"The city is being swept away by the metropolis. This action does not just replace one noun with another, but radically turns one state of affairs into a state of perpetual motion. As a collective action -- a verb more than a noun -- the metropolis destabilizes our concepts of time and place. With the dissolution of the city into the forever- emerging metropolis, our existence slides into permanent mobility." - L. Lerup, in After the City
having found a room where i can breathe and think, the end of my itinerancy (Sao Paolo) within itinerancy (Branner) has alleviated some of my distraction-beyond-logical-explanation. distraction may also be a state of being in SP, specifically; every city has its moods & effects, and while i cannot pinpoint them to a fountain-source here, the city’s disquiet strikes me as palpable. this is my third attempt at a comfortable temporary abode, the first being internally fine but located on a pedestrian street that became an unsafe zoo after 8pm, the second up on the hill (Paulista) but of the once-luxury-turned-to-seed budget variety where men wore tux vest uniforms and doors had built-in lazy susans (for discreet room service) even as the pillows were covered in plastic liner, the bed adorned with a junky ‘zine circa 2005, and the battery-powered lamp oozing corrosion and dead beyond repair.
having avoided the institution of the hostel in cities where it is affordable to do so, i have been seduced by a corner room here in the downtown Hostel. it is not just the 2nd floor room i love, which allows me to see down two different streets, but this neighborhood, which no travel guide would ever describe as definable, being in transition as it is and located somewhere between Santa Cecilia, Republica, and Consolaçao. next door, a sterile Formula 1! hotel sits across from a semi-retired grand-duchess called the San Raphael, whose ground-floor bar spills onto the sidewalk and acts as catalyst for a mini nightlife-on-sidewalk district. in the other direction, away from Sao Joao’s traffic, the sidestreets are lined with auto-fetish stores (ex. motorcycle clothing, body appliques), stores that are shiny without being bourgeois. from my two windows, in the early hour of 6am i watched the streets exchange hands. a few joggers dodged the dazed-out all-nighters or homeless clearing out for the day, windowless white mini-vans easily navigated the nearly empty streets, delivering newspapers and bread to kiosks and snack stands, an SUV with tinted-windows dropped a handful of scantily clad dancers onto the sidewalk where they hobbled on sore feet to various homes or hotels. everything was cool and calm for a few brief minutes.
there is silence to be found in pockets, although usually accompanied by a harsher reality. today: unlikely tree growing robustly on the top floor of an abandoned brick building, approx. 15 stories tall. or two men standing on the roof of a gorgeous glazed Modernist tower near Pça Ramos; i envied them but then realized they were either homeless, in a graffiti gang, or developers, as on closer inspection, most, if not all, 20-odd storeys looked empty. all the guards and police-people also seem shrouded in silence (the guards especially); they are heaviest in areas of revitalization, to make wary people feel safe in otherwise still-hectic environments. they stand in some of the nicer galerias, or at the door to more comfortable hotels in seedier parts (our hostel has one), or in areas where there is a stark mingling of have and have-not (such as at Pça Ramos where street kids sleep beneath a tree 10 feet from the entrance of the ‘Shop Light’ mall, or likewise, at the Municipal Theater, whose grand steps attract those who don’t have places to sleep but still want a nice place to sit). the Cathedral at Se is a silent holy place populated with the devout while its steps are gently claimed by a crew of beggars. this city’s ability to embrace such jarring contrasts within 5 feet makes it in some ways the most honest and difficult of all i have visited so far. the mind is constantly trying to absorb conflicting environments and given very little time to do so.
but it is not cruel, or at least, there are signs that it is not (which can obversely make the small acts of cruelty seem so much larger). the SESC organization, something akin to localized business cooperatives, demands taxation from businesses and then uses the funds to provide art and recreation centers around the city (Lina Bo Bardi’s SESC Pompei being the most famous). people who live in the precinct can use the facilities for free while outsiders can use it for a fee. the SESC Pompei offers a range of art classes, a library (where men play speed chess in silence), the gymnasium tower + pool, and a huge restaurant, bar, and performance venue. in similar social-mindedness, Poupatempos are city-sponsored ‘one-stop-shop’ type institutions offering a plethora of services such as ID card issuance, post office, medical exams, etc. i serendipitously found the first, designed in 2000 by Mendes de la Roche, at the Itaquera metro terminus (to the east). infrastructural in size and layout (like an indoor city with avenues), one can walk straight from the metro platform over a bridge and into the Poupatempo megastructure, making these services easily accessible from select public transit stations. this Poupatempo, which serves the city’s neglected eastern districts, in turn leads directly to a brand new mall, due to open in November. it looks incongruous and out of scale, as the surrounding residences are packed and tired at best, but according to the Poupatempo official (who finally gave me permission to take photos) the mall is an attempt to jump-start the area.
where the metro ends in this eastern quadrant, the CPTM picks up (Paulista Company Metropolitan Transit), a suburban rail system that supplements the 3-line metro. as the city center recedes, the train hawkers make a more frequent appearance, usually selling chocolate or gum. the length of the line’s extension is reminiscent of Tokyo, as is the hum of the train itself, growing louder as the riders diminish. as the train passes through empty farmland and the city seems finally exhausted, just as quickly the population again increases, until the line’s terminus. here a small town with busy main avenues seems to proclaim its self-sufficiency in the form of a single glass-clad office tower which boasts a heli-pad. it is now a full hour from the city. the return ride, on Line F, to the north, is sheer emptiness and sleeping on Thursday evening. the density is out there but in the darkness, it is unseen, as these neighborhoods do not receive the luxury of streetlights. the lighting within the train is yellow and poor, and everything seems a stage-set for a melancholy movie in which other bodies don’t mean company, and the man who boards sits too close even though the compartment is nearly empty. these suburban lines, at least to the east, express a loneliness which is embedded in detail. i never realized how much the color of in-train advertising can superficially cheer up the eyes, or at least temporarily entertain. the peri-urban platforms become dark, un-announced pauses of concrete, and the gap between the train and the platforms varies in both width and height (sometimes a step up, sometimes a step down, always a considerable gap across) as municipal concern with such details fades away.
below: metro at Pca de Se