“Non ducor, duco”
Not conducted, I conduct
(written in São Paulo state’s coat of arms)
A journey of the heart: São Paulo. Stories through photographic memories.
I love to travel because it’s the best way to grow both culturally and socially. Living one’s entire life in their country of birth makes them arrogant and ignorant. When you meet other cultures you learn their traditions and heritage and respect for other people’s space and in doing so you enrich your own life and appreciate and love more and more your country of origin.
I love to discover new places and learn other languages. The freedom to go anywhere in the world and to be able to express my views without translators or interpreters is very rewarding. I speak five languages and believe me, sometimes I feel ignorant.
28 years have gone by. During all this time I’ve only been back 3 times. You can imagine how awkward I felt because I couldn’t understand the “Paulistanes” language. Further on I’ll explain why. I’m talking about São Paulo, one of the most densely populated and largest cities in Latin America. The city where I was born. A city so big that it makes you feel like a stranger, practically invisible. The beautiful aspect of this city is that its people are extremely hospitable. It’s a city that welcomes people from all over the world. What’s more, a large number of Italians and descendants live here and it is also the city that has the most Japanese people outside of Japan! They even have their own district, “Liberdade”, where you can see them dressed in their traditional clothes, buying in their typical shops, eating in Japanese restaurants and speaking the language of the land of the Rising Sun.
Sampa (as it is affectionately called by the Brazilians) boasts having millions and millions of people divided into three, so to speak, slices: The entire state is made up of 44 million people, São Paulo has a population of 21 million and the city center has roughly 12 million. It’s called the city that never stays still, and I believe it! Just think, they have dentists and gyms that are open 24 hours non-stop! The question came to mind automatically: Who goes to the gym at 4 am? The reply I was given is that it’s probably the gay community (the biggest gay parade in the world is held here). There are also bakeries open 24 hours (where you can shop and eat on the spot just about anything, including soups and hearty Brazilian gastronomy dishes) that produce warm bread every minute and I can assure you, it’s delicious!
Up until 15 years ago, during one of my visits, the people were slim and had few possibilities of eating nutritionally. Today it’s the fourth most obese country in the world! It’s as if they’ve just recently discovered good fortune and the people are eating food all the time; portions for three soldiers, if compared to Europe’s eating habits.
They’re breaking records on just about everything. Hospitals and clinics are flourishing but the health service is a sore point; if you don’t have health insurance you risk dying just like in America, a country whose habits are constantly copied!! The traffic too, I’m afraid, is breaking records. There isn’t a single moment of the day that you’re not stuck in traffic somewhere. To try and solve this problem new metro lines are being created; an overhead monorail line is about to open. They currently have over 12 metro lines! They are identifiable by their colors. I have often used the metro because it’s the only way to get to appointments faster and it’s economic (São Paulo has similar costs to European countries).
I was shocked at the number of people who use the metro: over 4 million every day! There are endless tunnels that make you sometimes feel out of breath but the flow of people is like a river that never stops, everyone is in an orderly row and well-behaved despite coming home tired from a hard day’s work. The people never push except when entering the metro cars, which at peak times can be really crowded, just like when I lived in Tokyo two years ago. I noticed with great pleasure that people never take advantage of the blue seats, which are of exclusive use for the disabled, the elderly and mothers, even when the metro is packed.
As a result of the dense population, the city is having serious difficulties this year due to the lack of water. It is believed that in November 2014 the population of São Paulo will probably be without water if there is no rainfall. Incredibly, the city of “garoa” (very light rain) this winter had no rainfall at all! While I was there, I got soaked during a storm but the people were smiling and dancing as if they had never seen rain!
It’s a country full of contradictions, but I must admit that few in the world have such a strong power to regenerate. 15 years ago, as I mentioned earlier on, people had a hard time finding food however today they often eat out, they have a new car (many imported), the latest mobile phones and there is no lack of work. I assure you I have never seen so many ‘hiring’ signs! Women can now go to the hairdresser once a week and to the manicure salon every three days (they’re obsessed with nails, skin and hair), they dress more decently although I must say their taste leaves a lot to be desired. I’ve never seen so many people dressed in such an unimaginable way. No one is “mocked” in São Paulo like they would be in Europe; everyone dresses as they please without being judged.
