So we compromised. The in-laws live about 3 hours from Sao Paulo, so on Friday afternoon, we took a bus to their house. We ate dinner with them on Friday night, chatted, caught up, etc. Then we woke up early on Saturday morning and took a bus into Sao Paulo.
WHAT A WONDERFUL DAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYY!
My only time in Sao Paulo before this trip was the day that Kristin got to Brazil and we walked a thousand miles doing nothing in particular, and then hung out at Alexandre's sister's apartment. It was a pleasant day, and gave me an idea of Sao Paulo, but yesterday was much more.... involved.
We started off at The Mercadão (literally: The Big Market).
It's a two-story indoor farmers market with dozens of stands selling produce, meats, nuts, spices, and also restaurant-type booths (the upper level has full-fledged restaurants, with seating and waiters).
We got to the Mercadão Saturday at lunchtime, and it was PACKED with people. It was insane! We found a booth selling delicious nuts, candies, and dried fruit by weight, so we stocked up on some of those to enjoy during the film festival showing planned for later in the day.
As featured on No Reservations with Anthony Bordain, the Mercadão is famous for fresh cod, bologna sandwiches, and pasteis. I know the bologna sandwiches are super well-known and supposedly delicious, and I know that the cod is fresh, but I just lack the bologna-loving gene that my sister has, and I also don't like fried fish, so I decided to go with the ground beef pastel. We had to wait about 20 minutes to get our pasteis, but we were on our little day trip and weren't in a hurry. I used the time in line to take some pictures:
This is the view of the second floor from the first floor
I call it "man and meat"
Unfortunately, I don't get my stitches out until Tuesday, so I've still got the bandage on my head. Plus, the black eye isn't completely gone, but luckily it isn't very visible in the picture.
After our tasty lunch, we made our way back to the metro in order to get to Avenida Paulista (the famous rich main avenue). But to get the metro, we had to take Avenida 25 de Março (the famous poor main avenue). This road has a makeshift street fair every day that sells cheap imported stuff from Paraguay, like plastic jewelry and crappy "Peruvian" scarves (probably made in China, not Peru) and knock-off Sony flash cards and memory sticks. Walking along 25 de Março was kind of an important moment for me. When I met Alexandre, one of the first books I bought to learn about Brazil was the textbook called "Brazil Since 1980", and it has 25 de Março on the cover. So to finally see it in person was.... I don't know, hard to explain. A sense of coming full circle. I had to take my own pictures, of course:
So we made it through the throngs of people and found our way onto the metro. Going from 25 de Março to Avenida Paulista was like going from one world to another. Even the subway line that goes to the richer area is better-- air conditioned, with vending machines that sell books in the stations, cleaner, etc. Some of those differences are the result of the people using the different lines, but others (like the air-conditioned train cars) definitely show a bias on the part of the city. We went to Avenida Paulista to go watch a movie, because this weekend, there was an international film festival in Sao Paulo.
The movie was in a theatre that was inside a little mall/cultural center place. I'll get to that later. First, the movie. It was an American movie called The Nature of Existence. Alexandre chose it, of course. When he read me the description the night before (something like "a man explores life's big questions: Why are we here? What is morality? Does God exist?"), I was worried it was going to be fluffy and new-age-y. But he has a much higher tolerance for that kind of stuff, and I knew he'd like it, so I agreed to go. Anyway, it ended up being really nice. It's thought-provoking without being tiring, broad without being too general, critical without being disrespectful. Basically, the director of the documentary interviewed dozens of people from different religious backgrounds and asked the same questions, similar to those listed above, and collaged all the clips to compare their answers. One of my favorite lines was from an artist named Durga Jasraj, who said, "It's nice to be important, but it's far more important to be nice." I won't ruin the ending for you, but he made some good and appropriate conclusions. I recommend it if you can catch it somewhere near you.
It turned out that the director was there for the viewing, and he was hanging out in the lobby of the theatre after the screening. (I found it ironic that my only 2 encounters with Americans in Brazil thus far have been 1. Missionaries and 2. A religious critic.) Anyway. Quite a few people stayed around to chat with him. Everyone was Brazilian except for me and one other American man. But all of the Brazilians who stayed to talk spoke English. And they asked him deep questions about the movie, how his beliefs changed, etc. And no one asked him things like "Were you friends with Michael Jackson?" or "Do you live in Beverly Hills?" or "Why don't you know any actors from Brazilian soap operas?" And nobody recorded him talking with their cell phones without his permission because it was their first time hearing English in real life (No, none of these comparisons are from experience...and by none of them I mean all of them). I love Sao Paulo. We stuck around for the discussion for a bit, and then the director invited his newfound fans to go to a restaurant to chat more. At this point, Alexandre and I congratulated him on a job well done, and went on our way. While it would've been nice to continue the discussion, we had other plans for dinner.
