From Sao Paulo with love

Trip Start Jun 17, 2009
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Trip End Jul 04, 2009


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Flag of Brazil  , State of Sao Paulo,
Thursday, June 18, 2009

We quickly fell for Sao Paulo. I read all about SP's aggressive and violent character but our excitement of being in Brazil probably circumvented any prepossession. Both Ayu and I liked Sao Paulo because the city was real and made up of people who were there to work. While Rio is a geographic gem of beaches, lakes, and mountains, Sao Paulo has none of it - it is where people live, work and play in a much different manner than people in Rio. Furthermore, there are stark and identifiable contrasts of spatial usage in Rio - the rich areas of Ipanema and Leblon, the tourist areas of Copacabana, Leme, Urca, the working areas of Centro and Santa Teresa and the impoverished favelas which are situated above all. Sao Paulo, on the other hand, did not have such palpable contrasts. During our visit, the only time we took a cab was from the airport and to the bus station (because we slept in), all other transportation was via the subway.  

In 2007, SP mayor Kassab banned all means of public advertising - billboards, subway ads, posters, shelter placements, etc. - even though the city would loose over $100 million in advertising revenue. After compliance was met across the city, there were blank spaces (blank canvases) left from the removed advertising. This, combined with the loose interpretation of Brazilian graffiti laws (grafite vs pichacao [tagging]) led to SP becoming the new graffiti movement a la New York in the 1970s. We were on the graffiti hunt the whole time in SP - a handful of the photos have been posted with this entry. You can notice the captivating, vibrant and visionary pieces being ruinously tagged which has stirred a lot of resentment from the graffiti crews.

We stayed a few minutes away from the famous Paulista Avenue. We first visited the Liberdade area and were excited about this space as it is populated by all things Japanese - even the graffiti was inspired by traditional ukiyo-e painters like Sharaku. The main avenues were dotted with torii gates and people hawking ripped Okuribito DVDs, anime comics and Japanese porn. We aimed to visit the Museu da Imigracao Japonese - a museum tribute to the many Japanese immigrants but father time was against us. Instead, we settled for some yakisoba. 

After Liberdade, we went to the Vila Maladena to check out the Beco do Batman alley of graffiti. You can view the photos of the infamous alleyway which houses some of the best international art in the world. The area itself was our favorite part of the Brazil we visited. It's hilly streets were filled with middle-to-upper class houses, motorcycle bars that spilled out onto the street and fashion and art boutiques. It emitted a good energy of a liberal, creative lot who welcomed the artwork found all over their concrete walls. We wandered around this area for hours and felt comfortable and part of the space rather than a tourist on top of it.

Lastly, we had a night cap at the Ruy Ohtake-designed Hotel Unique - a half-moon, submarine-like luxury hotel with an amazing rooftop bar overlooking all of Sao Paulo. Ohtake is the son of Japanese-Brazilian Tomie Ohtake - one of Brazil's most recognized artists (we wanted to visit her cultural center - a massive high-rise designed by her son but hadn't the time). Hotel Unique is astonishing and has been called one of the wonders of the modern world. If your wallet is friendly to its rather exorbitant rate, then I'd suggest staying there, especially in one of the outer rooms with the curved walls.    
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