Gettin' down in concrete town...
13.08.2007 - 15.08.2007 30 °C
From our suburb in the city's southwest, we caught a bus into the centre. São Paulo is a gigantic metropolis, and with over 18 million people living in one of the world's largest metropolitan areas, it has an equally huge car-culture. There are bus-only lanes on the trunk roads, meaning this mode of transport is often faster than driving. Motorbikes are also popular with their obvious advantages, though with roads best described as 'Sydney streets on crack' - a maze of appearing and disappearing lanes and tunnels, unsignalled merging and erratic driving, all done only a reflector's distance from oncoming traffic, it would help one not to be too precious about the fragility of life.
From Avenida Paulista, a huge road lined with tall buildings which could be said is the pulmonary artery of the city, we went underground to catch the metro to the centre. Two lines and six or seven stations later, we had finally arrived, and emerging from beneath the city, we found ourselves in the plaza of an enormous church, Catedral Metropolitana. Able to hold several thousand people within, the cathedral's concrete pillars stretched skyward like gigantic grey trees, and there was enough stained glass high on the walls to start a Jesus-themed vegetable farm.
We now walked through the city's centre, a maze of pedestrian-only streets. In amongst the crowds of people we weaved, past street vendors, charlatans and police, business people and the homeless. Street preachers could be found everywhere, letting loose with barrages of rhetoric, working themselves into a righteous lather, surround by people (at a safe distance) who were nodding or observing with a little amusement.
São Paulo is the most multi-cultural city in Latin America, and among the most diverse cities in the whole world. Boasting immigrant populations from many countries world-wide, São Paulo has the world's largest group of Japanese living outside Japan, and a sizable Italian population as well. Immigrants are not the sole reason for São Paulo's incredible expansion, for people from the drought-prone northeast of Brasil (the country's poorest region) have been flocking here to set up slums and shanty towns for more than 40 years. As a result, there is no 'typical' Paulistan, a testament to the city's incredible diversity.
On Wednesday, after being in Brasil for almost 3 months, I finally had a chance to try one of its most famous dishes - Feijoada. It is prepared as a black bean soup, with various pork products floating around in it, and comes accompanied with collared greens and a Brasilian favourite, farofa (Cassava flour)
The weather in São Paulo was perfect, so i went to Edificio Altino Arantes, a 35-storey building standing atop a rise in the centre of the city. The tower on top, reached by two lifts, a set of narrow steps and finally a spiral staircase, offers a 360º view of the huge metropolis. The city stretches into infinity in all directions, and the thousands of tall buildings remind one of bleached white coral outcrops left high and dry from a vanished sea. During my time up there, the tower was buzzed by one of the city's many private helicopters, used by the very rich to get from meeting to meeting without having to endure the terrible traffic below.