When we'd first checked in to out hotel in São Paulo we'd been given a tourist map to help us find our way around in the city. I'd poured over mine looking for green spaces - parks, gardens or the like - and had seen a couple of large cemeteries fairly close to the area we were staying in. There hadn't been time to visit them during our first period in the city but now I had time, space and a mastery of the public transport system so I plunged back into the Metro and set off for the Cemitério de Araçá.
The little green rectangle on the map had not prepared me for the size of the cemetery - it was huge! The (more or less) regular grid structure was softened by the hillside setting and the many mature trees but as I meandered through the stonework it seemed to go on and on, each turning or crest revealing another stretch of tombs and mausoleums.
As in the city beyond the walls space was at a premium. The tombs were packed cheek by jowl with the only greenery provided by the shading trees and the occasional opportunistic weed. Single carriageway 'streets' divided the cemetery into 'blocks' within which small alleyways gave access to individual mausoleums, numbers were painted on the junctions to aid navigation. At the centre was a bright orange church that gave stark contrast to the acres of marble and grey stone.
A couple of hours wandering in this city of the dead let me unload the stress and pressure of the previous week, not just from the work I'd been doing at the festival but the unremitting pressure of having people and noise around me all the time. Here it was quiet, still and timeless, a reminder that all this will pass. The sheer size of the place stopped it becoming morbid and depressing - one grave is a personal tragedy, a sea of them somehow bring acceptance that this is the way of things.
Some unexpected sights:
There were lots of cats in the cemetery, looking well fed and content they eyed me with feline suspicion and would grudgingly wander away if I came too close.
In the middle of these thousands of Christian tombs I came across one solitary Muslim mausoleum, topped with crescent moons and inscribed in Arabic.
Many of the tombs featured statues - mostly of Christ but the Madonna and various cherubic angels were also popular - but there were a remarkable number of duplicate copies of the same design, often right beside each other. It was very odd to see four mausoleums in a row, each with the same stern Jesus or beatific angel on top.
Ironically revitalised by my sojourn in this Other Country I made my way back into the noise and relentless activity of the city and found yet another route to walk back to the hotel. The road layout in the area where we were staying was essentially a regular grid and although I sometimes came across a wider than expected street and had to work my way down it to find a crossing place (I was never going to attempt to traverse a São Paulo road without a zebra crossing, set of traffic lights and reassuring illuminated green man) I never felt lost or disorientated while wandering around.
Back at the hotel I met up with the rest of the band and we headed off for a light supper at our by now familiar breakfast café. I realised that I'd gone without lunch but after a week of Brazilian style big midday meals it felt good to have 'fasted' for a while and I certainly hadn't missed it. Or I thought I hadn't - after clearing my frugal salad plate I was tempted into a burger which turned out to be a giant tower of bread, meat and all the trimmings, with a side order of chips thrown in. I only managed half of it but even so I rolled down the hill to the hotel and from there to bed.