More ruminations on contested spaces and colors.

The IHP program takes our classes at Universidade Mackenzie, which is some private school about the size of Macalester a good 45 minute walk from my host family's house in Pinheiros. Being summer and all here (I know, in February, crazy, right?) this is the beginning of the semester for Mckenzie students, and for many freshman, their first week of college. While Orientation is always a big deal at Macalester, it doesn't quite prepare to the revelry and ridiculousness of Orientation week here in Sao Paulo. On our walk to school last week, we encountered an entire group of students, covered in bright paint colors, throwing eggs at each other and shaving their heads as part of a ritualistic beginning of their studies at university. We could hear their celebrations all day in our classroom (which made the presentations somewhat hard to sit through), and after class a few of us joined this gigantic party that had formed in the neighborhood streets surrounding the school. Colors, colors everywhere, and coolest of all, there were so many kids streaming out of the bars that they took over the streets, stopping traffic and celebrating in a gigantic summer's party.

Later that week, we went to a Samba School, in which the group is eagerly practicing for the upcoming celebration of Carnival, and they too were able to formally close down the streets so that the 50 part drumline, the dancers and the singers could practice strutting their music and costumes. They played one song for about twenty minutes, which had a chorus about how Samba is in everyone's DNA, and watching this tiny older woman move to the beat and shout every word of every song made me think about how lame America is and how much I wish Americans made it a point to celebrate life more often. There's something fantastically emblematic about shutting down the streets for cars, stopping traffic and formal commerce so that the entire block can be turned into a setting for a party with cheap, informal food shops, lots and lots of dancing that goes on all night, and an opportunity to get out and reclaim all of that public space for yourself.

And to speak of contested space, you can't talk about cities without talking about density. I think the first time I really noticed it on this trip was in New York, where I would have difficulty maneuvering around the tiny tables at cramped restaurants, each arranged to fit as many people into the place as possible. There is such a premium on space, such a demand to use it efficiently and for a profit, that the whole island of Manhattan was built on a grid to make it easier for speculators hundreds of years ago to purchase their plot and make their investments. Here in Sao Paulo, I see the contests of density not so much in restaurants as in traffic. Cars flood the streets in Sao Paulo, and traffic is a mess as people use buses, subways, cars, and even helicopters for the very rich to get around this sprawling metropolis. On Consolacao, a major road leading towards our University, there are miles of buses clogged on the bus lane, each bus beyond capacity with heads sticking out of windows to grasp a bit of less-humid summer air, while the next two lanes in each direction are full of sparcely populated cars, each comfortably sitting in their own spheres of comfort, a space in which 15 people would fit with the same density as the bus. I can't help but think about the notion of transportation justice, as we read and hear about poor construction workers and house maids who commute hours upon hours, standing on buses to get into the inner city and retreat to their favelas or farther outposts away from our garden city, well kept neighborhoods.

Speaking of colors, I am horrendously red from my trip to Ilhabela, which might be one of the most serene places I have visited on earth. I will write more about all that later, but I'm trying to keep my posts short and relevant, neither of which will happen if I allow myself to continue rambling on. Life is good, and I am sunburned.

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