Home' Rotary Down Under : October 2014 (NZ Pacific) Contents RI CONVENTION 2015
commentator describes how, as a boy, his family (like most
in Brazil) was so superstitious that he had to sit in the same
chair during every World Cup match while his father held a
rolled-up magazine under his armpit for luck.
There’s not a lot left of historic São Paulo, a once-elegant
city built in the colonial European style that has been swept
away by the frenetic pace of expansion and redevelopment.
As British novelist James Scudamore described it in his 2010
novel, Heliopolis, “Town planning never happened: there
wasn’t time. The city ambushed its inhabitants, exploding
in consecutive booms of coffee, sugar and rubber, so
quickly that nobody could draw breath to say what should
go where. It has been expanding ever since, sustained by
all that ferocious energy.” Walking through the city, you
sometimes get an odd whiff of nostalgia for a place you’ve
never been, a faint echo of the 1950s-era skyscrapers of
the New York of black-and-white photos.
The city is easy to navigate – the extensive metro is clean
and safe, and cabs are plentiful and reasonably priced.
Avoid buses at all costs – they are generally packed, chaotic
and move too fast for their own safety.
To get away from the bustle of this city of 20 million
souls, head to São Paulo’s equivalent of Central Park.
A leafy sweep of lakes, lawns and tropical trees with
unpronounceable names, Ibirapuera Park, in the central
Vila Mariana neighbourhood, is where paulistanos go
to unwind, have a picnic, or jog along paths that weave
through the greenery. It is beautiful after dark, too, when
the heat of the day is gone and the fountain on the lake is
lit red and orange to look like flickering flames.
One treasure that escaped the city’s wild redevelopments
is the magnificent Museu Paulista, built in 1895. It was once
home to the Natural History Museum and now presents the
history of the city. It looks out on a park that gently rolls
down a hillside, past fountains and pools, to a vast stone
monument to independence from Portugal.
But if you really want to escape, grab a cab and ask
for the Instituto Butantan. Looking like a small slice of
Belle Époque Europe dropped into the tropical woods of
São Paulo’s western suburbs, this is one of the city’s most
bucolic and unusual sites. Built more than a century ago
as a medical research facility after an outbreak of bubonic
plague, it houses a huge collection of venomous snakes.
(Fortunately, because it is still a research centre, it is also
Latin America’s largest producer of antivenoms, antitoxins
and vaccines.) You can wander rows of rattlesnakes, cobras,
king snakes and massive tropical boa constrictors, as well as
a collection of giant tropical spiders that will make your skin
crawl. A sign on the edge of the leafy park warns you not
to enter the forest – and having seen what’s in the cages,
you won’t want to.
São Paulo has a thriving music scene, and it moves to
the beat of the samba. In the city centre, the Bar Você Vai
Se Quiser on the trendy Praça Roosevelt has long been a
magnet for music lovers. At Bar Favela in Vila Madalena, an
all-female lineup called Samba de Rainha plays to a packed
house on Sundays. Or grab a bite at the nearby Grazie a
Dio! dance bar and watch the locals hit their rhythm. After
dark, it’s best to stay away from the old city centre near the
Sé, but the restaurant and bar areas such as Jardim Paulista
and Pinheiros are safe to stroll.
caipirinha, the delicious cocktail of cachaça, freshly squeezed
lime and sugar. And one of the liveliest streets to enjoy one
on is Rua Aspicuelta, in the bohemian neighbourhood of
Vila Madalena, which thrums with bars and restaurants, and
whose sidewalks overflow with young paulistanos after dark,
doing what their city is famous for – living it up.
Register for the 2015 Rotary International Convention,
June 6-9, by December 15 for special pricing. Go to
“A leafy sweep of lakes,
lawns and tropical trees
names, Ibirapuera Park, in
the central Vila Mariana
neighbourhood, is where
paulistanos go to unwind,
have a picnic, or jog along
paths that weave through
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