São Paulo

It's big, y'all. Real big.

Posting this from Hart-Jack (that’s Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport for the newbies), on my way home to the ‘ville for the weekend. Sorry for the delay, readers; I’ll have a couple of posts in the bag beforehand from now on. So…

São Paulo in numbers* (versus unofficial rival New York):

588 – area of São Paulo in square miles
469 – area of New York City in square miles

11,324,100 – population of the City of São Paulo
8,175,100 – population of the City of New York

20,309,700 – population of the Greater São Paulo Metropolitan Area
18,897,100 – population of the Greater New York City Metropolitan Area

41,638,800 – population of the State of São Paulo
19,378,100 – population of the State of New York

7,000,000 – number of vehicles in the Greater São Paulo Metropolitan Area
a crapload, but not as many as SP – number of vehicles in the Greater New York Metropolitan Area

17,000 – number of buses in São Paulo
5,900 – number of buses in New York City

44 – miles of subway lines in São Paulo
656 – miles of subway lines in New York City

62 – number of subway stations in São Paulo
468 – number of subway stations in New York City

3,600,000 – average daily subway riders (2010) in São Paulo
5,200,000 – average daily subway riders (2010) in New York City

1 – Fly Brother in São Paulo

0 – Fly Brothers in New York 😉

*Statistics from Wikipedia (yeh, yeh, yeh).

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I’m participating in Vai Via’s 15 Day International Travel Challenge, but doubling-up, as I’m not a daily blog poster. Challenge!

Day 11 – Did you have any milestones or “firsts” while traveling or living abroad?
First doctor visit, unemployment insurance claim, and sexual encounter in a language that wasn’t English.

Day 12 – Someone who influenced you to travel abroad.

The preacher’s wife at my church, who got me on my way with a book called Free Stuff for Kids, full of ways to get free travel info. Innumerable teachers. My grandparents.

Day 13 – A favorite travel quote.
“Now voyager sail thou forth to seek and find.” -Walt Whitman

Vai-Vai was my first. In January of 2006, during my first trip to São Paulo, I became washed in the downpour of sound and energy that is the open-air rehearsal of the Vai-Vai Samba School.  I fell in love with Brazil that night.  With the cadences that were only two or three beats away from the black high school and college drumlines I grew up with.  With the beautiful people – women and men – who sang and danced and invited anyone and everyone into their tight-knit community with a wink and a smile.  With those same beautiful people who represented every age and color, trending heavily, of course, to the profound darker hues of the spectrum: black people from coal to cream, rehearsing for a Brazilian cultural institution as steeped in African ritual and interaction, maybe even more so, as any other in the Diaspora.  Vai-Vai was my first, which is why you’ll find me carousing with her every Sunday from now til Carnival.  She’s what brought me to Brazil.

“Meu Povo.  Minha Gente.  Minha Raça.  Minha Escola.”

Video from this Sunday’s practice:

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This is for all my HBCUans in the house, and all lovers of Southern black college and high school marching bands: tell me, tell me this does not channel halftime at the Florida Classic, Bayou Classic, Atlanta Classic, Circle City Classic (lots of classics), Raines v. Ribault, Norland v. Carol City, Southwest DeKalb or Washington High Homecoming, or Dave Chappelle’s Block Party!

If you haven’t the foggiest idea of what the hell I’m talkin’ bout, please see the 2002 feature film, Drumline, starring Mariah’s current, Nick Cannon.

This is footage from São Paulo’s Vai-Vai samba school practicing for that city’s Carnival competition at the end of this month. I’m telling you folks, you can call it whatever you want, in whatever language you want, but the rhythm within us remains unchanged.

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Part 1 of a 4-part series on my year-end jaunt through the Promised Land, aka Brazil.

