Sao Paulo Brazil

Letter Five: Three São Paulo Museums and a Flood

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Feb 6 – Mar 25 2015 Brazil and Chile

 Feb 25, 2015: I have often found it most interesting and informative to explore a new place free of appointments and guides; whether in mountain or city, that leaves me open to the unexpected, to personal discovery. The most insignificant person, or remote corner can be a more  open doorway to an inner sanctum than an accredited official or guide.

The Asociación  Paulista de Medicina offices are at Brigadeiro 278, 8th floor, in a modern office building. There is strict security. Yet my CA driving license and avuncular ‘Walking White Man’ appearance were adequate documentation. The guard asks:  Why am I there? Not confessing the truth (no clear idea), I decide it is to visit the Association Library and Museum, listed in the extensive São Paulo Visitor’s Guide. The guard speaks at some length with the Museum Receptionist. I am issued a visitor tag and assigned a pleasant guide; perhaps she is also my keeper– to keep me from being lost– or making trouble. After all  I am just a self identified  Tom-Rick-or-Enrique.

The museum receptionist is formal and pleasant, indicating I’m free to roam the place, in company of my keeper. There are med students reading medical journals; mostly those familiar to us in US.   2015-02-25 11.49.092015-02-25 11.57.422015-02-25 11.59.252015-02-25 11.58.522015-02-25 11.48.43

After wandering through and taking photos, I venture to ask some questions of a young man i see  cloistered in a small office. He is a pre-med student, working there as a library docent. After a few minutes, he dismisses my guide, and spends the next two hours taking me through the other sections of the Association offices.

These include: one devoted to the history of medicine, a museum of painting related to medicine; the inner sanctum of the library filled with fine old books; and an exposition of about 100 paintings by internationally known portrait artist, Adelino Angelo, with a section titled ‘Faces of Misery’– from Europe and South America.

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Though he is not there, the museum has a curator and mentor. So I log the museum secretary on to the SSVMS site and web page with Bob La Perrierre’s fine on-line tour of our museum.  Outside, dark thunder clouds loom and began to speak and leak. I thank everyone, ask that they visit me or SSVMS whenever possible, and leave for my next stop.

São Paulo claims at least ten formal cultural centers like that of the Medical Association, 23 formal museums, 20 schools of art, and 10 active ateliers. There is also the Museu do Futebol, a national shrine of sorts, but at this time a place of mourning over Brazil’s failure to win the last World Cup. Even so, The Futebol Museum is more than a celebration of male sweat and hormones; it is a celebration of Brazil. I had visited it earlier.Two major museums looked attractive: The Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), Av Paulista 1578; and the Pinacoteca de SP, Praza de Luz  2,  (Plaza of Light) in the big park by that  name, across the street from a beautiful restored building, the Luz Metro Station. 

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Plaça de Luz Metro Station
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Plaça de Luz  park


The MASP  owns more than 50,000 classical works of art. It is featuring an exposition that takes the visitor through the 18th and 19th century of art in Brazil and elsewhere: Manet, Degas, Cezanne, Gaughan, Matisse, Renoir, Lautrec, Van Gogh, Picasso, Hals,My iPad shuddered as I clicked on ‘photos’.

I am here for about 4 hours, while the sky darkens.  Now I want to visit the Museu Pinacoteca.  It is housed in a huge, block structured building next to yet another large park and plaza the looks off into the distance toward… What? More high-rise buildings. There are parks at every turn in this contorted city.  The Pinacoteca  sits atop, and covers, a large plaza which serves as a  place for artisans to show their wares, for a weekly farmers market, and a shelter, especially in heat or rain..

The major part of the Pinoteca is on the second floor. Oldsters are admitted free; it was not crowded and I stay for 5 hours while outside the storm rages. At about hour 3 I am the only person on a guided tour provided by the museum; perhaps others, wiser than I,  fled the storm. It was an unforgettable private introduction to both the history and the art of Brazil. early paintings by Europeans (Rodin visited and left some of his bronzes); the colonial period as seem by monarchists; the coup and independence; a gradual growth of national painters and sculptors.  Obviously a huge collection but here  are two I thought particularly relevant to Brazil:

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Tiradentes a dentist who supported the revolution against the monarchy of Dom Pedro II and was drawn and quartered.

