Our first Sâo Paulo,
Brazil venture takes us to the financial district's skyscraper-studded Paulista Avenue. The weekday bustle is in full swing with packed restaurants and cafés, shoppers aimed at stores of every description, and plenty of ATM's to replenish one's cash-stash.
On Sundays Paulista is closed off to vehicle traffic, and locals roam the roadway freely - strolling, jogging, skateboarding, biking, with plenty of leashed canines in the mix.
The concrete environs of the city are interspersed with green spaces. Parque do Ibirapuera is among the best. Across from the park entrance is a massive stone sculpture, Monumento às Bandeiras (Monument to the Flags) comprised of burly riders on powerful steeds followed by a brigade of men on foot, some pushing a gigantic canoe overland. This work by Italian-Brazilian sculptor Victor Brecheret is a tribute to the ethnic groups that took part in the country's exploration expeditions - Portuguese settlers and fortune hunters, indigenous tribes and blacks.
Once in the park the traffic roar is replaced with the twitter of birds, and the chorus of geese, ducks and swans floating about on a man-made lake.
Another day the "old centre" beckons with its star attraction, Teatro Municipal. Its grand doors first swung open in 1911 for opera, ballet and musical productions in an ambiance of Belgian crystal and gold-leaf.
Sunday's craft fair takes place in nearby Republic Square (Praca de Republica). We stroll between canopied tables containing amazing handicrafts. In one corner of the market, we are drawn by the beating of drums to a demonstration of the Brazilian martial art,
Participants execute rhythmic moves to the beat of traditional single-string percussion instruments called Berimbaus. This martial art was formulated by the black slaves to fight off their oppressors after escaping the sugar plantations and congregating in primitive settlements called Quilombos. When slavery ended in the late 1800's, this martial art was prohibited, but lived on in Capoeira experts being hired as body guards, hit-men and illegally-held fights. Now it is taught
around the world.
We next aim our walking shoes toward
Sâo Paulo Cathedral (Catedral da Sé de Sâo Paulo). Our eyes fix on the neo-gothic structure with renasaissance-style domes begun in 1913 and completed four decades later, except for the towers which were finished in 1967.
The 8,000 capacity austere interior has pillars the size of old growth forest trees. A crypt holds tombs of bishops, archbishops and important historical figures, such as Tibiriçá, the Guarani's tribe chieftain, who welcomed the first Jesuits to this area in the 16th century.
Onward we go to Sâo Bento Monastery (Mosteiro de Sâo Bento) where the Benedictine order of monks settled in 1600; the present structure dates back to 1910. We are entranced by the paintings, sculptures, stained glass and mosaics. In the same complex is a bakery where bread and sweet buns made by the monks is sold...which we load up on, loving every last morsel!
According to my husband, Rick, a bustling shopping milieu fits me like Brazil's fast-paced
Samba, and Rua 25 de Março (March 25th Street) is just such a place! Like ants racing about, bodies jostle for space juggling their purchases. I adapt quickly to this frenzy...Rick dutifully follows. The street is lined with shops of every description- clothing, jewelry, name-brand knock-offs, electronics, food. Street vendors compete with more of the same. As well, you can squish your way into three malls for yet more variety stores, wholesalers, and counterfeit consumer goods.
Being in the midst of bodies weaving and darting like schools of fish, I recollect that this street was once the river bed of the Tamanduatei River. In the 19th and early 20th century a series of engineering projects realigned the Tamanduatei and Anhangabaú rivers, moving them and the port further to the east. The original street name, "Rua de Baixo", refers to the low (baixo) position of this area in relation to the surrounding streets. In 1865 the name was changed to commemorate the date of Brazil's first constitution signed on 25 March 1824.
For another "must see" we take the excellent subway system to Pátio do Colégio. This historic Jesuit church and college (now a museum) is where the city was born and where the first mass was held on January 25, 1554. The rooms hold sacred art collections, a section of the original wall encased in glass.
Then, we walk to
Mosteiro da Luz (Luz Monastery) founded in 1774 by Friar Galvâo, whose body is buried here. As well as the monastery's Museum of Sacred Art, part of the building is a retreat location for "Conceptionists Nuns" who live in seclusion and prepare the famous miracle pills of Friar Galvâo. I check out the small shop with religious souvenirs but don't spot any little pill bottles. Alas, my "pouco" Portuguese does "nada" to clear the puzzled look on the nun's face who mans the shop, and I leave pill-less.
One last walk down Paulista Avenue brings to mind that as well as being the name of the city's most famed street, the citizens of Sâo Paulo State are known as Paulistas, while the inhabitants of Sâo Paulo city refer to themselves as Paulistanos…and you may hear locals affectionately call their city Sampa. It is Brazil's largest city with a population of 11 million (2010 census), and despite complaints about traffic, pollution and street crime (there is a high degree of police presence to thwart the latter), most residents would not dream of living anywhere else. Well worth a visit!
Irene Butler is an award winning writer and author of
"Trekking the Globe with Mostly Gentle Footsteps" on Kindle. Her articles have appeared in national and international publications. She and her husband Rick explore the world for six or more months of every year.