Friday, July 9, 2010

Friday Travel Journal: São Paulo, Brazil, Part One

After spending a couple of days in charming and well-preserved Paraty, it was time to re-enter the modern world. Brazil is a country that has retained much of its colonial past, but is constantly striving to modernize itself and so it's possible, within a few hours, to travel from a world of 16th century cobble stoned roads, colonial buildings and gas lamps to one of 21st century multi-lane highways, glass and steel skyscrapers and neon signs. In the morning, we took the six hour bus ride to São Paulo (meaning St. Paul, pronounced sa-oo-powlo), the commercial and financial capital and the largest city in Brazil (and the Southern Hemisphere) with a population of over 11,000,000. The city is huge and busy, with much traffic, the largest helicopter fleet in the world, a modern transportation system, lots of noise and um, interesting, street odors. Let's just say that I was very happy when it rained hard the day after we arrived. We took the subway from the bus terminal and found our hotel easily enough; it is very well laid out and  "Paulistanos" (citizens of São Paulo) were very helpful.



Luis at the night food market happily waiting for his sandwich and his Viagra smoothie (photo by Simone Cannon)


It was getting dark, so we dropped our things at the hotel and ventured out to explore. The hotel receptionist told us that he knew of a club a few blocks away that had free Samba Rock concerts and dancing that night. Sounded good, so we headed in that direction, looking for a place to eat as we walked. We soon came across a kind of busy night food market filled with locals (always a good sign!) so decided to give it a try. We decided to split a huge, local sandwich called a Beirut, made from beef or chicken, lettuce, egg, cheese, tomato, etc. and one of the many freshly made juice smoothies using local fruits and promising to deliver everything from high energy to Viagra-like benefits.  After we finished eating and drinking, we were sufficiently energized to go dancing, so we walked over to the club (actually a small civic center) for Samba Rock (whatever that was...hey, at least it was free).



Samba Rock night in São Paulo (photo by Luis Bastardo)


When we arrived, the place was filling up with what looked like a cross-section of the Brazilian population: young, old, black, white, male, female, gay, straight...it promised to be an interesting evening. Everyone was talking quietly or sitting on chairs that had been lined up against the wall and I was thinking that it would be a fairly sedate affair, a concert where everyone applauded politely, when all of a sudden, the band started up and everyone jumped to their feet in unison and hit the dance floor. Samba, a popular form of Brazilian music with African roots, is the music and dance style most associated with Brazil and was originally played with drums and string instruments. Today, though, it usually has modern influences such a rock and instruments now include electric guitars, trombones, modern and traditional drums. There is also a whole culture that has grown around Samba: clothes, dances, food, festivals and the ubiquitous and popular Samba schools (Escolas de Samba). These schools are often located in or near favelas, the notorious Brazilian slums, giving the youth of the area a chance to spend their time perfecting their dance steps and musical skills.



My impromptu Samba teacher before she gave up hope on me completely (photo by Luis Bastardo)


 

I, on the other hand, unlike the Samba school students, have no dance skills whatsoever. It's all I can do to stand upright most of the time, much less try to coordinate my "moves" with another person while following the rhythm of music all at the same time. Inevitably though, there is someone at the dance/party/club who insists that I just haven't had the right teacher and that they will be the one who teaches me to dance. I always try to tell them that it's a lost cause, but they never listen. That person always ends up walking away shaking their head after a few minutes of dancing, no doubt wondering how I was able to arrive at the place without falling down and knocking myself unconscious. Samba Rock Night was no exception. After trying to dance and slamming into Luis several hundred times, almost giving him a concussion, several people offered to help me learn the dance moves. Most of them only lasted a few minutes before limping off to bandage their now crushed toes, but one girl hung in there, steadfastly refusing to believe that it was possible for a human being to be so completely without a sense of rhythm, bless her heart. Even she gave up finally; there are some things in the universe that you just can't fight.


Other Links:

Samba Schools in Rio: http://www.rio-carnival.net/samba_parade/rio_samba_schools.php

São Paulo's Helicopters: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jun/20/brazil

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