Wim Nijenhuis on Wed, 1 Mar 2000 16:41:22 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Eating Brasil

     [ASCIIfied and reformatted at nettime--tb]

This text is the last chapter of the book

text Wim Nijenhuis
design Maurice Nio

editorial team
John Bosch, Juliette van der Meijden, Maurice Nio, Wim Nijenhuis and
Nathalie de Vries.

The book has been published in 1999
by 010 publishers Rotterdam


São Paulo

1. São Paulo is a world city and Brazil is its hinterland.

2. Like a huge, dynamic mass of gridded patches and structureless
emulsions of masonry, asphalt, cars and people, the colossus sprawls
across the endless plateau and gobbles its way through the dark green
forest, leaving little reddish spots behind. The new developments and
the mutations follow the logic of land speculation and are driven by
instantaneous impulses such as a randomly placed new factory or an
equally randomly placed favela. Admittedly, the ring of motorways around
and through the centre, together with the railways and two rivers, form
a bundle of infrastructure that allows us a distant panorama, and the
built-up area occasionally follows an undulation of the landscape, but
ultimately these nuances vanish amid the hugeness and chaos of the
whole.  Thus São Paulo has the appearance of a vast, monotonous, dense
uplift cut across by deep clefts.

3. São Paulo occupies an area of 8051 square kilometres. Of this, 1771
square kilometres is built up. The city lies at an elevation of 860

4. Even the most inveterate Paulistano loses his bearings now and then.
He has to discover a new route to work every month, the buses take a
different route every week, familiar shops and services relocate without
warning, whole suburbs go through major changes in the blink of an eye,
urban villas turn into showrooms and sometimes, at night, they suddenly
change into bars. Streets are dug up and boulevards constructed. Not
only does the city centre shift bit by bit, but it also undergoes a kind
of nuclear fission, with local centres rising alongside the motorways in
places that were previously not even part of the city. Everywhere there
are building excavations. Sometimes activities are taking place within
them but often they lie silent for long periods. Nothing is solid,
nothing is durable or dependable. The environment is so unreal that
no-one would be the least surprised if the entire city were to vanish

5. In 1973, 1.3 percent of the population lived in favelas. Today the
figure is 20 percent.

6. A friend has been living on the 25th floor of Niemeyer¹s Edifício
Copan (1951), near Praça da Republica, for the last three years. The
building has a S-shaped ground plan and 30 floors. The bottom two floors
contain shops and other businesses and the rest consists of apartments.
This architectural jewel stands in the middle of neglected shopping
streets and movie theatres. At night the area is the domain of
streetwalkers and the homeless. I saw two vagrants in the street making
love.  From her flat that evening, between the brise-soleils which are
over 1.5 metres deep and frame the outlook rather like a panoramic
camera, I have my first prospect of the town from above. Hundreds of
skyscrapers loom against a purple-black sky. Many have a red light on
the roof. Between them there are dozens of television masts with white
flashing beacons. The Hilton, the only round tower, is on the
foreground, in the right corner. Down in the depths, the traffic buzzes
softly on.

7. The train and the subway together transport 3.5 million passengers
daily, and the buses 5.8 million.

8. During the first half of this century, development of the city still
took the form of large-scale new building projects. But the
uncontrollable rate of growth has now produced a dominant architecture
of countless investors and individual owners. They develop the city plot
by plot. This approach has produced very narrow, tall and ingeniously
organized building types. A single block of flats sometimes has only one
flat per floor and depends for its stability on its more robust
neighbour. Their designers are often anonymous and in some cases no
architect was involved at all. My attention was drawn to a gigantic
building designed by a butcher. Crazy! Everywhere there are facades with
half to three-quarters of their area windowless and covered with
advertising. This produces a city of concrete pillars with strips of
windows here and there. São Paulo is like a stretched-out,
three-dimensional bar code.

