I'm back home in Findhorn now, rested and mostly recovered from the journey (mostly). Looking back here are a few things that have stuck in my memory but didn't make it into the diary.
Don't drink the water. In what felt like a modern, 'Western' city it was a real surprise when our hosts stressed that we should only ever drink bottled water, no matter where we were. Even at the classiest restaurant the waiters always made a point of opening the water bottles at our table, even when they were also serving fruit juices and drinks with ice cubes in them.
Safety and security. In all of my wanderings around São Paulo I never felt under threat or in a dangerous situation (apart from crossing the roads) and the only warnings we'd been given were the usual city precautions about thieves and pickpockets. But every house I passed had a high steel fence around it and bars or metal shutters over every window. The residential tower blocks all had a security guard outside, usually dressed in a dark suit rather than a uniform, sitting at a small table (with an attached umbrella) and holding a mobile phone. They were not particularly threatening, most would smile back or offer a hello when they heard us speaking English, but the cumulative effect of all these guards was, after a while, a little unsettling. It seemed like nobody was particularly worried about assault but that anything not bolted down and guarded would be stolen in an instant.
Don't flush the toilet paper. I'd come across this restriction in Greece so it wasn't a total shock but it did take some time to get used to the practice. Although I quickly developed a working technique (I will go into no more details) it was interesting to observe my reactions to having to cope with 'waste matter' rather than just flushing it away without a second thought. Some of the band members never came to terms with this (if you pardon the expression) fundamental change and I wonder if there are Brazilian plumbers still unblocking the residual consequences of a visit by the English.
Celebrity shapes. The Best Pizza Parlour in São Paulo had a TV set, muted but always on, and it was hard not to feel the eyes drawn to it. I noticed that the presenters were generally older than those on British telly and the female dancers (what sort of TV would you expect in a pizza place?) were considerably more voluptuous.
Morning TV. Having early breakfasts in the hotel dining room meant I got a regular taste of Brazilian morning television. Mostly it was as inane and repetitive as all breakfast TV but there were a couple of strange quirks. There was a regular recipe slot but just as the presenter was biting in to the finished dish they would play creepy music, the sort of thing you'd normally get in a 50's horror film just before the Big Scary Thing would pop out and grab someone. Our only theory about this was that there was an ongoing 'Eat Healthy' campaign (a heart featured in the show's titles) and that it was saying "Be scared of the deadly sugar and fat!"
Traffic madness. I've gone on about this before but the approach to
traffic was just so strange - impossible but accepted. I'd thought that the city was totally full of
cars but then learnt that only every other car was allowed in each day (depending on the last
digit of the registration number). Sitting in gridlock while the carriageways in the other
direction are also in gridlock, the only movement being moped drivers speeding between the lines
while continually sounding their horns to be noticed (and not sideswiped or squashed), it just
felt totally insane. Nearly everyone drove like a demon but the roads were hideously potholed.
Was it an attempt to feel in control of something while surrounded by the unrelenting pressure
of seventeen million people? Had the problem become so big that nobody would risk their political
career by proposing the sort of taxes that would be required to make any sort of meaningful
change? Or was it just a sort of collective blindness to a seemingly insoluble problem?
It made me wonder what sort of blind spots exist in my own society and culture.
Despite all of these oddities the thing that most surprised me about my time in Brazil was how unsurprising it was. The scale was daunting (not just from the perspective of a little village in northern Scotland - as an ex-Londoner it seemed vast and unending) but within that people were people, the shops stocked mostly the same things, the food was generally similar and on first impressions I could have been in a city anywhere in Europe. Well, Western Europe. It would be good to go again and explore a little more deeply - we'll see if that invitation materialises.
Thanks for reading.