The less known side of São Paulo

Whenever you ask Brazilians outside of and even inside São Paulo about their impressions of the city, the two most common reactions you would probably hear are: “big” and “traffic” (and to diversify, “shopping malls” may come up). My conclusion so far is that “traffic” to Paulista is the equivalent of “weather” to a New Yorker – the most common subject of small talk.

The São Paulo I’ve come to know has much more to offer: great food options, great nightlife, art and fashion. Despite it’s highly urban landscape, it is full of green leafy trees and Ibirapuera park is always a great pleasure. Of course, it isn’t NYC (but what is?) but it offers enough fun for everyone.

This time, my strolls around São Paulo took me to fashion-start-up Moema district, Vila Madalena with its wonderful graffiti art, Casa 92 bar modeled after a house with alternative rooms, the park and chic Oscar Freire street with its flagship stores of both Brazilian and foreign brands.

And the added bonus: everything was decorated with the World Cup theme.

Street art at Vila Madalena
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Oscar Freire

Melissa shoe store front
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Havaianas Flagship Store

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World Cup Havaianas
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The Lego store
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Moema
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Ibirapuera
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Casa 92
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Modern Art in São Paulo

I decided to celebrate my first week of freedom with a trip to São Paulo.
In the newly inaugurated Contemporary Art Museum (MAC) I saw some great pieces such as foam statues, giant breathing cats, surreal photography and others that made me happy and inspired. Sharing here with you.

 

Cowboys in Sampa

I spent this weekend in São Paulo,catching up with my uber-cool MBA friends, sharing stories, bitching about our jobs, and comparing notes on our Brazil experiences in general.

My biggest achievement was getting into a fight with 2 different taxi drivers who decided to give us the gringo tour around town. I took it very personally, reprimanded them and even made one drop 20 reais from the total bill. What an empowering experience!

I also discovered the Brazilian country music, Sertanejo, thanks to a local friend that brought us to a place called Vila Country whose exterior looked like the set of a western movie, with signs such as “sheriff” and “Texas”. It also had an adjacent store selling cowboy hats and leather goods. Inside, the crowd sported a “cowboy-meet-piriguette” look while dancing to the sounds of something resembling american country mixed with forro. Can’t say I became a huge fan, but it was certainly an interesting  experience. Reminded me of my good old Texas times..

Right next door to Vila Country, was a ghetto version of the same, outside of which, the crowd sported the “cowboy-meet-drug dealer-meet-hooker” look. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to have a look inside but I did get one of the male version grabbing my arm and making a smacking sound with his lips while surveying me like a T-bone steak. I was told this is normal and I should have had the same experience had I gone to Funk party in Rio before. So thanks to this important tip, now I have my next adventure picked out.

 

Foto: Divulgação

São Paulo – Brazil’s New York City

In Brazil, I always find it amazing the clear contrast between the cities, in terms of urban landscape, people, culture, and modes of entertainment. I love Rio, but I always miss the diversity I had at my fingertips each and every day of living in Manhattan. São Paulo is then, the perfect getaway, when I want to take a break from the beach and beer culture and try out some great dining or engage in interesting conversation with peers of similar background.

This weekend, I did just that. Thanks to my wonderful hosts, I got to visit some very interesting places.

The coffee lab in Villa Madalena: One of the coolest coffee shops I have ever been to. The concept is that aside from the normal coffee selection, the menu offers the guests various experiments in coffee, allowing them to appreciate the differences the method of preparation makes on the final taste and aroma. The place also hosts a baristas’ school and so the servers are all very knowledgeable and make part of the experience.

Santinho in Pinheiros: a restaurant by famous chef Morena Leite, located in Instituto Tomie Ohtake, a modern art center. Incredible menu of Brazilian food with local flavors. Apparently, this chef has a thing for lemongrass and many of the menu options feature this ingredient including: a lemongrass pineapple shake, lemongrass couscous and even lemongrass brigadeiro (a typical local dessert made of condensed milk). The servants at the buffet menu are chef apprentices and they make food arrangements while serving to customers. I was challenged by my friends to make a move on one of them, through showing interest in the dessert selection. I didn’t work as expected, but at least I tried..

Finally, I met my one true love, Biloba. He is a Yorkshire puppy my friends recently bought. Me, a permanent dog-avoider,  had an uncontrollable emotional reaction upon seeing Biloba for the first time. I just crossed the room, took him in my arms and exclaimed “I love you!!” in a voice full of soft, mushy nostalgia. We were inseparable for the rest of the weekend.

Biloba

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The Week of Extremes

This week has truly been a week of extremes for me. I spent 3 days in the  northern state of Pará, visiting some mines, followed by a shopping spree weekend in the Brazilian New York City, aka, São Paulo.

Pará reminded me of the image of conquering the western frontier, so often portrayed in the American literature and movies. We spent hours driving through broken highways and dirt roads, passing endless plains, green hilltops, horse pastures, small farms, huge forests, seeing very little presence of humans in the region. This state is seeing a lot of economic growth in the past year due to investments in the mining industry, and people from all over Brazil, especially from even poorer areas are flocking here in search of job opportunities. The small cities that exist around future mining operations are growing at a high pace (20%+ population growth rate per annum) and the government is busy talking about economic growth rather than actually taking actions to support it. Many of these emerging urban nuclei resemble shanti towns, with no sewage system, no waste treatment facilities, and overall low levels of support for public services such as education, health or safety.

Oftentimes, the big companies in the area have to assume the role of the government, developing urban plans, paving roads, providing electricity, building schools and creating various training programs. Unlike in some developed countries, they are not driven by PR concerns but rather are acting on immediate operational needs and long term planning. They have to ensure a certain quality of life for their employees, they need to be able to build a local labor pool, and as it is always the case with extractive industries, they have to build trust relationships with the local community and governments.

Setting aside the current dire state of the towns I visited, I could see the infinite amount of opportunities for brave future entrepreneurs. These places are short of everything: hotels, supermarkets, shops, restaurants, bars, technical training institutes, beauty salons, security solutions, transport, internet cafes, gas stations (we actually tried to fuel the car one day and were told gasoline has run out for the day). They will also continue to grow at the same rate for the foreseeable future. I am sure that next time I visit, the towns will be completely transformed. I hope that for the better…

From one extreme to another, I passed a weekend in Sampa, catching up on all the things I have been missing from my lovely NYC. I bought some amazing designer clothes (second hand but perfect state!!), spending a ridiculous amount of $$, which is uncharacteristic of me. I met some MBA friends and had a brunch at the chic Hyatt restaurant (overpriced, but totally worth the western experience). I also checked out the nightlife and found the paulista girls super stylish and paulista guys much more elegant than their carioca counterparts.

I understand how a state that is 3 hours of flight away can be so different but what is truly amazing is how the 500km between SP and Rio can create such a huge cultural distance.

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