fifty-two. disconnected oddities, ameliorative generosities.
São Paolo ends with a bang and a whimper and a promise of revisit, my last few days there unfinished, frantic and fun ... for the first time on the Branner Ivan, Ballard and I converged, changing this urban jungle of solitary, wary evenings into wandering hop-scotch stop-here stop-there visits to churrascarias and chopperias to engage in much-needed catching up. these evening walks revealed stunning sights not possible during the day, such as views of receding rivers of car taillights swooping downhill beneath 60’ overpasses. it is dizzying, these connective stitches that cross the city everywhere (such as along Ave. May 23rd), revealing both a dysfunctionality (these low roads lie in valleys that end up flooding during summer deluges) and a subsequent generosity (the suggestion of reconnection is everywhere, in both built infrastructure such as numerous bridges and stairs, and in less-supported allusions, such as sidewalks which ‘continue’ across 8-lane roadways). this unpatterned melee of linescapes dates back to the city’s colonial birth when private land owners who lived in the elevated city-center connected their outlying holdings to the center via an unmanaged criss-cross of roads and bridges. São Paolo’s sensory similarity to Tokyo, which Ballard and I both felt, probably resides in both cities’ lack of well-established planning strategies and subsequent rapid urbanization, which has happened only the latter half of the 20th century.
from my last days here, there are a few routes i’d like to recollect:
10.6 ( to) the Lilac Line
a glance at SP’s metro map will reveal 3 primary lines: the north-south blue, the east-west red (the two meeting in the center at lively Pca de Se), and the east’ish-west’ish green, which lies to the south of Se and which services the elite business canyon along Paulista. (SP is described as having an itinerant ‘downtown’ in which the city’s money and power roves by the decade: the Centro was replaced by uphill Paulista, and now Faria Lima to the west is receiving much of the real-estate attention). there is also the lilac metro line, in the city’s southwest, a segment of 8 stops which connects to the CPTM suburban rail network. the fringe placement of this short, distant line aroused my curiosity, as i assumed it serviced a wealthy area and/or a politically important region in terms of population density and votes.
reaching the line requires a triple transfer, from metro red to its western terminus at Barra Funda, where lines A and B of the CPTM begin. Barra Funda is a major node linking the two systems (Metro and CPTM) and as such, it is also used for animated social-service videos (regarding good manners, saving water, etc., reminiscent of Singapore) and a small amount of advertising. while the city streets are largely devoid of billboards and posters due to April’s advertising ban, some advertising is still allowed in the transit stations, and even on the bodies of trains themselves (although rare).
line B of the CPTM was distinct from the metro on a sweltering Saturday afternoon; windows were open, faces moist with sweat, chatter was a bit louder, the hawkers more vociferous in their sale of cold coconut water and sorbet. leaving Barra Funda, the train passed through a relatively brief industrial sector followed by an even briefer patch of railside informality: shacks, urban agriculture, and two pigs (Mom and piglet) walking along a shady path. the N-S line C, from a transfer at Pres. Altino, is also part of the CPTM system and has its own character. its welcomed A/C and classical music was, most likely, an attempt to drown out the smell of the Pinheiros River, along which the line runs. at every station, the compartment filled with the heavy waft of effluent; once flowing southward, a nearby reservoir changed the Pinheiros’ direction, which also receives run-off from hillside favelas during summer rainstorms.
regardless of its dire condition, the Pinheiros remains a defining factor influencing the city’s western skyline; the high rises along its eastern banks spread N-S from Feria Lima’s financial district while on the western banks, the skyline rises and falls with isolated hills that once again exhibit São Paolo’s quick-changing socio-economic pockets – one hill hosts a favela, the next a handful of mansions, the next few hills a collection of dense white towers. the lilac line, radiating westward from the southern end of Line C, serves a densely populated residential area of favela-covered hills which rise above the small valley created by a now-culverted feeder stream. here the topographical corridor was close to the rail (approx 150m), and the train’s noise-pollution an obvious burden. the turnaround at Capao Redondo was quick and the ride home semi-rowdy with a few beer-drinkers celebrating some team’s football victory (a celebration later echoed back at Barra Funda with an impromptu parade of fans, flanked by station policemen). a blind beggar who boarded halfway through the Line B ride transformed the compartment into a silent and thoughtful community that gave more generously than i have seen elsewhere, and once he disembarked a more comfortable conversation level seemed to permeate the train. the day’s most remarkable sight, however, was back at the Santa Cecilia station where i had started the day. a boy of 8'ish was sit-riding a skateboard down the ramp that led to the station; he had a smile on his face whose ferocity suggested its rarity, and it was amazing to witness how a small piece of urban topography and 4 wheels could offer such a complete and temporary respite from the city’s demands.
