Modern Art Makes Me Want To Rock Out: Sunday in São Paulo

Cool: The tour manager is more sensible than the rest of us and goes to bed at 6:30am
Cruel: No, he’s not. He gets up at 9 am to watch Chelsea-Liverpool live on the hotel TV.

Cool: Being able to watch your team play live on TV from 5000 miles away.
Cruel: Watching your team lose from 5000 miles away – and on only two hours sleep

Cool: In my case, getting up at 11am Sunday on barely three hours sleep and feeling quite good.
Cruel: That I can only get by on this little sleep when I go to bed late, not when I get up early.

Cool: We have an interpretor on hand to take us round São Paulo
Cruel: He’s nowhere to be found when we want him

Cool: Our hotel is right off of São Paulo’s main thoroughfare, the Av Paulista
Cruel: There are still teenage girls waiting outside of our hotel.

The scene outside L’Hotel at 6:30am. Don’t these girls have homes to go to?

Cool: It’s not raining
Cruel: It’s bloody cold. You expect Brazil to be constantly tropical. Not so.

Cool: Sunday on São Paulo’s main thoroughfare is like Sunday on most cities main thoroughfares: pedestrians meandering, craftsmen selling, the general vibe of a pleasant day off from the strife of life.
Cruel: For all the goods on offer, including the Antique market underneath the Museum of Art, there’s nothing really worth buying. Especially if you already live in an arts and crafts area like Woodstock.

Cool: Our hotel is not far from the shopping mall where, three years ago, I stumbled on a second hand record cart with the cream of Brazilian MFB. (I was just about out of cash that day and he didn’t take credit cards. I’ve always wanted to come back.)
Cruel: Through lack of sleep and failure of map reading, we head north up the Avenue, away from the shopping mall, not South, down the Avenue, towards it.

Cool: Once we discover our mistake, we realize we are, at least, just a few side streets away from São Paulo’s trendy shopping area, Jardins.
Cruel: Being that we’ve already headed north instead of south, we at least prove ourselves consistent by heading east, away from Jardins, instead of west, towards it.

Cool: In this scruffy part of town, we finally stumble on a street juice stall, like they have on almost every corner in Rio. I confirm that they stock açai – the chocolate-like berry that serves as a caffeinated health drink – and we pull up at the counter and order two helpings of what I assume will be the same juice drinks I became addicted to in Rio.
Cruel: They serve us up iced açai in a bowl instead, like a breakfast/pudding.

Cool: …It comes complete with a packet of granola and chopped banana, serves as the most fulfilling of breakfasts, and I’ve suddenly discovered a new açai dish.
Cruel: This is the only time I get to taste açai on the whole trip.

No, it’s not Brazilian wine before the crush: these are baskets full of açai berries.

Cool: Suitably sated, we now cross back over Av. Paulista and down the hill to the trendy shopping area of Jardins.
Cruel: It’s Sunday, and all the shops are closed. Even the wine store, boo hoo. Only the restaurants are open, their facades dotted with wealthy Paulistas emerging from brunch and waiting for their expensive valet-parked cars to be returned. All of a sudden, in this vast and mostly poor city, you can smell the stench of big money.

Cool: Walking is good for the heart.
Cruel: Walking back up the hill from Jardins feels positively hard on the heart on just three hours sleep.

Cool: The Parque Trianon, with tropical trees and wood-carved benches, provides a welcome respite from all this aimless walking.
Cruel: São Paulo is incredibly short on green space.

Cool: Central São Paulo lacks the violent tension of Rio.
Cruel: It also lacks the natural beauty of the ocean, the mountains, the beach and the outlying islands.

Cool: I decide to check out MASP – the Museu de Arte de São Paulo.
Cruel: Admission is a hefty $15.

Cool: MASP houses beautiful works of art by – check this listMonet, Manet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Modigliani, Cezanne, Picasso, Degas, Chagall, Toulouse-Loutrec, Hieronymous Bosch and more.
Cruel: They are housed in one of the most astonishingly ugly buildings ever to pass for a museum: a windowless tunnel placed above two concrete pillars opposite the Parque Trianon. Where’s Oscar Niemeyer when you need him?