One is by French painter who had never been to Brazil. if you enlarge it, ( click) you will note all indigenous are European. The other is by a Brazilian painter, who depicts Tiradentes (teeth puller), a dentist who supported the revolt against the monarchy and was drawn and quartered. The painting is so gory it was never exhibited until recently.

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original french painter’s depiction of indigenous people– who look European!

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While I am drinking in this dose of art and history, lightning and thunder continue. I finally have to leave. The Luz Metro stop is about 300 yards across a wide empty street. I cross during  a slight lull and take the metro. It is very extensive, elegant, nicely maintained for the most part, with escalators and electric walkways moving passengers three or four levels underground at times from one line to another.

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It is still raining heavily when the train reaches my station, a few big blocks from my hotel. I wait about 20 minutes, but finally just go, arriving completely soaked. I strip and dry myself gratefully, and turn on the TV.

There is  live coverage of extensive flooding, cars piled up by the roiling brown water, metro stations closed with people walking the rails to escape, fallen trees, and a man electrocuted  when he tried to leave his flooded car as a wire carrying 15000 volts fell. I stored my museum photos and pulled out my still shuddering iPad to record a news broadcast.

This storm dropped more water in less time than any on record. It seems clear that reports of people fleeing SP because of the drought were premature; but some actually are leaving because of flooding. I  hope to leave tomorrow, despite weather and an independent trucker strike.  It involves huge theft of money from the State owned oil monopoly PetroBras, and a government decision to replace those losses by raising only the cost of diesel! Will the president survive? If so, won’t she be powerless? The greve, (strike or grievance), is  blocking freeways without warning. Can I make it to the airport tomorrow?

Letter Four, From São Paulo, Brazil

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Feb 6 – Mar 25 2015 Brazil and Chile

It is Monday, segunda feira;  I want to stay on in the same hotel, so ask to extend. But I’m told the room rate now is 45 % higher; the clerk explains that when the hotel is full that happens. And even though I have been here now for a week they cannot allow me a  three hour late check out when I leave three days later; not without another hefty charge. The people are very pleasant, and proper, but the rules are set somewhere in non-personal space; since I don’t want to  move, or devote my time to arguing, I  accept this abuse as inherent in a non-consumer sensitive society.

Food dystopia is  rather new here.The food that Brazilians eat now  is more  likely than before to be fast, sweet, starchy and fat; but it hasn’t affected most bodies yet as they are active per force, and walk a lot.  The old gastronomy requires the work of many to grow, deliver,  and prepare fresh tasty food. Perhaps people, partly as a result of changing economics, will learn  to eat cheaply and also well everywhere; I hope so. It is evening.  I suppose I will go out again into the noise and crush of bodies, to someplace where I can enjoy being lost; and eat a nice lunch.

I spent yesterday with two of Sandi’s friends who are typical millennials.  He was at San Francisco University, studied biology, later graduated in Brazil.Then decided he  prefers graphic arts, so studied that, and is working for an ad agency.  She became a lawyer and practiced in São Paulo, but now wants to become a chef; does pastry in a local bakery and will go to Italy for a 6 month course at a well known school. They live in Liberador, a section of São Paulo that is an Asia town.  They plan to get married next year and travel to the United States hoping to visit New York then drive to New Orléans and on to San Francisco. They enjoy Country Western so I suggested they stop in Nashville… They will certainly visit Sandi and I hope they will visit us so I can take them to Yosemite and Lake Tahoe.

They do not feel a need to marry; they hope to live with few limits, and very limited restrictions  of profession or vocation.  Ironically, that freedom requires limiting  a subset of needs or wants to the basics, the essentials:   They like to do things but don’t seem to care much about having or acquiring things, even though they appreciate them. Their  interests are transnational and supranational.  They prefer to buy dreams rather than acquisitions. I like that; maybe it is, curiously, almost old-fashioned conservatism, or what a century ago was called liberal.

