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Day 65: São Paulo

Michael Palin - BrazilHe thinks that the lack of any architectural heritage, the lack of any conventional unifying beauty is paradoxically one of São Paulo's great advantages. It's a perfect city for experiment.

'It's a big mother of all kinds of architecture,' he enthuses, 'you can build Mediterranean, neo-classical, contemporary. The lack of personality of the city has become its personality.'

The other side of his love-hate relationship with the city is its lack of street-level diversity. He bemoans the lack of mixed-use areas. Residential blocks tend to be self-contained and heavily security-conscious, without the mix of small bars, cafés and shops that one would find in other cities. Nobody walks in São Paulo, Isay complains.

'This is the first time I've walked the streets in a month.'

Being an acute observer of his environment, Isay has chosen this street because he wants to show me a wall. It's a three-metre wall topped with iron fencing, and it looks as if it's been there a while.

He stands and points.

'In the beginning there was no wall at all. Then you can see,' – he indicates weathering marks a third of the way up the chunky, irregularly cut stones – 'they built the first wall, about eighty years ago. Then twenty years after that one metre more.' He moves closer to show me another clear mark between light and dark stone. 'Then,' he points higher, 'forty centimetres more.' In concrete this time. 'And now, on top of that, a wire fence.'

We stand back and admire his wall thesis.

'This is an indicator of our vulnerability. A mark maybe of the violence of the city.'

Whether this violence is real or imagined, I can't tell, but it is an interesting phenomenon, this edge of fear that seems to accompany prosperity. He agrees with me that it shouldn't have to be like that, and hopes that initiatives like the Cidade Limpa (Clean City) campaign of the last three or four years will make a difference. For now he smiles and shrugs and admits a grudging affection for what he calls 'the chaos'.
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  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 65: São Paulo
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: São Paulo
  • Book page no: 276

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