Friends in São Paulo

Thursday we left Manaus and flew to São Paulo. The taxis from the airport are about $40; we shared one with the satellite engineer I sat next to on the plane, and his company paid the fare to his hotel; we paid the “delta-fare” on the meter to ours. It was more like $15, much more reasonable, though the overall ride was around two hours at evening rush hour. We checked into the hotel, and found that the room cards which must be inserted in the elevator to go to your room will only allow you to get off on that floor. If you have friends in the hotel on other floors, you have to use the stairs or perform other tricks to see them. Lame.

In the evening we were picked up by our local friend Sandro we’d met at the studio in Berlin. He and his dancer girlfriend Lara took us to a “performance” at a space called Epicentro Cultural featuring a dancer friend of hers. The two dancers in the show had animal heads, one with horns, one just with ears, and body suits. They crawled and bent around slowly down the hall into the performance space, where there were two projectors illuminating pieces of string. Once they got close enough, they started pulling on the string, and the images showed the moving string. Each projector had a large spool of string, strung where the film would go. Meanwhile, I became entranced when I noticed a “noise” musician using an amplified antenna, a violin bow, and looping electronics to provide a soundtrack which was vaguely reminiscent of harmonica. (One of my coworkers in CA has been performing and recording “noise” music for decades, and was just featured with a retrospective on our local college radio station.) The dancers continued to pull on the string, and to wrap themselves with it. One of them walked up the stairs next to much of the audience, we were down on the floor. After about 15 minutes, one of the projectors got pulled onto the floor, and made much more noise as the motor inside which would have moved the film caused something to scrape against the floor, adding much different noise to that of the musician. Finally the dancer unplugged that projector. After 10 more minutes or so, the other projector came down also. The dancers gradually faded back down the hallway, the music continued for awhile, stopped abruptly, and that was that. We went outside, mostly so Sandro could smoke, and talked to people. Sandro introduced us to Tunga, who he said has an entire pavilion at Imhotim, and is one of the most important artists in Brazil. We went back inside and yet another noise musician was performing. We listened for a few minutes, then left for food and drinks. We’d had a couple slices of pizza before the show, so we had room for some actual food. At Sabiá, we had caipirinhas with much more cachaça than the ones we’d had in the rainforest or anywhere in America, and several delicious bar snacks: meatballs, rice balls, sausage casserole, shrimp pies, etc.

Friday we went to the Mercado Municipal and were herded by Dennis, the groom, past the hundreds of stands with beautiful sausages and fruits and cheeses, many with free samples, upstairs to a food court and to a table containing several wedding guests at a little place specializing in Enormous Bologna Sandwiches. They had other choices; the one we ordered turned out to be an Enormous Incredibly Salty Corned Beef Sandwich. The day had just begun and already our stomachs were full of uninteresting food, precluding the possibility of having anything interesting for awhile. When we were done we went back down and looked around. A fruit stand had mangosteens, which made us very happy and which we immediately bought a box of. Then we went to Sandro’s studio, trying to use a taxi to take us there. We couldn’t really understand anything the driver said besides “No”, so I asked Dennis if he could use his Uber powers to get us there. Once we arrived we got on Sandro’s WiFi, and I downloaded the app for the first time, so I wouldn’t be stuck like that again. It came in quite handy since then, even though the traffic has been awful the whole time; Google Maps has never recommended taking the metro so we haven’t bothered.

Sandro shares his studio with some partners. A photographer was doing a shoot of a naked woman who had folded herself up into a ball. Another guy was working on the computer, assembling pictures of insects out of pictures of leaves. Sandro had many of his pieces sitting around, plus many piles of posters he brought back from Berlin, to be used in future pieces. The studio had lots of 50s furniture, which they’d gotten from a friend who had closed his furniture shop. A Polaroid camera turned into a toilet paper dispenser was in the bathroom. The view out the window features a building with a large Jesus Christ head picture on top of it, providing inspiration to all.

We drove over to Sandro’s house, which he’s only been in for a few weeks. It’s a really nice ground floor apartment with a big terrace. We walked around the neighborhood, and saw the gray sunset from a bar straddling a large street that you can’t get to from the bar and you have to walk back up the hill. After having some wine with Lara, I called my first Uber, and got a ride back to the hotel.

We left soon for the bachelor party pub crawl, which was a bit silly. There were 11 guys, and it was not easy to keep them all herded and on track to the same place. We’d decided to walk two kilometers to a particular bar, but the walk seemed to have taken three hours by the time we actually got there. Members of the party kept meeting people and chatting and getting invited to other parties, which nobody fortunately went to since they would have been drugged and kidnapped like happens in movies. Meanwhile, Sandro was texting that we weren’t in a safe section of town.