9. The metropolis has 4.4 million vehicles, including 11,000 buses. The
greatest part of the 270 km.-long railway line is unused.

10. Every notion we may have about planning and architecture evaporates
here.  What do you do about cities with over 10 million inhabitants?
What do you do about cities that threaten to swell into metropolises of
25 million inhabitants (São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro)? What do you do about
cities that were planned for a few hundred thousand people but within a
few decades have 2 to 3 million inhabitants (Brasília, Belo Horizonte)?
You cannot do them justice with Onormal¹ planning or Onormal¹
architecture. That would suggest that the contemplative slowness of the
plan or design would work here. In Brazil, action is chronically
overtaken by events. No time for consideration, no time for reflection.
That¹s a European luxury, but here every municipal organization is
powerless against the proliferation of the city. All that can be done is
to keep things under control. Urban planning becomes a matter of
policing rather than a political or cultural discipline.

11. In a street near the ring road, the Marginais, an architect has
spent years developing and building little towers in various
architectural styles.

12. The favela may be seen as a Ostrategic¹ land reservation. Where
there is a favela, the land prices remain low, even though the location
is often close to important urban and regional routes. Property
developers are able to clear the settlement at a certain point and set
down a new industrial zone, office park or housing estate with relative
ease and, owing to the cheap land, at low expense. Thus in São Paulo,
the favela heads a series of urban functions that follow one after
another in the same location. The favela is necessary to the development
of the city because it guarantees that land can be freed quickly.
Changes in the form and function of a certain area always begin with the
favela, which thus provides the fixed framework, which gives a place to
the series of events of which São Paulo consists.

13. From 1987 to 1991, the city had an average of 1,312,107 housing
units, 239,504 hospital beds and 18,544 doctors.

14. Meeting houses of the Candomblé, known as terreiros, were usually
located in the poorer districts. The religion is now no longer
restricted to the poor and the Negroes, and these houses may now be
anywhere, including in wealthier districts such as Pinheiros, Vila
Mariana and the Jardins, in the vicinity of subway stations and  in
ethnic neighbourhoods such as the predominantly Japanese Liberdade and
Jewish Bom Retiro.  Many terreiros have insufficient space. In the
terreiro of Minas de Thoya Jarina, the ritual has therefore been
modified: in Father Francelino¹s living room, which measures only four
square metres in area, now some twenty adherents can dance and sway in
honour of the gods. Candomblé, which is supposed to take place in the
purely natural surroundings, does not belong in a city. But the magic
imagination will not be suppressed by cramped conditions and logic, and
it banks on the multi-dimensionality of the metropolis.

15. The population grew at a rate of 3 percent per annum for a long
time, but now it is growing only with 0.5 percent.

16. The din of the traffic indicates the adrenalin-level of São Paulo.
Power City. It roars in the morning, it roars at night, it roars the
whole day long.  The city is one huge engine. The engine of Brazil. Nor
is it shy about the fact. Naturally there are places where the noise is
subdued, such as in a few parks and residential areas, but then they are
really oases in a city that has not been laid out under normal
conditions but has been ground out of the earth by an incessant stream
of vehicles. Just as the water of a river can create a canyon, the
traffic of São Paulo has made its streets.

If someone were to ask me what I am doing here in Brazil, I can only
reply that I am mentally straying, tanning my brains or getting
permanently rid of a few obstinate prejudices and automatisms. And why
not in Brazil?

17. It is freedom and expansion that matter in São Paulo, not historical

18. The Paulistanos do not see their city as a landscape, for they have
no aesthetic bond with it. They either live in the thick of it and are
barely distinguishable from it, or do distinguish themselves from it and
experience it as inimical neo-nature. For those immersed in São Paulo,
the surroundings resemble a universe of temptations and metamorphoses,
where large areas of the city take on human traits and where people come
to resemble the city. As neo-nature, the city is respectively
resistance, future, adventure, obligation and... an absurd secret.
Since the city demands so much energy from its inhabitants, from their
intuition and emotions, not enough remains to apply to one¹s fellow
citizen, for example to improve him. The inclination to manipulate and
educate is strange to the Paulistano. If there is solidarity here, it is
not impelled by a sense of responsibility but by a conspiracy against
the metropolis.

