Sampa

Well, the rest of my weekend in Porto de Galinhas passed uneventfully. Four days is a LONG time to spend at the beach, sharing a room with your two (male) coworkers. I got so sunburned in the first two days that I spent the last two days trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid the sun. The buggy we rented broke down on us twice, and our escapades to distant beaches were generally a failure, so we spent the rest of our time sitting under umbrellas or in hammocks and whiling away the hours doing a whole lot of nothing.

When we returned from the blue skies and clear waters, Sao Paulo greeted us with cold, torrential downpours and hours of electricity blackouts (we had to work by candlelight). And despite all that, I was still glad to be back, because I am falling in love with São Paulo.

* * *

The only way to truly love a city as big as this one is to find your own little corner of it. So I am starting to carve out little corners for myself, tiny holes in the wall of this massive concrete metropolis that make it feel a little more like home.

So every weekend, I have a ritual of having breakfast at a different cafe every time. And it’s not difficult, considering the amount of cute cafes serving excellent Brazilian coffee (and excellent Brazilian sugar, and milk, and orange juice…) within a five-block radius. My favorite is probably the tiny place literally around the corner from my house, which has a wide array of baked pastries, like pão de queijo (little Brazilian cheese breads), brigadeiros (tiny chocolate-sprinkled bombons), and pasteis (delicious fried pastries filled with meat, chicken, and pretty much anything else). Despite having only three tiny tables, the place has a steady amount of foot traffic and opens onto the street so that you can feel the breeze and watch the neighborhood go by while you enjoy your breakfast (and a cinnamon-chocolate cappuccino) on a lazy Saturday morning. Just down the street from there is the French patisserie, where you can sit on the glassed in veranda under the shade of a pink hibiscus tree – while feasting on eclairs and croissants, of course. There’s also Caffe & Chocolat, with its really good juices and milkshakes, and Leo’s and my standby cafe, Fran’s, which is cozy and quiet and a good place to read a book on Sunday morning with a cafezinho (“little coffee”) in hand.

After a good breakfast on a weekend afternoon (you didn’t think I had breakfast in the mornings on the weekend, did you?), I like to go to Parque Ibirapuera, a sprawling piece of lush green foliage in the middle of the city. It’s not really like nature, because there are waaaaaay too many people for anything to be natural, but it’s green and the air is fresh and the paths wind and cross and meet and take you deep into the cool shade, making it hard to find your way out again. There are lakes, and strange ducks I’ve never seen, and black swans, and whiskered fish that hang around under bridges hoping for stray cheetos and potato chips. But despite the crowd, the park is still somehow a peaceful place, and there are plenty of old knotty trees under which to read a book or take a nap.

On any given day, if I’m not at a cafe or in the park, then I’m probably at a bookstore, or wandering around on the streets. And of course, if wandering is what you want to do, then there’s no better place than Avenida Paulista. I’ve begun taking nightly walks up and down this street, the main artery of my neighborhood (I would like to say it’s a main artery of the city, especially with a name like Avenida Paulista, but the truth is it’s just one of many arteries that keep this 20-million-plus metropolis alive). By day Paulista is like Chicago’s loop, full of execs and office types running to and from board meetings in glass-fronted highrises. But at night the whole city comes out – to play, to eat, to shop, to run errands, to wander, like me. I love it because, like any big city avenue, all you have to do is take a walk, and you have instant entertainment. The air is filled with the scent of corn, either popped (or carmelized, if you can stand the neon-red color of the caramel coating), or boiled on the cob and served hot in its husk. Or there’s farofa, or cassava flour, which is fried and made into some tortilla-like thing, which frankly, I have no desire to taste. While you enjoy your corn and cassava, you can listen to the three-man marching band that regularly patrols the street, though the music is usually drowned out by the sound of buses racing by and the screech of brakes at blinking stoplights. You can sit at a terrace bar and enjoy a chopp (a draft beer), watching people wander in and out of shops that hit their busiest hours at 9pm, or you can join friends for picanha, sliced meat served on a hot griddle that you can cook yourself at your table, probably while watching one of Brazil’s many football (soccer) matches.

…and all of this is just one little corner of this huge city, whose many other hidden alleys and holes in the wall are still left to be explored…

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