Sao Paulo: Savage Metropolis Mar 22, 2010 5:44:42 GMT
Post by ilbonito on Mar 22, 2010 5:44:42 GMT
Sao Paulo is the grimiest, most intimidating place I have ever been. Its the biggest city in the Third World, and it feels like it. Imagine a sprawling Tokyo-sized monster, with 20 million people hardened by poverty and violence. In 2000, the United Nations Human Development agency named the suburb of M’Boi Mirim the most violent place in the world that was not actually at war. Even in the decaying city centre, it can feel nightmarish. Whole skyscrapers have been abandoned and reclaimed by squatters, with laundry fluttering out of what were once thirty-storey office windows. Homeless children sleep rough on median strips, while huge raw concrete buildings march on and on, covered in spidery grafitti, under humid, often gloomy skies.
And yet it is also an economic giant. Sao Paulo is the engine that drives Brazil, the place where money is made, power sits, trends are created and new ideas are born. You would never know it from vast stretchs of the city, but Sao Paulo is rich. Its economy is bigger than any other country in South America; Sao Paulo is not just richer than Buenos Aires or Santiago, its richer than Argentina or Chile (or Hungary or Egypt). For the middle classes (which are large, and growing) this means Sao Paulo is where the jobs and the opportunities are, in neighborhoods themselves the size of smaller cities, packed with luxurious apartment blocks and malls. The best clubs, shops and restaurants in Brazil are here (not surprising when there are 30,000 millionaires.)
The classic image of Sao Paulo, taken by a Colombian photographer from a helicopter, shows the swirling, towering condo blocks of the rich (with a pool on each floor) right next door to the slum known blackly as Paraisopolis; Paradise City.
Not surprisingly then, Sao Paulo is a city where danger is never far away. Its now legal here to drive through red lights after dark (people do it anyway, for fear of getting jacked) and you can’t take a cellphone into a bank. Its the number one market in the world for bulletproof cars, and there are supposedly surgeons whose fulltime job is reattaching the severed ears of kidnap victims. So….why go there?
Because Sao Paulo is also one of the most thrilling, creative and important cities in the world. Having spent much of the twentieth century absorbing immigrants – from Asia, from Europe, from the Middle East, from all over Brazil – the city is now a simmering melting pot of different cultures and new ideas. Its the biggest black city outside Africa, the biggest Japanese city outside Japan, with six million Italians and (its said) more Lebanese than Beirut. Its a totally 20th century city, ( its history actually stretches back 400 years old, but you’d never know that.)
Its a city of suburbs and skyscrapers and shopping malls, connected by freeways. Sao Paulo doesn’t care about history. Its not pretty, its not “quaint”. It doesn’t give a shit about tourists ( and it must surely be the last major city in the world without an English language guidebook. There is no “Lonely Planet Sao Paulo”). Most of foreign visitors are scared off by the crime anyway, or the dearth of discernable “attractions”.
But what the city has is sheer energy. Its a city thats always mutating, evolving, developing in unexpected ways.
Its a city of Japanese pop stars and grafitti artists called Lovefoxxx and Titi Freak. It has Thai-Bahian fusion restaurants, department stores with their own heliport on the roof, love hotels for dogs and Amazonian fruit bars with kosher menus. There is a neighborhood called “Armenia” – which is full of Bolivians – while the Armenians live across town in Nova Zelina. The district of Brooklin is home not only to Jewish immigrants but also (formerly) Nazi death-doctor Joseph Mengele. Mick Jagger and Nick Cave both have children in Sao Paulo via leggy Brazilian beauties. And the former “Little Italy” of Bixiga is now swamped by black immigrants from Northeastern Brazil, who speak Portuguese with an Italian lilt.
Its also one of the gayest cities in the world; with gay shopping malls and gay Communist bars and the biggest Pride party anywhere, which last year drew an astonishing three milion people .(Among them were Clockwork Orange-inspired anarchists who celebrated the event by stabbing to death random gay peope). And its the most visibly lesbian city I´ve ever seen. You see pretty rich girls holding hands in cutesy bakeries and ghetto mamas making out on the subway. I went to a gay club and it was about a third women (much higher than in Australia), most of whom spent the night making out with a ferocity and passion I’ve never seen before.
This is is a city that has elected as its mayor several Brazilian presidents, two wealthy Arab immigrants, a (female) sexologist and a rhinoceros (www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,869297,00.html).
In 1883, an Italian priest named Dom Bosco had a dream; he prophesized the birth of a new civilization, somehere between the 15th and 20th parallels – the interior of Brazil . This new civilization, he said, would change the world.
That is why Brasilia has always attracted New Agers and cultists, who see it as the fulfillment of the Bosco prophecy – the birth of a new world power. But what if they were wrong, I wondered. What if it was not purpose-built Brasilia, but haphazard Sao Paulo that had been promised. Maybe that strange, spidery grafitti scrawed over town really did mean something. Maybe it was a próphecy too, and Sao Paulo – with its slums and factories, thrusting midde classes, poverty, steroid-pumped party boys and bulletproof traffic jams, blood, money, Arab mayor and Japanese rockstars with porn star names – maybe it is Sao Paulo that will see the birth of a new civilization, something thrillingly different, that will change the world?