And then most of the guys didn’t really like where we ended up. Ray and I sat upstairs and had a bit of food, fielding the usual celebrity questions from drunk people about how long we had been growing our beards. I can really understand the desire for a celebrity terminal at LAX. Imagine if we, specifically, had ever actually done anything of note; the attention all day long would be incapacitating and we would never want to leave Topanga Canyon.

The party moved on from there, though we went back to the hotel; they ended up at a place called Love Story, open until 8am. It sounds like kind of a crazy place, probably São Paulo’s Berghain, though with prostitutes instead of leathermen (I haven’t been to either place, I’m guessing based on Internet descriptions, always the best way to form opinions).

On Saturday the wedding guests were encouraged to meet at an all-you-can-eat buffet and grill chain called Bovinu’s. There were many good things there, especially the meat and the desserts. We were set for the day, food-wise. Afterwards we did a bit of shopping, and then went to meet Sandro at his friend’s birthday party at Chez Oscar, a club quite close to our hotel. We invited Tibi, the best man, to go with us; he’d just gotten over some food poisoning, and it was good to see that he was back to normal. After the continual warnings about how dangerous it is to walk, we went there with the minimum: cash, phone, and room key. So the first thing they asked for was an ID. Fortunately, they used data on the phone to constitute that requirement. Finally we got up to the party, where we had fun for four hours, drinking caipirinhas and talking to several of the dozens of party guests as well as strangers who thought we were ZZ Top and Tibi our native Brazilian bodyguard who is pretending to be Romanian. Tibi has a good ear for dialect, possibly even better than the parrot at the village in the várzea; people tend to assume he is a local.

Sunday we decided to go see the Museu Arte Contemporaneo, which something on the Internet told me was on the University of São Paulo campus. When we got there, it looked pretty abandoned; the grass hadn’t been mowed for months, everything was locked. Oops — it has moved across town, and we didn’t have time to chase it down before the wedding. We did stumble onto a little art fair where galleries had booths and were offering many things for sale. It was fun to walk around for an hour or so, although we looked foolish for bad planning, in front of Dennis’s parents, who came with us.

We put on our nicest clothes, carried thousands of miles for the occasion, and headed to the wedding. It was in a cute little event space. The ceremony itself was presided over by a brother of the bride, speaking in Portuguese, and a brother of the groom, speaking in English. Both needed subtitles. We missed lots of laugh lines. Afterwards there was a continuous stream of Brazilian hors d’oeuvres, lots of champagne, beer, and caipirinhas, and a DJ playing a wide mix of non-Brazilian popular music.

On Monday, most of the wedding guests left for their next destinations. Dennis and Tibi and Klaus and Lisa came with us to meet Sandro at the CCBB, the Centro Cultural do Banco do Brasil, in downtown São Paulo. Ray had noticed in an inflight magazine that there was an exhibition of an artist he’d recently heard of, Patricia Piccinini. There are artists like Ron Mueck who make super-realistic sculptures of people, down to individual hairs. She is just as super-realistic, but she essentially makes monsters, or flowers made from things that kind of look like body parts. The curator’s statements say her work is a comment on modern society and genetic manipulation. The curators talk too much on their little cards and one of the best things about foreign museums is that you can’t read their cant.

I thought it was a lot of fun, but most of our friends with us didn’t like it at all. Sigh. From there we walked around downtown for awhile, finding a cute very colorful church, and then seeing the huge very austere cathedral. Also a glorious snack bar, Casa Godinho, which has been in business forever. In the evening, after stopping to have Chilean empanadas, we went to hear some music. We arrived at the location, and saw nothing other than what looked like two guys talking across the street, presumably about a drug deal. After looking more closely, one of the guys was paying the cover charge for the club, which had absolutely no sign or light or anything other than the address. We went in, and watched the band gradually arrive and warm up. A string of players sitting in a line against the wall: three percussionists (one playing the cuíca, a very melodic drum), a ukulele, a guitar, and a trombone. The ukulele and guitar played perfectly, establishing an interesting harmonic framework for all the music. The percussionists as well. The singing was occasionally pitch-challenged, but everyone was smiling and having lots of fun doing it. Adriana Moreira was the featured name, and while she often sung, she seemed to be more of a bandleader. Sandro came by for a minute and said goodbye to us.