So yes, now, back to the mall/cultural center that held the small movie theatre. It also had a small modern art museum-- this month's feature was on the way Brazilian indians incorporate birds and feathers into their art and clothes. It was beautiful. There were also statues scattered around, including a giant cigarette made of cigarette butts that the artist collected from streets. Next to the statue was a sign with statistics about the dangers of second-hand smoke.
But the best part of the mall place was.... bum bum bum....
The three-story bookstore!
About 35% of the books were in English. And it was full of people, buying and reading books in both languages. I had never been so happy to wait in line at a bookstore before. I seriously almost cried when I realized the weight of the place, and how much I missed the pure joy of wandering around a bookstore, and crouching down to scan the bottom shelves to find a specific author, and seeing titles or authors that you've read and remembering the pleasure and memories and lessons from those books, and being among the literate masses (quite a change from the Barretos masses). I was in the second biggest city in the world, but would have been perfectly content spending the rest of the afternoon in that relatively small space of happiness. After about an hour, we had to drag ourselves out of there, because we had our itinerary for the rest of the evening. I was also SO strong and only bought 2 books: the new J.M. Coetzee (not sure how new it is... it's new to me!), and, happily, Brazil by John Updike. In general, I'm not one to re-read books (why waste time on that when there are so many other books to be read?!), but I read this book in the weeks before moving to Brazil. It was beautiful then, even without the cultural awareness that I have now. I'd been wanting to re-read it for a while, with my new, Brazil-influenced eyes. I already started re-reading it, and it's just wonderful. His take on the culture and the social interactions is exact and perfectly articulated. I will never bother writing a book set in Brazil because this one already exists and I will never be able to top it. (But if Leo from The Lion's Den blog decides to do so after all, he may have a better chance!)
Yes, so, we finally left the bookstore, finding our way back out to the Avenue and the sunlight. We'd been in there so long that the sun was starting to set. It's summer here, so our day was deliciously warm, and long. Sunset meant dinnertime. Destination: Indian food. Alexandre wanted to try it, and so, from a friend, we had gotten the name and address of a restaurant off of Avenida Paulista, within walking distance of the magical mall/cultural center.
Indian food in Brazil is different from Indian food in the US. I'm not sure which one is more authentic, but both are good in their own right. Alexandre said it was one of the weirdest things he'd ever eaten, but not in a bad way-- it's just different and hard to compare to anything. I got some pictures, of course:
After our yummy dinner, we decided to try some ice cream at a little dessert shop that we had passed. But the ice cream was way overpriced, and we'd already spent enough money during the day, so we decided against it, and made our way back to the metro, which would take us to the bus station, where we would get the bus to take us back to Alexandre's parents' house. During the ride home, Alexandre slept, and I read.
If I lived in Sao Paulo, I would be broke and fat, but fulfilled. It's something we've talked about. Alexandre's going to apply for residencies there, as well as in some other big cities. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Yeah, I know it's dangerous. But I'll take the risk of getting mugged over the living dead and overwhelming ignorance that is the city where we live now.
All in all, I had a fabulous day. Sampa, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:
<3 I love you, Sao Paulo, because you turned my brain on again and, however briefly it may turn out to be, took me out of my small-town depression.
<3 I love you, Sao Paulo, for having a conscience.
<3 I love you, Sao Paulo, for accepting people from every walk of life, and for not asking me where I'm from, because you just don't give a shit. And for meaning that in the nicest way possible.
<3 I love you, Sao Paulo, for reading books and watching thoughtful movies and talking about them afterwards.
<3 I love you, Sao Paulo, for talking the talk and walking the walk, and not being only a shadow of social modernity (ou seja, for being The Real Thing).
<3 I love you Sao Paulo, for reminding me how much I love to live in big cities and to stare out the windows of the metro in the moments when it's above ground and feel like I'm part of something bigger than myself.
look how happyyyyyyyy