10.8 Ave. São João + Elavado (see top photo)
the Elevado Costa E. Silva runs above a portion of Ave. São João, beginning in Santa Cecilia and curving northwest over to the edge of the hilly and pristine Perdizes neighborhood. although on my way to somewhere else i was compelled instead to follow this shadowy, linear, street art-gallery where overpass support pillars serve as canvases and sometimes as lean-to walls for the homeless. this same median over which the Elevado runs also serves as an efficient (good use of space, with the Elevado as roof) but inconvenient (no crosswalks) concrete swath for the buses which run on the inner lanes of São João, again a testament to São Paolo’s ‘go anywhere but no hand-holding’ approach to circulatory freedom. this stretch of São João + Elevado yields a high concentration of used bookstores which spill their tattered and colorful contents onto an otherwise semi-seedy sidewalk scene.
where São João + the Elevado cross over Av. Pacaembu, two striking views are afforded down either side of the overpass: to the south, the towers and verdant residential streets of Perdizes, and to the north, a banal strip of gas stations and apparent car dealerships which fades off into flat distance. adjacent to the overpass on this side was a sloped patch of dirt and a few trees where a few homeless men had established a true campsite, replete with fire-ring. despite the site’s high visibility from above and its adjacency to a busy road, the overpass wall and a set of stairs defined a discrete space, and the trees offered patchy protection. less than ½ mile away up into the hills of Perdizes a private school with ebullient teens next to an excellent 1950’s church of diagonal wall-blades, gentle side lighting, and sloped floor offered an entirely different world of privileged calm. the streets here (R photo above) looked uncannily like those in Jo’burg’s nicer neighborhoods (L photo above), where SFH are surrounded by 15’ high and 1’ thick walls, and chairs on corners belie the presence of neighborhood guards whose job it is to provide a psychological sense of well-being to the street. not far from here i descended into an odd topographical bowl/depression, where single storey bungalows remain mysteriously untouched and surrounded by a forest of slope-perched high-rises. in this area, one can witness some dramatic landscape gymnastics, where entire portions of hills are literally cut away to accommodate parking garages...this next to a nostalgic set of white-washed stairs and bright bungalows (see photo, below).
10.9 Rio Grande da Serra
Linha D provides a survey of the city’s southeast rail corridor, which evolves in a quintessential urban fade. the right of way begins narrowly out of the hub of Bras, with walls close, a railcar graveyard pressing in, and crowded, cavernous warehouses showing their roofs above the corridor barrier. this continues through the ex-industrial district of Mooca, and thereafter the density of warehouses begins to thin and the walls swell away from the tracks to allow vacant swaths of land, the occasional pocket of informal settlement, and the sporadic factory. in the distance heavy industry spews its smoke from barely visible spindly smokestacks, and a roadway 200 m. away breeds a suburban-feeling fabric of big’ish box retail separated by unused lots. the satellite town of Maua, 4 stops from the line’s terminus, marked a change of sorts – this lively hub boasts a massive bridge which attempts to knit together bandstand stairs, a tower of platforms and a bus-station with the town’s public plaza. excepting the bridge portion, the structure is unfortunately unfinished, leaving behind a dysfunctional red steel gesture. a large banner hanging from the bridge’s railing announced the temporary presence of Poupatempo Mobile, a roving tent-based version of the state government-sponsored social-service organization which i mentioned earlier. at Maua, most of the train’s chatty riders emptied out, leaving behind a void of silence and lonely faces in twilight. hereafter the stations disappeared into simple shadowy anonymity against a backdrop of the rural: expansive fields, with localized smatterings of houses, most notably those huddled on hills accessed by steep and narrow stairs. when the train wasn’t flanked by field it was flanked by small canyon, two steep rocky mounds pressing in close to the rail, turning windows into mirrors against a premature nightfall.