Saturday in Sao Paulo (Part Two)

9 09 2015

11863253_10207677214278603_1144298162982304423_nAfter enjoying a refreshing, lime caipirinha near the top of the food truck alley, Bethany and I decided to keep wandering up Augusta. We stopped in a store that worked like an artist collective, and had a long conversation with a man in his 30s selling his screenprinted photographs of Sao Paulo on t-shirts. We passed an antique shop/ bar surprisingly filled with Route 66 Americana. We kept wandering, and identified the Blitz Haus building in daylight. Then we paused in our tracks.

We heard the sound of several ‘pops,’ and the smell of sulphur in the air. We were walking past an 8 foot tall corrugated metal construction fence on our left, covered in graffiti, and could see people standing up the block with signs written in Portuguese. On the other side of the street, there was a row of police officers, around a dozen of them, lined up neatly like dolls in a display window. They were not moving, they just stood there, backs to the wall, watching calmly from across the street.

“I think we should cross,” Bethany said. I nodded back, “Si.”

11873456_10207677216158650_6690853518186474290_nAs we stepped back up onto the sidewalk on the other side of the street, she asked one of the officers in her broken Portuguese whether it was safe for us to keep walking.

“Securitas?” while gesturing.

Without hesitating, he replied with a simple, “Yes,” and so we decided to continue. We paused for a minute, with a small crowd of other onlookers, to try to discern what was happening. A protest of some sort, but we weren’t sure what. There was music coming from behind the fence, and young people ducking down to squeeze through a hole in the metal barricade. We couldn’t see what was on the other side, but the flow of visitors going in and out was fairly steady.

11914876_928128913936400_7568490999787016423_nAs we left behind the mysterious happenings, dusk was settling in. We decided to walk to try to find an 80s dance bar that was on the screenshot of my phone’s map. It was clear that we were not going to get on the Metro and explore other parts of the city after dark, so wandering close to Augusta felt like a safe compromise.

The street split up and changed names, as we twisted downward into a less populated area. Storefronts were all closed up for the night, and few pedestrians passed by, leaving us with a desire to get back to something less deserted. We descended down a long flight of wide stairs with one man sitting on the steps 30 feet down, then up a street that we thought we knew the name of, based off the partially accurate GPS feature of my phone that worked without service. We passed by a tiny convenience store where the owner and his male cohorts all sat outside drinking their beer, and thought about asking the name of the street, but opted to just keep walking to be safe.

As the major street disappeared into a tunnel, we turned left and headed back uphill. I saw a plaza with steps leading up to another street above us, and we went that way, hoping to return to Augusta. As we crested the stone steps, we found a bustling sidewalk with more refugees selling sunglasses from impromptu stands. Bethany found a pair she liked while we heard the story of a young man from Africa who came here 3 years ago to escape. He was one of the only street vendors we met who spoke English, and that explained where he learned it.

11892218_928128950603063_8976573084823619351_nWe started to make our way back south toward Augusta, when we heard a faint sound of music. There was a large stone church and a tree-lined street to our right, so we decided to follow it. At the other end of the block, the urban forest was intersected by a dedicated bike path, which then gave way to a plaza filled with tables of happy denizens. It reminded me of a biergarten in a lot of ways.

A row of small storefronts framed the opposite edge of the plaza, and one restaurant was serving platters of beer to every table while Brazilian samba music flowed through the crowd of dancers. A 5-piece band played song after song as we found the one empty table and ordered drinks. Bethany and I watched the crowd, and grooved to the music, along with 100 other locals. Not one word of English was spoken, as we gleefully observed the diverse crowd of Brazilians. Every age, every race, every color, all intermingling. Bethany carefully studied the large older man who paced slowly from brim to brim, tossing short comments to wait staff, and occasionally sitting at an empty table with his drink. She looked in her phone to find the Portuguese word for ‘owner,’ and then asked him if this was his establishment. “Si,” he said, forcing a wrinkly smile as an afterthought. He’s likely retired, we supposed, but doesn’t trust anyone else with his business, so he watches the crowd like a hawk.

Back on Augusta, night had fallen like a thick blanket. We were glad that we never strayed too far from the one street we knew, keeping a close eye on our surroundings as we walked. Up ahead, I saw the glow of activity from that protest site from earlier. This time, there was a young woman with some sort of bicycle contraption, carrying a generator that powered neon colored lights that illuminated artwork and pamphlets. She was speaking to a couple of kids in their early 20s when we approached. The police had left, and Bethany tried to ask her what was going on.

The woman explained that this was a block of undeveloped land that had been treated as a neighborhood park for decades… until last year, when a developer purchased and wanted to build on the land. The people of Sao Paulo protested, demanding the government designate it as a park and keep it that way for the neighborhood. The group organized, and has been occupying the land non-stop since last December, in order to protect it. We saw two more people duck under the metal fence and asked if we could see the inside too.
11889502_928129023936389_199324839091889453_nBehind the divide, it was much darker. It was a grassy lot with a few mature trees. Not much else that we could see in the night. There was a rented security guard with an attack dog protecting the gate from the inside. As we went to leave, a crowd arrived bearing torches and singing. It was a very eery feeling to be a small part of something like this in a foreign country. We’ve been told many times by citizens here that the government is corrupt, and I can’t help but wonder what the chances are that they will persevere.

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