Do You Know What It Means to Miss São Paulo?

Sao Paulo by Gregoire Fossemalle via Flickr

São Paulo and I were together for two years. She was high-maintenance from the start; this, I knew going in. She would order the most expensive thing on the menu, sometimes flirt with other guys, and make me pay dearly whenever I didn’t call at the exact time I said I would. She knew her worth and she played with my heart, but I knew deep down, she loved me: when we were in sync, when our energies mixed and we danced and played and reveled in each others’ company, we knew we had a good thing going. I won’t lie; the sex was volcanic. And be it in her brand new Mustang or her little red Corvette, we rode fast and wild, and I would always end up broke, spent, and sprung – she was The One.

But I couldn’t afford her and, one day, she let me go. And I was bitter for a while, heartbroken and rejected.

The next time we saw each other, a few weeks later, she welcomed me back to dance and play and revel. Over a cafezinho at Bella Paulista one Sunday morning, she looked at me and admitted that every once in a while, she envied what Berlin and I have because we were marrying for love. But in the very next moment, when I asked her to marry me, she just stared out the window and said nothing.

I paid for our coffees and we walked out into the bright sun, our feet hurting from the previous night’s debauchery and still a little lightheaded from the party favors. She kissed me deeply and passionately before getting into her car with a tchau, disconnecting and leaving me with only three reais to catch the bus home.

I see her less frequently these days, though our rendezvous are no less intense. Neither one of us has brought up the m-word again, especially since we’re each married to someone else.

But what if…?

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My friend and São Paulo-native Rodrigo Pitta loves that damn place so much, he’s filmed three music videos in his hometown. Here’s the newest. I’m already booking my flight back down to see her.

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Thoughts on the Brazil Protests, from an Ex-Gringo Paulista

Demonstrators Stage Largest Street Protests In Two Decades

      This ain’t no Carnival. People pissed! Image source: AP

Right now, Brazil convulses with the heady combination of indignation and optimism that characterizes popular movements. The People – that vast and oft-evoked abstraction made up of millions of students and truck drivers and dental hygienists and single mothers and retirees and first graders – have gotten so fed up with the economic and political oppression that has always plagued Brazil, Latin America as a whole, and, at many times in its history, the United States, that they’ve taken to the streets to voice their exasperation with the greed, corruption, official acts of violence, and woefully poor quality-of-life that have hampered the upward mobility of most Brazilians in the face of unprecedented “national prosperity” and vanity projects like the World Cup and the Olympics.

What that means, exactly, remains to be seen. Moneyed and political interests are too entrenched in the business of making money at all costs to really engage in the necessary paradigm shift even if they wanted to. And I’m just cynical enough to believe that nothing lasting is going to happen; after all, a columnist from Brazil’s largest daily reflected the general cluelessness of those in power: “From paradise, we have slipped…into limbo.”

Paradise for whom?

No, there will be no New Deal-style governmental investment in infrastructure, no nationwide jobs program, no major overhaul of the educational and health care systems. There’s too much unfettered greed infecting the country’s economical and political elite for that to ever happen. It’s a refrain in heavy rotation: “Brazil never moved away from the slave plantation.”

I have friends who were injured by police during last week’s protest in my beloved São Paulo. I have friends who live in the areas most heavily affected by teargas and rubber bullets in the center of the city. Some of the clashes between protesters and the police occurred on the street where I last lived not a full two years ago, where I last walked not a full two months ago, and where I spent several years becoming part of the city’s social fabric, another brown face popping in and out of lunch counters and convenience stores, hopping the bus to work during the week or home from the club on the weekend. That was my street and my neighborhood and my people and my city. It’s unnerving to know that I could just as easily have been shot with a rubber bullet outside my door or teargassed on my way home from work as any of my friends, neighbors, or coworkers.

It’s easy to change the channel when you have no direct connection to the events on the screen, but it’s something else when you are linked to the places and people being affected by strife. When the air clears, I’m still not sure what will have changed in terms of corruption, accountability, state-sanctioned violence, or quality-of-life. But I know that neither the powers that be, the media, nor Brazilians themselves will continue to blindly brush off indignities and injustices with a tudo bom (It’s all good) and an evocation of Brazil’s trademark deflectors: sun, sex, and soccer.

