Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Touring Sampa

So I'm here in São Paulo (Sampa if you want to abbreve), and I am really enjoying it, despite quite low expectations. Everyone who I talked to before coming here warned me: it's not a tourist city. You won't find much to do there. But I've had three pretty full days here:

Sunday was not actually all that full. I woke up late, had a leisurely breakfast at my hostel, and wandered around Vila Madalena the whole day. Vila Madalena is a really pretty neighborhood, it reminds me a lot of Wallingford in Seattle—kind of hippie/young and full of fairs and parks and street art. I spent a fair bit of time at the fair and a really fun bookstore right nearby, and then I walked to the Tomie Ohtake institute, a really cool-looking building with a modern art museum inside. It was nice to relax and the museum had great exhibits.

   I've been staying with a Wellesley alum (class of '90) and her family (husband, 3-year-old twins, 2 labs) since Sunday night, and her house is really nice. It's in a neighborhood called Alto de Pinheiros, right near Vila Madalena, and on a bunch of bus routes—fairly convenient to getting in and out of the center.

Monday was spent on a walking tour of the city center. The Lonely Planet guide has a 4-hour suggested tour and I stuck almost completely to it. It started at Praça da Sé, where the city cathedral is located(pictured). The coolest thing about the very center of the city is about half the streets are people-only: no cars, which is pretty rare in this car-filled city.

There is also a ton of really neat architecture, and lots of cool little praças with these HUGE rainforesty trees...They seem to pop up out of concrete, it's impressive.

In the afternoon, I checked out out Av. Paulista (very Manhattan-y) and Rua Oscar Freire (=5th Ave). It was fun to window shop and see all the holiday decorations and stuff. Between my walking tour and the afternoon, I did a TON of walking. I made it back to a park closeby the house, Parque Villa Lobos, around 5PM, and walked, wrote, and rented a bike, and ended the day with sushi with the Wellesley alum and her husband, which was great!

Today was a museum day. I spent the whole day just north of the centro, in a neighborhood called Luz. The train station there, Estação da Luz, is completely out of place with its surroundings. You feel like you've been transported to England!! It was built in 1901 in full Victorian style, complete with all its materials actually shipped from Great Britain!It was funny to see this very British train station in the middle of Brazil...but I should stop being surprised at things...I'm in Brazil: most anything happens here.

My first stop was the Museu da Língua Portuguesa: the Portuguese Language museum. This museum was actually fascinating (especially if you're a linguistics person..which I'm not). It's actually inside part of the Estação da Luz. The museum documents the rise of Brazilian Portuguese as distinct from the European (or African) and had a really cool special exhibit on a Brazilian poet, as well. I spent a long time in there: there's a timeline that goes from 4000 BC to the present day, and a ton of interactive features where you can here different accents or slang from different places.

After that, it was on to the Pinacoteca do Estado, São Paulo's oldest art museum (built in 1909). The building kind of reminds me of Wellesley's science center, actually—it's this old building that has been through some cool renovations and the inside looks nothing like you expect it to be. There's a great collection of Brazilian art there, especially contemporary, and I really enjoyed myself.

I spent some time walking around the Parque da Luz, which has tons of modern sculpture (but not over the top—very tasteful!) and wrote a bit/just relaxed.

The third museum of the day was the annex of the Pinacoteca (more contemporary art and a really cool exhibit of random stuff from a collector that donated his collection to the museum) and the Memorial da Liberdade, which is dedicated to memorializing the period of the Brazilian dictatorship. It's housed in the cells that were used to imprison and torture political dissidents, and though it was simple it was a powerful and educational experience.

Brazil's dictatorship lasted from 1964 to 1985, and though not as brutal (nor as well-known) as the Argentinian or Chilean ones going on around the same time, it was still a repressive, non-democratic regime. While I've been here, I've only had one conversation about the dictatorship, and I haven't really read anything about it, so it was really good to find out more history and actual details. But the most powerful was the one cell they had restored to its original condition, what it'd looked like during the dictatorship. Complete with scratchings on the walls and matresses on the floors and the thing that was supposed to be a "bathroom" but was really just a hole in the ground.

I knew it happened, in theory, you know? But that museum made me realize (as stupid as it sounds) that it actually happened. And it involved real people, people who were so desperate to document their lives that they etched their names on the wall, for fear they'd otherwise be forgotten forever.

It was a heavy way to end the day, but it was definitely worth it.

Tomorrow: Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Museu da Imigração Japonesa, Parque da Ibirapuera/Museu da Arte Moderna, FLY HOME!

I can't believe it...my time here is really coming to an end...

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