Sao Paulo: inspiring reflection & a long, hot shower.

6 05 2007

I’m not sure I’ve ever been to a country whose major cities smell more like urine than Brazil’s. Campinas, Rio, and now Sao Paulo. Good LORD. Of course, there’s a story about all of this, but I had to get that off my chest before writing anything meaningful.

So. I said a few days ago I’d be heading to Sao Paulo for a music festival this weekend. A free, independent music festival. And a free independent music festival in the country’s largest city is an event not to be missed. So, we didn’t. Where do I begin? Should I start with the robbing of the wallet? Should I start with the smell of the hotel room? With the crowd so large and out of control and the anxiety attack? With the icecream at midnight? With the scaling of the walls overlooking a police chase and trapeeze? So many details, so little understanding of how to sort them all out.

But it’s true: in the country’s largest city, indeed the third largest city in the WORLD, I was stuck in the middle of a free music concert with easily 40,000 other people, crammed between two gigantic buildings trying to watch O Teatro Magico perform and simultaneously trying to breathe. The planning of the event was not very smart at all, leaving these 40,000 people to crawl over each other and push each other so violently that the four of us moved among the crowd like blood in arteries thick with cholesterol. We were stuck, stuck, stuck. And I, prone to claustrophobic moments, began sweating and staring at the sky while trying to keep the men’s hands off of me. This is probably how one of my friend’s wallet’s was taken from his pocket and ruined his Saturday night almost entirely since he spent the better part of it with his girlfriend cancelling his credit cards and trying to report the robbery to the police, who pretty much had their hands full, what with the two drug busts and forty other wallet robberies at the same outdoor venue. It was in this crowd that I screamed to Dennis over the heads of men who looked sweaty and who were stepping on my feet involuntarily that I wanted to get the hell out of the crowd and into a place where there was space. At one point, I found myself pushed so tightly into the crowd that I could do nothing but have my face pushed almost into the butt of a kid who sat upon his parent’s shoulders. At that point, I knew it was time to go. I love O Teatro Magico, certainly. But not enough to freak out in the middle of a crowd like that. So the two of us, like salmon in a stream, pushed our way against the multitude coming into the show and stood, finally, in open space panting and sweating, heart beats eventually returned to normal. Evaluating the venue, we realized that there were only three ways to get to the stage–two of which were from the front–directly next to the stage, the other from the back, like any normal venue. Whatever morons decided to set up entrances to a free concert in the largest city in the country directly next to the stage should be brought onto that same stage and publically embarrassed, what for all the suffering and robbery they brought to Saturday night. But anyway. We got out and then decided to go back.

We eventually found a place way back in the crowd where we could move around and dance. We crawled on top of a long fountain and sat overlooking the entire show with absolutely no obstructions to our view. We saw the trapeeze that accompanies O Teatro Magico shows directly in front of us and were also witness to a police chase directly below us in which one man ran through the crowd, knocking down a woman and her friend, as three police ran after him. It was as if we were watching a movie and were well out of reach of the danger down below. It was the best part of the night, if only because I was on my ass and out of the crowd.

The rest of the night went as follows: since we were separated from my friends in the human-swallowing crowd, Dennis and I walked around from venue to venue, visiting the kinds of free music and theater shows. We ate fresh corn with salt and butter on one park corner, danced a little samba on another, swayed to big band music in one plaza, and tried to poke our heads into a tiny stage in another. We were about to visit another stage in another part of the city but when we heard them begin a Lynyrd Skynyrd song, we thought better and headed for midnight icecream.

Oh, have I told you about where it was we stayed? This, my friends, was an ordeal in itself. Apparently in Sao Paulo, when you rent a hotel room, you need to show proof of life on Earth in only the following forms: a real passport (no photocopy), a signed and notarized photograph of your mother, and several letters of reference from the Brazilian Federal Police accompanied by 8mm, 3 and a half minute film clip of you shaking hands with President Lula. It was next to impossible to book a hotel room, even though I’d already reserved it online. We arrived at the hotel, filled out the forms, and were promptly turned away because none of us had our passports or any of the above documents that would satisfy the desk receptionists at the Formula 1 hotel.

And so. That led us directly to Sketch City. This is the part of the city where they don’t abide by laws. Or believe in sanitation as a benefit to the hotel business. We looked at two hotels and chose the better of the two, opting for terrible (and I do mean terrible) choices in decor over the smell of rug mold and hookers. Our hotel was conveniently located down the street from two billiard halls filled with men who, while waiting for a table to free up, propositioned women who walked by, and directly across the street from a theater called CineZen, your friendly neighborhood porn theater.
The one plus to choosing this hotel was that, to the side of CineZen, was a great diner with a nice old waitress we named Flo, who served us freezer burnt icecream at midnight to satisfy Dennis’ sweet tooth.

Today, Sunday, was considerably better, besides the dead guy we may have seen on the street when we went to watch techno this morning. No, we definitely saw him, but he may or may not have been dead. It was eleven-thirty in the morning and already I’d seen people tripping out, watched those same people attempt to dance, and seen a maybe dead guy. Could things get any better? Little did I know that within the next half hour, I’d witness a puppet give birth on stage and see a huge classical statue adorned with a bright orange life jacket. We wandered around, drank a couple of beers and became properly dehydrated, at which point we went to a tiny park for lunch where we sat for three hours listening to piano music. It was here I felt most wonderful and relaxed and like a New Yorker. But for way cheaper. The weather was superb–glorious bright blue sky with soft white clouds, a little breeze coming through, just enough to keep us cool as we walked from place to place and through the parks and streets and fairs.

As I did not shower this morning in our Sketch City hotel, I couldn’t wait to get back to Campinas and get the Sao Paulo grit and grime off my feet and out of my nostrils. I fell asleep on the bus, only to wake up occasionally by Dennis’ sleeping head resting on my own and a noisy conversation some loud-mouthed trashy blonde was having on her cell phone about someone cheating on someone else. Couldn’t quite catch the details through all of her hair twirling and gum popping.

And now, finally back at home, I cannot tell you how thankful I am to relax my gag reflex. It was triggered so many times from the “aroma” in the air over the past twenty-four hours I won’t be surprised if I wake up with a charlie horse in my throat.
Good night, all.




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