Maybe that refusal to accept indignities and injustices is the necessary spark. Hell, it only took 9 cents to finally piss enough people off. And that’s just my 2 cents.


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Berlin vs. São Paulo: The Power of Two

Often in my travels, people ask me which of my two home bases I prefer—Berlin or São Paulo. Like any place, each has its pros and cons and sometimes, at different times, I might need more of what one has to offer than the other. No two cities could be more unalike or more enthralling to my sensibilities as a lover of urban spaces, and I’ve identified three factors about each place that speak to why I spend much of my year there.

Berlin

  • History at the heart of Europe: Having been the biggest prize to be won during World War II, a pawn between superpowers during the Cold War, and the capital of a centuries-old nation, Berlin’s history is vivid and palpable on every street. All the museums help, too. And with all the convenient air and rail links to the rest of Europe—Madrid, Istanbul, or London in two hours or less—Berlin’s my undisputed access point to the Continent, past and present.
  • Cheap and easy culture: On any given afternoon, you can hear Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring played by buck nekkid musicians, then grab a doner kebab en route to an exhibition about Pac Man at the Video Game Museum before dancing under a bridge until the sun comes up. And all for about five euro or less.
  • My circle of black American expat friends: Whereas in São Paulo, I know maybe two black Americans, I know a rack of ‘em in Berlin. We get together at restaurants where people give us funny looks for being loud and raucous, and we just ignore them, loudly and raucously reenacting scenes from Coming to America like we were at some Saturday afternoon barbecue in Atlanta. There’s no place like “home.”

São Paulo

  • My friends, period: Brazilian, non-Brazilian, wherever they come from, I’ve been blessed with some of the coolest, warmest, most open-hearted, dynamic, interesting friends on the planet, all in São Paulo. Whenever I’m in town, even if schedules don’t allow for a lengthy reunion, I still get a hearty welcome and the humbling feeling of being appreciated and loved. That’s what friends are for!
  • Brazilian affability: São Paulo might be the “New York of Brazil,” but paulistanos have all the friendliness and affability of the rest of the country, easily offering directions and assistance when needed, quick to smile and generally polite. In a metro area of 20 million people, it’s shocking that anyone’s nice at all, but here, I just feel at home. Included.
  • The skyline: New York’s skyline is iconic but finite. Hong Kong’s skyline is dramatic but hemmed-in. São Paulo’s skyline is forever—forever expanding, forever changing, forever mesmerizing me for hours on end, regardless of the angle or point of view.

Are you torn between two cities? If so, which ones?

 

Images by Robby van Moor and cjggbella.

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5 Cities I Could Live In for the Next 5 Years

A few days ago, my college buddy Erik and I were talking about future plans and potential moves. Currently, he and his wife call Seoul home, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t eying another location. In fact, many of us who take the leap and settle abroad end up doing so for only a few years, either moving on to greener pastures overseas or even (gasp) moving back to our home countries. During our convo, Erik asked me out of all the cities I’d been to, which ones did I think I could live in for five years if I had to. Considering that I’ve not lived in one city for more than two years since 2005, Erik was asking a lot. Here are my top five:

1. São Paulo No surprise to anyone who’s read this blog for a while, Brazil’s largest city is the closest place to “home” for me, aside from my parents’ house. No matter how long I’m away from this massive, exhilarating megalopolis, I can swing back into town, call up my peeps, and plug back into the incredible social scene. I love this place.

2. Madrid Sunny, multicultural, and less-touristy than Barcelona, Madrid has the perfect combination of slick and gritty, with a kooky Latin attitude. Whenever I’m in town, I feel like I’m hanging out in an Almodóvar film. The job market sucks, but rents are cheap, so dollars earned remotely go very far.

3. San Francisco San Fran is, in a word, breathtaking. Baker Beach, the Golden Gate Bridge, Dolores Park, Union Square, Chinatown—the City by the Bay is just a cool-ass place. It’s expensive and chilly year round, but there are no East Coast-style winters. And for a little more color, there’s always Oakland!

4. Mumbai
It’s a cliché to call Mumbai an assault on the senses, but dammit, that’s exactly what it is. And I love that. With wonderful people, crazy-tasty food, centuries-old history and culture, and an unrelenting sense of adventure, India’s New York/Miami/LA is a phenomenal place.

5. Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia’s multicultural capital is sprawling but easy to navigate, full of amazing food and friendly people with a good grasp of English. Set between bustling Bangkok and staid-but-sophisticated Singapore and the main hub of low-cost carrier Air Asia, KL is the perfect hub for travel in Asia.

Where’s Berlin on this list, some of you might ask? It’s #6…the dark, cold winters keep it (and Stockholm) out of the top 5. Check back in a few months, when I’ve been to a few more cities. ;-)

Images by: ojjo, DavidHT, www.frontendeveloper.com, Fly Brother and ark3pix.

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From the AV Room: Samparkour

Shot in and around the vast, gritty warrens of downtown São Paulo—also known as Sampa—the short but thrilling Samparkour takes viewers through the heart of one of the world’s largest cities by way of parkour, an extreme sport that is at turns skillful acrobatics and dumb luck. Much of the action takes place in my old neck of the woods, reminding me of how much I actually love this grimy, exhilarating concrete jungle. Make sure your shoes are laced up tight before trying this at home:

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Fly Favorites: May 2012

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Fly Brother Makes Splash North of the Border…

…and South! Two tiny splashes, really.

The Montreal Gazette just published an article about resources for non-white, non-Christian travelers and quoted/linked yours truly (along with my good peeps I’m Black and I Travel, Intrepid Motion, and Oneika the Traveller).

AND, this month, stylish new iPad travel guide Handstand features a lovely little article about modernist architecture in downtown São Paulo, also by yours truly.

There’s more to come, dear readers!

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Fly Favorites: April 2012

Paulistano hip-hop scion Criolo
You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

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News from Brazil—In English

Most major news outlets report about Brazil’s economic growth, income disparities, racial issues, beaches, soccer stars, and World Cup preparations in random, infrequent bursts. Now, two journalists with feet on the ground and caipirinhas on the brain are weighing in on the economic growth, income disparities, etc., etc., on their own blogs.

Yes, everybody and their mama who ever spent a week on the beach in Rio or ever took a guided favela tour has a blog about Brazil. But these guys are oftentimes the go-to sources for reliable facts and insight that those major news outlets rely on when reporting on the country. So, for the most part, dear reader, you can turn to this pair of muckrakers for consistent, insightful commentary—in English—on that enigmatic, entrancing South American powerhouse in the tutti-frutti hat.

Sir Andrew Downie (he’s not really a knight, but he’s got a courtly disposition and “Sir” just sounds cool in front of his name) has been writing his eponymous blog for a while now, having moved to Brazil last century, I think. Originally from Scotland, Downie has worked as foreign correspondent in Haiti, Mexico, and now Brazil for the New York Times and Time magazine, among other outlets whose names do not necessarily incorporate the word “time”. Read his blog for World Cup drama and rants about Brazilian customer service.

Sir Vincent Bevins (why not?) just recently started writing the English-language blog for Brazil’s largest daily Folha de S.Paulo: the succinctly-named From Brazil. The native of La-la Land has lived in London, Berlin, and São Paulo and writes for the Financial Times and the Los Angeles Times, among other Times. He also hangs out with models in Rio and Reykjavik. No lie. Read his blog for reports on gender equality and humorous English gaffes.

And that’s all the news that’s fit to print. Well, from Brazil—in English—anyway.

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Parabéns to Carnival Winners Mocidade Alegre + Unidos da Tijuca!

Image: Nacho Doce/Reuters

The 2012 Carnival season in Brazil has ended with a couple of surprising samba school parade winners in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, both of which sported themes from the country’s culture-rich, rain-poor, poverty-stricken Northeast.

Yesterday, Mocidade Alegre took the title at São Paulo’s Sambadrome with a theme honoring prolific Bahian author Jorge Amado and the mystical Afro-Brazilian world evoked in his novel Tent of Miracles. Xangô, the Yoruban deity of fire, opens the presentation with power and glory:

Click here to see photos and video of Mocidade Alegre’s first-place show!

Meanwhile, Unidos da Tijuca won first place in Rio’s Sambadrome today with an homage to popular folk musician and forró king Luiz Gonzaga. The acrobatic rainbow slinky represents the soul of the accordion, Gonzaga’s signature instrument. Very cool:
Click here to see photos and video of Unidos da Tijuca’s win!

Man, I love Carnival!

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