19. Machismo and feminismo: except for the banks, Brazil is ruled by

20. In Grande Sertão: Veredas (The Devil to Pay in the Backlands, 1963),
Guimarães Rosa wrote that the Brazilian interior was undeveloped, but it
did have culture. Other forces, chiefly magic ones, predominated there.
If the culture of the interior were integrated with that of the cities,
a new Brazilian man would arise. Euclides Da Cunha had earlier related
in Os Sertões (Rebellion in the Backlands, 1902/1947) how an
occult-messianic revolt had been beaten down by a Ocold-hearted,
technical-functional¹ army. Brazilians, he argued, had a duty to
colonize the interior and so blend the occult-messianic and the
technical-functional facets of their culture.  Today¹s São Paulo has a
cultural mix containing not only Negro magic and Indian ritual but
Shintoism, Zen, Tai Chi, French Positivism, a bit of German Idealism, a
pinch of American Pragmatism, Neapolitan music, North Italian Futurism,
Russian Orthodoxy, Dutch Calvinism, Spanish Mysticism and Jewish

21. Mario de Andrade¹s Macunaíma (1928) depicts a spineless hero and
fantasizes about people who know no responsibility.

22. The new man lives on fashion. He thus liberates himself from the
obligation to authenticity. His great passion is to apply information,
models, strategies and all kinds of examples from elsewhere to his daily
life, and to turn them into reality. In so doing he can experience the
finest of what someone else has already experienced. In philosophy and
literature, this results in the lightness of dilettantism, an
intellectual delight in anything that is new, and that brings into being
such marvellous fusions as magic positivism, spiritualistic logical
analysis, Marxist kaballa and Zen Catholicism. By the way, the basis for
this fashion-following and dilettantism is always the new man¹s abysmal
openness to seduction. At the end of all this mixing together, two
things rise to the surface - the genius of the feminine, and liberation
from prejudice.

23. São Paulo, hotel. Milton Vargas said, OThe Brazilians are not
convinced that they live in reality¹.

24. They are apparently unfamiliar with the idea of team spirit here.
You can see from their football that they do not know how to deploy
themselves.  Twenty of them at a time run after the ball, without
strategy, and it depends solely on the qualities of the individual
player who will ultimately win. They are incapable of creating openings,
of making room for a team-mate to improve his position. This is moreover
an impression you get in Brazil as a whole. Their personal space is far
to cramped, both physically and mentally.  But isn¹t team spirit much
too European a notion? Suppose it¹s not at all the group as a whole that
matters, but solely the excellence of the individual.  Perhaps that¹s
precisely the power of a system that is the very opposite of
self-organization. As a group they are a mess, but as a synergy of
talented individuals the Brazilians will undoubtedly come out on top.

25. Brazil has an area of 850 million hectares. 70% of the land is
privately owned. Of the landowners, 3% own less   than        10 ha.
35% own more than   1,000 ha.  28% own more than 10,000 ha.  42% of the
large landholdings are non-productive.

26. Something happens in my heart / every time I cross Ipiranga and
Avenida São João / when I first came here, I understood nothing /
neither the hard, concrete poetry of your street corners / nor the
discrete inelegance of your women / when I gazed at you / I did not see
my own face / I called what I saw poor taste / the poor taste of poor
taste! / for Narcissus finds everything ugly that is not a reflection /
you gave me a difficult start / what I do not know from afar, / from a
different, happy dream of the city / quickly teaches to call you
Oreality¹ / because you are the opposite of the opposite of the opposite
of the opposite.

27.  Belo Horizonte. The eternally repudiated city.  Brasília. The
eternally unfinished city.  Rio de Janeiro. The eternally dreaming city.
São Paulo. The city that simply roars.

