16.2.09

Paulistanos


Kids, originally uploaded by Aaron Michael Brown.

"Anyone who predicts the death of cities has already met their spouse".
-Clay Shirky, Here Come's Everybody.

Some sort of holiday passed this weekend back in the states about love and relationships and Hallmark cards and those heart-shaped candies that are delicious in January but always manage to be pretty stale and chewy by the time the actual day itself rolls around. But yes, Valentine's Day. Here in Sao Paulo, there was no perceptible uptick in romance, lust and love, but then again, it would be difficult for people in this city to live more passionately anyway. In my travels around the city, love is surprisingly in the air around every turn; couples seem to really get into tonsil hockey pretty much anywhere, whether on the street, the 701U onibus that takes me to class, the Universidade cafeteria, bars and restaurantes, wherever, really. With a quick conversation and a "vocĂȘ quer ficar comigo?" almost any two clubbing brazilians will swap saliva for a while and then get back to the club, commitment-free, to see who else is around. Kissing isn't just for hardcore making out, either; it's traditional to kiss someone on the left side of their face when first meeting them, a practice that I find fascinating because of what it says about construction of gender relations (men never greet other men with a kiss, only man/woman and woman/woman) and the different sort of cultural understandings of personal space, physical intimacy, and "closeness" different societies create for themselves.

Talking about "closeness" in Brazil is a pretty decent segway, really, into talking about the urban form here in Sao Paulo. My study abroad program has done a pretty stellar job of encouraging us to explore and understand the urban fabric here in a city teeming with twenty million people, unbearable heat, and blunt social inequality. In a city with such absurd power imbalance and a premium for basic social services, the differences of Paulistano lifestyles and abilities for to control their surrounding environment create blatantly absurd landscapes. On consecutive days we visited a fortified enclave of million-dollar condominium towers in suburban Morumbi followed by a visit to a Favela, a courageous undertaking by urban homeless to reclaim unused private land and scour for discarded concrete to build an informal, undocumented neighborhood. The contradictions between these two landscapes are many, and I was really happy to see that one of our readings referenced Mike Davis and his notion about the creation of a geography of fear. Are people in those high towers, with 150 security personnel and gates and guarded entries, really safe at night? Do they feel safe at night? Are the people in the tiny shacks and beer-bottle-window favelas, with neighborhoods ardently guarded by druglords and an unspoken dominant power hierarchy, really unsafe at night? Do they feel unsafe at night? We had a fantastic speaker last week that really challenged our notions about safety, and how its constructed spatially, and I couldn't help but link it to health. In the city of Sao Paulo, with traffic galore, everyone feels safer using an automobile to get around, and most cars own the streets by even run red lights at night to avoid carjacking. Yet the air pollution is abundant here; every day's worth of air here is equivalent to smoking three cigarettes, a nasty, uncomfortable pollution that clings to your skin in the muggy weather and never quite gets scrubbed off, much of it mostly related to the supreme reliance of cars necessary to get around the city. While kidnappings are rampant here in Sao Paulo, I'd argue the nasty air here is just as likely to kill you. Perhaps in the 21st century, its time for cities to start developing a geography of fear that doesn't build walls and install fortified security cameras but instead well-lit mass transit, wind turbines and sidewalks.

This computer's battery is low, and while I want to write so much more about my trip, I probably shouldn't, at least not tonight. I apologize for cutting my last entry short (i think my roommate clicked "post" before I was ready to), and I'll try and keep current with whatever I'm up to. It's Sunday, we watched a great football game today, I had the best pizza of my life last night at three in the morning, Carnival is this next weekend, and I leave for MST and Curitibas sometime next week. I apologize for my above attempt at linking my experiences to Valentine's day, and doing so a day late anyway. I've already been on IHP for about a month?!


Tudo Bem.

2 comments:

Commodore Rockstar said...

Aaron, as usual your cameratic skillz are top dog. However, your choice of white text on black background is giving me vertigo. I will have to transcribe your text into Word in the morning so I am able to read it without getting dizzy.

Hannah said...

i am concerned for your lungs
-hk