I was born into a time when life and well-being were what one ate, and how one behaved;  the Good Life was created by Family, maintained by individual right and healthy behavior. It still can be; but we seem to believe it is  equally well created and maintained by the state, by industry, and  in accord with  government given rights.  Take the significance of food for example: In Brazil people spend a lot of time eating. Food dystopia is  still new here.The food that Brazilians eat now  is more  fast, sweet, starchy and fat, than it used to be; but it hasn’t affected most bodies here yet as they are active per force, and walk a lot.  The old gastronomy requires the work of many to grow, deliver,  and prepare fresh tasty food. Perhaps people, partly as a result of changing economics, will learn  to eat cheaply and also well; I hope so. It is evening.  I suppose I will go out again into the noise and crush of bodies, and places where I can enjoy being lost; and eat again.

I have spent the last 15 years reading– mainly dead people’s words– feeling that anything that lasts so long is worth my ever diminishing time.  That was reading I didn’t do  enough of in med school or as a real working doc. It has been  very rewarding to listen to the dead. But I now find the world in the midst of another techno-cultural quake, as significant as the invention and development of speech, language, agriculture, writing, or  printing.   ‘The End of Power’ is a recent  book by Moisés Naím that addresses this change. Clearly there is something happening today in the world that is significant even if it’s only a few years old. I believe the millenial young reflect that fact.

We went to the museu do futebol– the soccer museum. Brazil is, at least nominally,  samba, song, and futbol. The museum is much more than a huge monument to maleness, or the sport. It is a cultural resume of history and peoples– because Brazil is a melting  pot as is the USA.  see

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The 1970 world cup display at the  museo de futebol (or futbol).
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Photos, museu do futebol, and the Estádio do Pacaembu – Praça Charles Miller ( 1874 – 1953 – Miller was Scotch-English Brazilian sportsman, who is considered the father of soccer-futebol there)

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Brazil has won the world football cup five times. They failed in 2014, such a national disaster that it is not yet included in the displays devoted to each world cup.   I doubt it will be there before the next world cup in  or three years!

Feb 21, 2015:  São Paulo is a huge and labyrinthine  metropolis. I travel by metro ( Santiago metro to the fourth power), bus and taxi when necessary. I am often lost. When going with Sandi’s friends from place  it is  a pleasant surprise that both these paulistanos also must  ask directions. They. like I, often get directions from other lost souls, only partly or relatively right, or simply wrong!  Ha Ha Ha! Or maybe  Ra Ra Ra. Which is,  practically, Frog Frog Frog.

There is always the question of safety with respect to foreign travel, In the USA our media is salted with reports of assault,  theft, extortion etc. Yet at home we know where and how those things are most likely to happen. On the other hand  in a foreign environment that is not  so clear. However, I have found the rest of the world  little different from my own country in that regard. One can easily be aware of what and where to avoid.

My trip from the airport to downtown  São Paulo is an example of what to do and not to do. I live in the mind of a child of the great depression of the thirties: Waste not want not.  So after asking at the airport, instead of a cab or transfer van I took a bus directly to the  upscale Paulista Section of the city. During the half hour drive the bus attendant asked each passenger what stop they wanted. When asked about hotels, he explained that they are overly  expensive near my stop, the last.    He suggested a  cab to a different nearby sector.

A well dressed woman overheard, and  commented: ” Why go someplace else when you are at a good spot already?” Again my retarded  inner child from the thirties spoke up in my mind; the attendant seemed credible and attentive; so I followed his advice. He hailed a cab and scribbled a name and address on a card.(Ooops! I noticed he took a commission! My second mistake was to ignore that.)  The driver  had trouble finding the hotel;  when he did, we were in one of the most filthy, run down and fearsome drug toxic  inner area of any city I had ever been in before.

When I make that sort of stupid mistake I try to  react immediately. Without getting out, or paying the fare, I  told the embarrassed  driver I’d give him an extra half fare to take me immediately  back to where we started; this time, directly. I think we were both  pleased to get there; he with his undeserved  fares and me with my immediate future.