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published on January 17, 2008

Weird São Paulo

Bill Hinchberger
Birdwatching on the banks of the polluted Tietê River
Check out the following tidbits to see how weird São Paulo can be: motoboys galore, Flea and dirty air, urban birds on asphalt, and traffic jams on “No Car Day.” (For more on Brazil’s biggest city, see the BrazilMax São Paulo Travel Guide.)

Flea, bassist of the California rock band, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, made some disparaging remarks about Sao Paulo when his group played the town. Following a public outcry, he released the following statement: “I just said that the air was dirty and polluted. The air is dirty here [in Los Angeles], too. I had a great time in Sao Paulo. I’d just prefer to live my life more in harmony with nature.”

Ornithologists have recorded the presence of 273 species of birds that make their home inside city limits.

Paulistanos were polled about the 10 things that bothered them most about their city: (1) Traffic, (2) Poor Public Transportation, (3) Insecurity, (4) Trash, (5) Potholes, (6) Street Vendors, (7) Noise, (8) Pollution, (9) City Councilmembers, and (10) Lack of Civility.

São Paulo state accounts for more than 30% of the jobs in Brazil – with about 20% of the population.

On “International No Car Day 2005,” September 22, when the world’s drivers were urged to leave their automobiles in the garage, traffic in Sao Paulo was worse than normal – with 87 kilometers of jams compared to the normal 75.

Statistics show that rich countries like the U.S. Japan and Western European nations are the worst culprits as contributors to global warming. A 2005 study showed that Sao Paulo contributes to the problem at the same rate as First World nations.

Both essential to the local economy and universally despised by motorists, motorcycle cowboys called “motoboys” weave in and out of traffic to express deliver the city’s packages. An estimated 150,000-200,000 mostly young men earn their living this way. They even have their own trade fair.

A community of native Guarani Indians, numbering over 1,000, lives within São Paulo’s city limits.

Morro dos Ingleses (English Hill) is a downtown hill. It and a nearby street (Rua dos Ingleses) are named in tribute to early British ex-pats. The hill still provides possibly the best natural view of old downtown São Paulo. Around the turn of the century the city’s British community installed their golf course on that piece of high ground. Few Brits lived in the vicinity, but a road (now called Brigadeiro Luis Antonio) ran back to their ex-pat sanctuary, Santo Amaro. At the golf course, local boys used to collect balls that the less accurate British golfers skewed into the rough. What started as a shoe box collection soon became big business. Given the elevated costs of importing balls from England, golfers with high handicaps began offering the youngsters cold, hard Contas do Rei (then the local currency) to get them back. Eventually, the golf course fell to urban development. Leading families of the period built homes there, people like “Coffee King” Geremias Lunardelli, “Flour King” Giulio Parente, “Mr. Hat” Ramenzoni, and the multi-talented Maluf family who, among other things, produced former mayor and governor Paulo Maluf.

Latin America’s pioneer woman rocker, Rita Lee is perhaps the most notable symbol of São Paulo. She began her career in the 1960s with a band called the Mutantes. The irreverent and innovative band influenced a younger generation of rock musicians in Brazil and beyond, including Kurt Cobain, the late leader of the blockbuster US grunge band Nirvana. Continuing a solo career into middle age, Lee hasn’t mellowed much: her rhythms remain rambunctious, her lyrics edgy and unrepentant.

São Paulo Graffiti Tour: osgemeos

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