Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sao Paulo Summer

The Sao Paulo summer was winter, really. The city is in the southern hemisphere after all. After the first half of May in Chennai, the cold was bracing and refreshing (the rain wasn't!).

Paulistinos tell you there is nothing special about their city, it is just another big city. However, there is no doubt that it is a metro city which is a metro city, with big, beautiful buildings, ranging from
old fashioned, graceful buildings to glass clad skyscrapers, parks, theaters, wide avenues and boulevards, modern and efficient transport systems, and well known universities and schools. The city resembles the major cities of western Europe, but contributes its own South American charm in the form of its unique vegetation, cozy neighbourhoods and vibrant street paintings.

Weekends  in Sao Paulo have a relaxed flavour. Neighbourhood markets, street singers (the one on Avenue Paulista dresses often as Elvis) and people dressed as statues, who bow and scrape in exchange for a few coins. The Avenue Paulista is the main avenue in Sao Paulo, which witnesses everything from the Gay parade in May, to the current street protests. The beginnings of both were interesting to see, even for nervous spectators from half a world away. The gay parade kicked off with Elvis clones (maybe inspired by the Sunday singer), and drag queens in ostrich feathers, a positive army of policemen and women and a hovering helicopter.

The protests were more frightening, one dark rainy evening we saw a long procession with huge banners followed by an even longer ghostly procession of policemen (wearing fluoroscent paint and glowing in the dark!). This was topped by the evening when the metro staff went on strike in some lines, and commuters emerging from Paulista metro station after a convoluted and crowded commute saw a posse of riot police mounted on magnificent horses. This was highly appropriate, as the protests were triggered off by an increase in transport tickets by 20 cents! Of course, the protests aren't about 20 cents, any more than Taksim square is about the location of a mall. However, it is hard to say what they are about, and they haven't died out after two weeks (the fare hike has been reversed). The Brazilian economy is booming, as is the most of South America (Yes,  Brazil, Peru and Colombia are on the up and up. Sceptics say this boom is excessively based on commodities, such as oil and minerals, but optimists believe there is a genuine upswing based on manufacturing and services). The annoyance is about the  inequalities, and the general perception that the voice of the people is nowhere heard. President Dilma Roussef today has proposed wide reaching changes including the formation of a constituent assembly, and the spending of oil royalties on the expansion of education and health care. This is a far more conciliatory response than that seen in, for example, Turkey. It is hoped that this translates into a lasting change that addresses the root causes of the simmering anger that lies under the surface of a happy go lucky nation. `Brazil should not just be about football and models', said a friend. If the current unrest sets its path towards less evanescent forms of achievement, it will have succeeded in its purpose.

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.