It all started with a 6 AM (Colombian time) flight out of Bogotá, two days before Christmas. Armed with distastefully warm chicken sandwiches and virtually no sleep, Roberto and I coasted down the spine of the Andes to Lima, then crossed over altiplano and forest toward the beckoning, green crests of the Brazilian Highlands. After being attacked by air pockets during a treacherous descent through a thick mass of afternoon storm clouds, we landed a little after 6 PM (Brazilian time) at Guarulhos, one-hundred-thousand miles outside of the city it serves, São Paulo. A slight, unseasonal chill accompanied the Venusian gloom of the sky, which looked ready to burst into a monsoon at any moment. We hit the ground running, thanks to the overly-air-conditioned Airport Bus Service, Roberto and I cracking jokes and snapping pictures of road signs and billboards and the federal prison and favelas (shantytowns, for the unlettered) that greet the visitor to Brazil’s largest city. Soon, though, Roberto quieted in awe as rows and rows of skyscrapers sprouted behind one another with every highway curve, a shark’s mouthful of concrete blocks housing over 20 million people in a metro area not even half the square mileage of Atlanta’s. I’d seen it all twice before, but the sheer amount of human development in one physical location is incessantly impressive. Cars, trains, trucks, helicopters, motorcycles, airplanes, rats all whiz by over and around each other in a city whose only constant is flux – in the last fifty years, the city proper grew from 2.2 to 11 million people…and counting.

Based out of our centrally-located, US$22/night cubby hole-in-the-sky, Roberto and I recharged as we met with some of my old friends on Avenida Paulista, the ultra-post-modern financial heart of the country which was set ablaze by innumerable Christmas lights and displays. Near the São Paulo Art Museum (MASP), delighted kids watched a cartoon Santa’s Workshop projected against a high-rise, while a rag-tag circle of street percussionists got some of the ancestral spirits moving underneath the elevated edifice of the museum. We spent Christmas Eve roaming aimlessly past shuttered storefronts in an attempt to soak up as much of the varied neighborhood vibes as we could right before the world’s biggest holiday and ended up at one of São Paulo’s gargantuan all-night mega-house clubs, tripping the light fantastic to tribal beats while practicing our Brazilian Hellos (full-frontal French kisses first, names afterward) with numerous and assorted Brazilian hotties. Needless to say, I can hardly remember Christmas Day; I think we slept for most of it.

The next couple of days included walks through Old Downtown (São Paulo has four downtowns, y’all) with its curvy, concrete, Jetsonian constructions of iconic architect Oscar Neimeyer, navigating the sightssoundsandsmells of the subway, whisking through the stately Pinacoteca art museum (see…we cultured!), meeting up with new friends (some club DJs, club groupies, expat bloggers, other random geeks and whores), and mixing it up again with the locals, this time at a samba/funk/hip-hop-n-r-n-b spot on the South Side called Kamaroty. I swear, I’ve never been to a place where the girls have been nicer about having their drinks accidentally spilled on them. Again, my bad, ladies; thanks for being so understanding. And all too soon, our first week in Brazil came to a close and we jetted off to Rio de Janeiro for US$49 each way for some hot New Years beach action. My only regret was that the Museu Afro-Brasil was closed until January; otherwise, despite being tempered for the holidays, Sampa did exactly what she was supposed to do: engulf, overwhelm, impact, incite, impress.

I’d be back.

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Yesterday was the end of my three-week long Christmas vacation in Brazil. There was sun, sweat, sand, sex, song, and samba in varied combinations on various days. My buddy, Roberto, and I conquered the mean streets of that tropical urban behemoth, São Paulo, before jetting over to raucous Rio to ring in the New Year with millions of Brazilians on the beach at Copacabana. I resurrected old friendships, established new ones, soaked up the music and dance of my cultural cousins, renewed, refreshed, recharged, and gave it up to God, the Cosmos, Iemanjá, whatever you want to call it. Next week, I’ll lay out the adventure with incriminating photos and juicy details in a three-part series guaranteed to titillate and inspire. Because that’s what I do here at Fly Brother…titillate and inspire. 😉

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