a car! Next time you're in town, let us know. We aren't far from Ibirapuera Park.