“I could live there,” I stated as we were walking down Avenida Paulista.
Feng sighed. He finds me weird sometimes. He claims that I’m too rebellious, that instinctively, I like to do the opposite of what everybody else does, that I’m not rational or logical. It’s okay. I find him weird too. Mark is the only normal member of the family, although come to think of it, maybe not—no wonder, with us as parents…
I can see why Feng found my statement strange. We were coming from Rio de Janeiro, a city objectively more beautiful and more fun than São Paulo. Yet, I wouldn’t live in Rio. Mind you, I wouldn’t live in Brazil, period. I love the country as a traveller but I don’t get the culture and I think fitting in would be difficult.
But if I had the choice, I’d pick São Paulo over Rio de Janeiro.
There is something oddly fascinating about a city of 12 million people—over 21 million for the Região Metropolitana de São Paulo. I mean, imagine all the friends you could make! All the interesting people! All the streets to explore!
But deep down, I think I like São Paulo because the city is the not-so-pretty grunge kid with a quirky, artsy and rebellious soul, moody like the unreliable weather. Rio de Janeiro is the bimbo, the cheerleader—objectively pretty but rather shallow and predictable. And of course, I was that very average-looking grungy kid. Sampa, I’m you. I ain’t pretty but I can be fun.
In São Paulo, the atmosphere is very different from Rio. You won’t see people wearing Havaianas and beach clothes—the local uniform is traditional business attire or anything that makes a fashion statement—goth, grunge, skater boy, etc. Paulistas take music seriously and there are entire malls, like the Gallery of Rock, dedicated to heavy metal and rock music. We bought Mark a Nirvana t-shirt, the same as mine.
“I love your Iron Maiden, mommy.”
“It’s Guns N’ Roses, Mark.”
The city is a giant concrete jungle but it’s surprisingly breezy and not as oppressing as you could think. It ain’t polished and pretty, though—picture graffiti, bars on windows, dirty sidewalks … it looks rough, it probably is a bit too. But if you love urban environments, you’re in heaven.
I would have appreciated São Paulo better if it hadn’t been the very last stop of the trip. We were tired and I was sad. Surprisingly, Feng was sad to leave as well—he usually handles the going-back-home part of travelling better than me.
“It’s funny, I don’t think we’ve ever seen what normal São Paulo looks like,” I noted on Monday, as we were walking to Centro. In 2002, we spent a day there during Carnival and the streets were empty. Last year, we were there around New Year and all businesses were closed. And this time, we were in the middle of the four-day Carnival holiday. The city was fairly quiet, although it depended on the neighbourhood. Rua Ausgusta, the bar and bloco-gathering street was packed and all the businesses were open. On Paulista, it was business as usual in the several shopping malls on the avenue but banks and businesses were mostly closed. Centro was quiet too, except around the market area—always packed—and Little Tokyo, at Libertade.
“Too bad your parents aren’t Japanese,” I joked. “We could have brought back so many books and magazines!”
I don’t know much about Japanese culture but the Asian feel in the neighbourhood felt very familiar—the smell, the food, the characters reminded me of China, a country that has been part of my life for two decades now.
On the last day, we played with time like with an elastic band—the afternoon went by slowly as we were pretending it was just another travelling day, then we rushed to the airport, then time slowed down again as we waited for boarding passes, customs, security, etc. The sun set and we changed to our winter clothes in the bathroom. My jeans stuck to my sweaty and dusty legs. I waited to put my hoodie on. I don’t like to layer up and wear warm clothes. I’m a jeans-shorts-and-tank-top girl.
Our flight was at 9:35 p.m. so we had an entire day ahead of us. We checked out, walked on Paulista, visited the art museum (free on Tuesdays!), then we ran into a big bloco on Rua Augusta just as we were about to go eat in a small restaurant I had picked—Japanese meat-and-rice bowls, which is pretty much local food in São Paulo, home of the biggest Little Tokyo. The bloco marched by the fast-food joint as we were eating, hundreds of thousands of people holding bottles and wearing costumes. We didn’t try to make conversation, we just watched the parade.
One last walk around the block, one last ice cream, one last can of Coke and we picked up the bags at the hotel.
I sat down in the courtyard as Mark was nagging me—he had been awful all day, probably because he picked up our stress and didn’t sleep well with all the party going on.
“We are going to Canada. We are in Brazil. We are in São Paulo. We are… YOU’RE NOT LISTENING!”
“No, I’m not.”
I started crying.
“Nothing. I’m just sad.”
“Because of the plane?”
“Yeah.” in São Paulo but I don’t. I live in Ottawa. Mark finally masters O Canada, I can’t teach him a new national anthem.
I’m still sad. I’ll get over it.