After living in Brazil relatively close to São Paulo, I'd been curious to visit but never really got around to it. I'd been more eager to see coastal cities, and figured I'd eventually have a good reason to go, since I have lots of Paulista friends and there are tons of events in the city. So last week, when I finally had an opportunity to visit, I jumped at the chance.
I tried not to let me expectations cloud my impressions, to try to go in with a blank slate. But there were so many things I'd heard about the city. Some say it's the New York of Brazil. Gringo friends who loved the city said part of the reason was because they like "complicated" cities. Other friends said they found the city overwhelming. Articles I'd read in travel publications made it seem incredibly cosmopolitan. Almost everyone I know who lives there has complained about how expensive it is. I wasn't quite sure what to expect.
It could have been that I was running on little sleep and struggling with jetlag, but the whole time I felt a little bit as if I was in a strange dream. The city feels like someone took a bunch of Brazilian cities and smushed them together to form this massive urban center. The city is a jumble of so many different forms of architecture, which can feel a bit jarring when seeing it for the first time: there are the gothic churches, the fancy luxury condos, the Niemeyer architecture, the modern skyscrapers, the gritty commercial underbelly, the contemporary mansions, peaking out from behind high walls, the brightly painted boutiques and restaurants, the car dealerships, the endless apartment complexes. I actually thought I might be hallucinating when I saw an enormous, undulating, shiny, very purple building rising over the smaller buildings of a leafy, upscale neighborhood. (I later found out it's a cultural center).
The city doesn't seem to end. Everywhere you look, the city keeps going and going. It's just incredibly dense; if there ever was a concrete jungle, this is it. If you think about it too much, it can start to get a little overwhelming.
The juxtaposition of endless buildings and tropical foliage is somehow surprising; it seems odd that so much green could flourish in such a dense urban space. But beautiful purple trees and flowers and palms pop up all over the city. And even though it has been Brazil's largest and most prosperous city for so long, signs of the country's boom are everywhere.
I didn't have enough time to go to all of the places I wanted to see--there's so many museums and cultural centers I'd love to visit. Also, though I only saw a tiny sliver of it, the nightlife looked great; the bars in hip Vila Madalena were an interesting contrast to Rio's Lapa neighborhood. I'd also go back for the food. It's true what they say about food in São Paulo. It's so good. Everywhere I looked, there was mouth-watering food.
But I think what I loved most about the city was the people. I feel really fortunate to have friends there, and it was much more fun to see the city with them as my guides. Plus, the city really is the rainbow of people that Brazilians love to tout as representative of Brazil's diversity, even more so than in Rio, given the large Asian population as well as Latin American and Middle Eastern immigrants. The city makes for great people watching, no matter where you go.
And like Cariocas, Paulistas are warm, welcoming, and eager to show off their city. In that respect, they're not so different after all.