Perhaps I’m being a tad harsh, but Sāo Paulo is not the most attractive of places I’ve been to, with so far only a scattering of architectural standouts, not that many noteable landmarks and not yet any sense of centre. But certainly endless (and I mean endless) streets of concrete and glass sameness. I know we’ve only been here a day but you do get a sense of a place from first impressions, and we have walked miles. Apart from some leafier streets, some delights such as green Boris-bike-like rental electric scooters and some green spaces it does have a dogged, if surprisingly hilly, repetitiveness.
God, I’m missing Buenos Aires. Now there’s a city that knows how to do it!
São Paulo was founded in 1554 by Jesuit Missionaries in a bid to convert the Guainás natives to Catholicism, in a strategic location between the Atlantic coast and the fertile valleys to the west. Gold, sugar, rich minerals, precious stones and of course coffee were found here in abundance in this remote corner of the Portuguese Empire which ultimately led to the Portuguese Royal Family fleeing here from Napoleon’s armies in 1807, establishing a royal court and effectively ruling Portugal from afar. After the defeat of Napoleon in 1821 the Royal Family moved back to Lisbon, leaving eldest son Pedro in charge of Brazil. Dom Pedro I promptly declared Brazil independent and made himself the first Emperor of Brazil, but then, on the death of his father, rushed back to Lisbon to claim the throne, abdicating the Brazilian Empire in favour of his young son Pedro II.
Ok, enough of the of history lesson.
We have been relieved that the traffic here, as you probably know legendary and unrelenting, has not been too horrendous, but still enough to making walking anywhere that little bit more perilous – especially in the afternoon’s sub-tropical heat I might add. São Paulo is practically on the Tropic of Capricorn, aligning almost exactly with Rockhampton in Australia, so it’s always hot and humid.
The streets are clogged, so as a pedestrian you really are secondary in the scheme of things. A ‘zebra crossing’ here is a mere suggestion. This is a city of some 25 million and one of the largest megacities in the world, reportedly larger than Mexico City, so certainly the largest city in the Americas, or even the southern hemisphere for that matter!
The city map given to us is bewildering, given there’s no sense of centre or a grid to recognise – no river or central monument to orientate yourself, just a vastness. However, fortunately, we’re in the fashionable downtown district of Jardim Paulista in a street parallel to probably one of São Paulo’s most important stretches of real estate, Avenida Paulista. Venturing out on the streets from here has in most ways been relatively ok – just as long as you don’t venture too far, because what appears on the map to be ‘just over there’ is in reality a 30-minute hike along a clogged road.
Our hotel, The Tivoli Mofarrej is excellent. Superbly located just off Avenida Paulista. It’s super welcoming, beautifully designed and appointed and has a wonderful open- air deep oval swimming pool surrounded with palm trees. Our excellent breakfast this morning was on the 23rd floor, affording from that height incredible views over the (block after block of concrete and glass) city in every direction – with helicopters flying around, presumably (as I’ve been told) as taxi commuter services to beat the traffic.
The Sāo Paulo Museum of Art, MASP is a brutalist 1968 concrete and glass bunker-in-the-sky of a building on Avenida Paulista and considered one of the city’s main symbols of Brazilian architecture. It has a very impressive collection of art I have to say, ranging from contemporary Brazilian works to old European masters and early religious art.
What makes this place so unique and actually so wonderful is the way the paintings are displayed – seemingly suspended in space, anchored against glass on concrete plinths and displayed in row after row in chronological order. Even more amazing is that the backs of the paintings are revealed where, as most art historians will tell you, the truth of the painting is held. It’s a fascinating and unique gallery and well worth a visit to Sāo Paulo to see, if nothing else!