28. In the favela of Vila Prudente in eastern São Paulo, over five
hundred people are packed together in the blue and green painted
Osalon¹. Music from the north-eastern region is playing, as usual, and
the customers are drinking Ypioca sugar cane whiskey.  Severino José da
Silva, illiterate, left Itora in the interior region of Pernambuco in
1948, when he was sixteen. He became a street vendor of potatoes, garlic
and onions in the city centre of Recife. Ten years later, he had saved
enough to set off on a freighter to Rio de Janeiro to join his family in
the favela of Caxias. After a further eighteen months, he moved to São
Paulo, a city about which he had heard much. Severino arrived there in
1960 and immediately went to stay with a cousin in the favela of Vila
Prudente. Since then, he has never been back to Rio de Janeiro or his
home town. He married, and now has five children and three

29. A city without a horizon. You see skyscrapers wherever you look.
Imagine Manhattan multiplied by thirty and you get something like São

30. Jogo do Bicho is a lottery in which players bet on football results.
All around the city countless little shops have been set up, and
outside them endless queues of people wait for a chance to gamble. The
sheer numbers of the poor are astonishing. But it would be mistaken to
think that these people are making their small sacrifices solely for the
chance of winning a fortune.  Winning is a secondary matter here, for
they see lottery as an invitation to adventure, as a challenge to fate.
Their sacrifice is to gambling itself, for the game gives the
participant¹s life a sense of purpose for a while, or at least a rhythm.
He lives from draw to draw, so creating a period of waiting and hoping
for himself, something that history and progress have never been able to
give him.

31. Vertical congestion! A strange sight, queues not waiting for a shop
or a checkout, but for a lift.

32. As opposed to the uncertainty of the surroundings, Brazil has the
sanctity of the gesture. The best means of making something of a
purposelessness situation are music, dance and movement. Rhythm has a
secret power. It converts pointless time into time that has some point.
Rhythm has the power to structure the movements of daily life and give
them an added aesthetic, ritual and sacral dimension. The boy¹s dancing
gait, the private smile, the rattling of the typewriter as though it
were a tom-tom, licking an envelope behind the post-office counter,
starting a video recorder, opening the door. Every gesture, even the
gesture of fighting, has a certain cultivated quality here.  Amid a sea
of purposelessness there thus rises the sacrosanctity of the gesture, in
which is celebrated the supremacy of the body, with its undulations, its
sensuality and its expressiveness.

33. Macumba ­ turn the mind into a body. Umbanda.

34. Despite the impotence of the authorities, Brazil is not unplanned.
That is a myth. Worship of the cheerful Brazilian chaos is typically
European.  Everything is planned here, as it is in Western Europe.
Perhaps the layout is less well-structured and less successful, but once
you abandon the idea that space has to be the medium or the mirror of a
certain order and accept that time is the crucial factor here, the
Brazilian sense of order suddenly discloses itself everywhere. The
Brazilians allow their actions to be governed far more by temporal
predestination than by spatial planning. They treat fate as a kind of
planning instrument, and only in the light of fate one can perceive the
order and logic of Brazilian cities.

35. Anhangabaú, Pindamonhangaba. Do not speak in sentences but in
semantic blocks of fused verbal roots. He who speaks thus, wards off the
curse of development.

36. In a shop, one assistant is required to fetch my order from the
shelves.  A second assistant, on another counter, packs the little box
in paper. At the next counter, elsewhere in the shop, I pay a third shop
assistant for the purchase and get my change. All this takes place at
such a lethargic rate that my sense of effectiveness is undermined. I
have wondered a thousand times about the true significance of this
nationally nurtured slow-motion. Is it a sign of poverty or of
superiority? Probably the latter. Brazilians spread all actions out in
time, and take the time to dissolve time in dilated action.

37. Furia da figura. Believe in nothing but style.

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