São Paulo has innumerable “centers” with many trendy and elite districts. It’s a problem to decide where to go due to the long distances. Itaim Bibi, Jardins, Vila Nova conceiçao and Vila Madalena are very fashionable, each with its own characteristics, but the center par excellence is the Avenida Paulista area, one of the most important with regard to the economy: all the banks in the world have offices here. Here too you’ll find cultural centers, embassies, shops, shopping centers and historical museums such as the MASP, a particular structure created by the Italian architect Lina Bo Bardi. This museum has an impressive private collection of art: Rembrandt, Degas, Velasquez, Goya, Van Gogh, Modigliani, Renoir, Delacroix, Diego Rivera, Candido Portinari, and many exhibitions of major artists (at the moment there’s Julian Schnabel) and this is just one example because it is a city that offers many cultural sites and museums to visit.
Despite the exponential growth, there are numerous problems in managing the city. I saw “tangled” electric cables dangerously dangling on poles as if it were a normal thing. There is no town plan for the city. Here, architects can let their imagination run free. There are various types of architecture, some of which are of extremely questionable taste.
Since Sampa is the city commonly called “selva de pedras”, the parks are well maintained and quite lively with people. One of the most beautiful parks is Ibirapuera where you’ll find culture, music and entertainment. For those of you who love the famous architect Oscar Niemeyer (yes, he’s Brazilian) his works such as the MAM, the OCA, the Marchise, the Auditorium and the beautiful Biennial can be admired in the park.
In the center, São Paulo’s real center, such as the São Bento square, Praça da Sé, there are beautiful buildings dating back to the “Belle Époque”, in grand European style, that are falling to pieces; they are still left standing despite the great cultural revolution of refusal of the European style that had taken place in the city. The right place for those who love to do business is Rua Direita; here you’ll find counterfeiting centers similar to Shenzhen in China and a commercial center with all kinds of goods at affordable prices.
If you love graffiti Brazilians are masters in this art and in a “gray” city like São Paulo you’ll come across some neighborhoods that stand out for their colors and shapes. There are also very interesting facades on houses like in the Vila Madalena district and more specifically the Beco do Batman area. I can assure you it’s worth seeing even if you’re not particularly interested in this art form. In addition to the beauty of this graffiti there are many “casa de samba” and trendy places.
As I was saying at the beginning of this article, after all these years I came back not only as a “transiting” reportage photographer but also as an artist to launch my project Lux Et Filum – A contemporary vision of Caravaggio. I was in the city for over a month and believe me, despite being an enthusiast of languages (at the time I was told I spoke like a university professor) I found myself feeling awkward because I didn’t understand the idioms people use on a daily basis, especially the young people. And so I discovered that while I was away “Paulistanes”, an absurd and senseless way of speaking, was created! Here are some examples: I’m going to work = Vou pro Trampo (trabalho), It’s difficult = Esta Osso (dificil), I’m in a hurry = To no Corre (Pressa), Guess who I ran into today? = Adivinha com quem trombei (encontrei) na rua hoje?
It’s not as though slang didn’t exist when I was here, but today I find this language surreal and rather funny! Nevertheless, this is Sampa too!
But seeing as how this city is full of contradictions I must admit it has its charm. It’s full of Italians and it’s difficult to completely hate it. One feels dazed during the trip and when you return to your homeland it’s not uncommon to find yourself with a feeling of “Saudades”.
A bit of advice before concluding this account: If you love cappuccinos, don’t ask for one in São Paulo. A cappuccino here is made of instant coffee diluted in hot water with powdered milk and chocolate!
These are the words of a Brazilian who has been living longer now in Italy but who still has fond memories of Brazil. My roots are always dear to me and it’s a pleasure to “rediscover”, as if it were for the first time, how this South American giant has evolved, including its language.
I took the pictures in this article with a smartphone. This is a notebook of memories of fleeting and intense moments and only a means like a cell phone could allow me to capture real-life situations without disturbing and being disturbed.