Brazilian Diary - Monday 7th June 2010

So here we were, back in São Paulo for four days before we flew home (apart from Bill who was continuing on to Argentina). When the original travel plans had been put together we had been scheduled to stay for another full week after the festival, during which time we would be doing four gigs for an organisation who were providing some of the money for our flights, but I was due to be in Croatia the day after we'd get back (aren't I the jet-setter?) so we'd asked to cut the trip short. We weren't sure if this would be possible or if these sponsorship gigs were a prerequisite for the funding but after a while we were told it would be OK, reducing our performances to two. After arriving in Brazil we heard that one of these had been cancelled and there was now just a single gig planned, on the Wednesday evening, and even this one was clouded with some uncertainty.

Once again it felt like we we weren't being told the full story. We'd assumed that these gigs would be providing much needed sponsorship money to cover some of the expense of bringing us over from the UK but now it was sounding like they weren't that important. We wouldn't be earning much for doing them and given the choice we'd have preferred to head off home soon after the festival had finished (after a day for shopping, of course!). None of us were really looking forward to an extended stay in the centre of a huge city and it was frustrating to think that it might have been possible to have cut it short.

But here we were and we might as well make the most of it. We'd thought about visiting MASP (Museu de Arte de São Paulo, the central art museum) during our first couple of days here but had decided we were probably too jet-lagged to properly appreciate it. Now that we were properly in sync with our circadian rhythms it seemed like an idea who's time had come, so we set off on foot to take an overdue dose of Culture.

Our first walk around the city had been on a clear and fresh Sunday, on a slightly muggy working day and having come straight from a country resort the low air quality was immediately apparent, both as a haze on the horizon and as a developing irritation in the throat and sinuses. Friends here had said that the pollution levels had been reduced enormously in recent years and walking around never became actively unpleasant but there was no question that we were in an intense urban environment.

We arrived at MASP to find it was closed. Sigh. We'd made tentative plans to meet up with one of our Brazilian friends later in the day but couldn't get through to her by phone (another recurring situation) so once again we were left wondering what would be happening. I realised that I was starting to feel 'peopled out' after the festival and although the five of us had coped pretty well with living on top of each other for the past week it would be good to get some personal space for myself, so I set off on my own to wander the city and see what I found.

The first step was back to the hotel - my moby had done its usual trick of going from battery full to recharge now! in a matter of minutes, not helped by some quirk of the international mobile phone network which meant I was receiving dozens of duplicate messages from Renata. As I'd forgotten to bring my camera I was relying on the built-in one in my moby and with the general level of confusion and uncertainty I didn't want to find myself out of contact with the rest. I plugged the recharger in and did a quick check of my email while the phone was recovering, only to find that the hotel's internet connection was broken. Oh well, an incentive to get out and about.

One of the attractions shown on our tourist map was the Cathedral de Sé in the north part of the city - too far to walk so an opportunity to explore the underground Metro system. It was simple and easy to use - one ticket let you into a station, you could then travel as far as you wanted. The stations were spacious and well signposted, the trains were modern, fast and comfortable, and within minutes I was emerging into the palm shaded Praça de Sé in front of the cathedral.

The cathedral was OK but nothing special, despite its imposing architecture and the washes of multicoloured light pouring in through the stained glass windows it felt somehow functional rather than numinous. The people inside gave a similar impression, for each of the kneeling worshippers there was someone else just taking a break, reading the paper or in some other way just using it as a convenient cool space. On one pew I saw someone deep in prayer while his neighbour was animatedly waving his arm as he talked into his mobile phone. Two ways of reaching out to the unseen? I'd been expecting to see more active evidence of Catholicism in Brazil but there were very few churches in the city (at least the parts I visited or drove through) and little of the overt displays of religious alliance that I was used to in European Catholic countries.

The cathedral was hushed but didn't have the sense of stillness and peace that I was searching for. Where would I find such a thing in a crowded and busy city?


Later