|In a country
where superlatives need to be redefined to fully grasp conventional ideas
like distance and population the traffic in Sao Paulo city, is simply amazing.
If you aren’t inspired to visit the city for anything else go to see the
incredible traffic jams and be prepared to be amazed.
impression one gets of the traffic in Sao Paulo is that something like
this could never have been planned and that the roads must have grown organically.
The second impression, and one that is best formed from the back seat of
a taxi, is that there is no way anyone sane would ever want to drive here.
Imagine multi-lane highways, flyovers, bypasses, tunnels and ring roads
all coming together in a symphony of chaos. And then people this landscape
with twice as many cars as you initially considered possible, driven by
highly strung speed freaks who all have the radio pumped up, the windows
down and their hand on the horn. Well, that is not Sao Paulo – its
no where even close to the chaos of the place. Quite frankly, its
indefinable and even a short taxi drive across the city can leave a grown
man crying. Of course, this only actually happens on the rare occasions
when the traffic isn’t impossibly snarled up – like 3 a.m. Saturday morning
when the traffic situation can safely be downgraded to mildly terrible.
I spent more time in the back of taxis stuck on Avenida Paulista then I
did in my hotel or at meetings. The person who links each cab
to the internet with video conferencing facilities will make a million
in the first week alone judging from the number of calls I made and received
along the lines of:
‘Me too, the
traffic is a nightmare.’
shall we reschedule the meeting for next week then.’
its frustrations, the thick cloud of pollution which hangs over the city,
the blaring car horns and driving which makes that famous scene in Gladiator
look like a Sunday school picnic, I have to confess that I love Sao Paulo.
I don’t quite know why, it must be something with the improbable energy
of the place and the fact that I felt that I lived more in one day in Sao
Paulo, then I do in a week in the small village where I live in Cambridge.
The only real problem I have with the city is that there is much to much
to see and do, and I ended up not really doing anything, as I spent so
much time trying to work out whether I wanted to see the Museum of Sacred
Art or the Museum of Modern Art. Even going to lunch was a problem,
as Sao Paulo must have the widest selection of great places to eat in South
America. If you want simple Brazilian food then you can swing a cat
for restaurants (though, perhaps that’s not the best analogy to use) but
if you want something rather more outlandish such as Mongolian bar-b-que,
deep fried Chinese chicken, sushi, tempura, a Portuguese stew or a all
singing all dancing buffet fit for a king then Sao Paulo is for you.
I lost count of the number of restaurants I tried in the week I was there,
but I had to go out and buy a new suit half way through the trip as the
old one had mysteriously shrunk. And the Paulistas love to eat, and
eat big. My problem was that all my potential clients wanted to take
me out and force-feed me steaks the size of paving slabs, which was good
the first couple of times it happened but after the third steak in a day
even my digestive system begins to break down a little. I think its
something to do with Brazilian government officials not being allowed to
claim for any meals that include alcohol or expenses and so they try to
woo potential clients with half a cow instead of the normal bottle of decent
brandy I tend to favour.
It was after
one memorable meal which had actually begun as a late lunch, had slowly
degenerated into a full-blown dinner, before maturing into a midnight feast,
that I had an revelation – one of those rare moments which seem to justify
all the long hours hanging around airports and having to deal with stroppy
cabin crews and being away from home so much. I was crawling along
the magnificent Av. Paulista in the back of a taxi when the driver, for
no discernable reason, decided to take a short cut and swung a wild left
down a narrow side street and after a series of deft manoeuvres onto a
relatively unclogged highway. The sun had just set and most of the
city, due to the terrible energy crisis, was in darkness. The only
sign visible along the highway was a forty-foot blinking neon sign that
said, ‘NON STOP EROTIC BINGO’. By the time I had digested
this information we were already a long way down the road and it was too
late to turn back and investigate. Later I did manage to pick a friend’s
brain on this crucial matter. She told me that indeed I had not been
mistaken and that there was indeed a chain of non-stop erotic bingo halls
dotted about the city. She seemed less keen to take me to one and
rather coy when I asked her what exactly went on there. ‘Its just
like normal bingo you know, Philip. Now please grow up and get me
a beer please.’ Of course I didn’t know and unfortunately run out
of time on this particular trip in which to find out – but I am sure it
wasn’t full of purple rinsed golden agers like bingo halls are back home.
Perhaps one day I will get the opportunity to return to Sao Paulo and find
out more about this important social phenomenon. I really hope I