It was during my walk along the Minhocão – São Paulo’s grotesquely endearing monument to the car – that I first spotted it: an islet of tiled perfection in a city full of fractured and forgotten pavements.
An isle of tiled perfection (otherwise known as a ‘curb extension’). Note, the Minhocão in the background.
Unlike the pragmatically Ilha Grande (big island) and Ilhabela (beautiful island) which sit along the coast between Rio and São Paulo, mine is no island of exotica but instead one of Ballardian concrete.
Why, though, my fascination with a slab of paving in an unremarkable neighbourhood like Santa Cecília? Aren’t those ‘real’ islands on the Atlantic coast infinitely more interesting? Perhaps, but thousands of words have already been written in their honour; they’ve been Trip Advised to death.
What interests me are the ignored curiosities on our streets, and taking the time to stop, notice and appreciate them. As psychogeographer and novelist Iain Sincliar observes: ‘Walking is the best way to explore and exploit the city…allowing the fiction of an underlying pattern to reveal itself’. Continue Reading
During my formative years I remember one of my friends remarking that it’s impossible to ever be lost in London because most of the time you never know where you are in the first-place.
Back then I was inclined to agree because despite living just ten miles from Central London I only sporadically ventured there, and when I did I often found myself feeling slightly disorientated by its relentless bustle and vast mazy topography.
Later though, as I worked in and around London, and travelled more outside of the UK, I came to appreciate London’s randomness as being part of its endearing charm; the ability to amble aimlessly around its meandering streets far preferable to the irksome intermittences walkers suffer on the streets of obsessively gridded cities like Buenos Aires. Continue Reading
The Minhocão (known officially as Via Elevado Presidente Costa e Silva), is a 2.2 mile (3.5km) long elevated highway that perhaps exemplifies best how São Paulo came to privilege driving over walking and using public transportation.
Built in 1971, during a period in which the car industry was highly influential* and the city experienced rapid and unplanned growth**, the Minhocão was seen as being the solution to the problem of urban mobility – although today it instead symbolises all the worst aspects of São Paulo’s outdated infrastructure.
The highway earnt its nickname (Minhocão means “big worm”***) from the way in which it snakes through the city, from Barra Funda in the west to República in the centre. However, it might just as well be called “the thrombotic vein”, seeing as it is forever clogged with cars**** being pumped towards the beating heart of the city centre.
My first experience of the Minhocão came one rush hour morning as I caught a lift into town with my father-in-law, and I couldn’t help but be struck by how both sides of it are hugged by office and residential high-rises, although moving at speed made it difficult to fully appreciate this peculiarly intimate relationship.
Shortly after moving to São Paulo I started Portuguese lessons at FAAP, a university opposite the Pacaembu football stadium that is about 6km (3.5 miles) from where I live in the north of the city.
Estádio do Pacaembu
As a non-driver – as in, I’ve never learnt to drive – my options for travelling around São Paulo, and to and from FAAP, were much the same as those available to me back in London: taxi, public transport or on foot.
Essentially unemployed, hailing a taxi three times a week hardly seemed like the most cost-effective way to manage my meagre savings, and whilst walking would have been my preferred option – I easily walked well-over around 6km a day whilst working in London – I was still a little bit overwhelmed by my new surroundings. This left public transport.