Cool: Standing in front of a Matisse painting with Art Brut’s song ‘Modern Art’ in my head. “So I’m in the Pompidou. I see a piece by Matisse, that is my window of opportunity, I take 5 steps back, I put my head down…and I run at it.”
Cruel: Being quite sure that at least 4/5ths of Art Brut did not stop in at MASP on their visit to São Paulo, let alone take a running leap at its lone Matisse.

Cool: Standing thisclose close to a great Van Gogh painting and feeling the power of his talent assail me.
Cruel: That the poor bastard wasn’t appreciated in his lifetime.

Cool: Completely overwhelmed by a Hieronymous Bosch painting, from the 16th Century, which looks so vibrant in its colors and so surreal in its imagery, that it could almost have been painted today.
Cruel: That other visitors are not only pointing at its grotesque visages but, I’m certain, touching it too. (This is Brazil: people touch a lot. But that doesn’t mean you should feel free to touch a 450 year old painting!)

Cool: The number of local students checking out the art of a Sunday.
Cruel: The museum has no toilets, no brochures, no guides, no snack bar. Only the one floor of classic art, and then a lower, open floor of purely modern Brazilian art. Oh wait, hang on, the web site shows a lovely restaurant and a sizeable library. But where are they in real life? Where? I followed all stair cases and all elevators and saw only the two floors of art. What am I? A tourist?

Modern Art makes me want to rock out, but the design of the Museu de Arte de São Paulo makes me want to throw up.

Cool: Just down the road from MASP, the Real Bank’s Espaco Cultural houses a modern art exhibition of its own. And this one’s completely free.
Cruel: Definitely no toilets or snack bars or restaurants or libraries!

Cool: The way the art is laid out here (by theme), and the number of people who have come off the streets to enjoy it.
Cruel: Art Brut aren’t among them, even though the exhibition is only about 200 yards from the hotel.

Cool: The Brazilians are leading the world in alternatives to petroleum: you can fill your car on sugar-cane “alcool” that gets 70% petrol’s mileage for 50% of the price.
Cruel: The Brazilians are leading the world in traffic congestion, too, so it seems.

Farewell Sao Paulo, you city of concrete.

Cool: It’s 5pm on Sunday and minibuses are leaving L’Hotel for the Motomix festival, loaded with talent like Adam Freeland, Andy Weatherall, Schneider TM, Adult, Isolee, Swayzak and Peter Hook, who will be performing through the afternoon into the evening.
Cruel: Our minibus is headed to the airport. We have to miss the lot.

Cool: There’s a home game Sunday afternoon between São Paulo and Internazionale, currently occupying the top two positions in the Brazilian league
Cruel: We have to go to the airport.

Cool: The promoters have someone at the airport to help us through check-in procedures.
Cruel: Being checked in three hours ahead of our flight.

Cool: Figuring we’ll have plenty time to eat once we’re through the laborious process of security and passport control.
Cruel: Finding there is no restaurant the far side of security and passport control.

Cool: The Arts Section of the local Sunday paper has a large ad for the new Caetano Velaso album, his image comprised purely of the computerized MP3 logo. For such a venerable composer, that’s some pretty hip marketing.
Cruel: Getting nowhere near a record store (or wine store) the whole time we’re in São Paulo.

Cool: Our flight departs on schedule, shock horror!
Cruel: The inflight movie is the Poseidon remake. Why not just show Airplane? Or United 93?

Cool: Having a row to myself again.
Cruel: Dreading not sleeping again.

Cool: Sleeping seven hours on the flight home, something I’ve never managed before in my life. It must have been a long weekend.
Cruel: I have a three hour drive on the other end.

Cool: It’s a beautiful hot and sunny late September day in New York City.
Cruel: That was some shitty weather in São Paulo.

Cool: On dropping off the Tour Manager in Woodstock, he offers me a case of opened but barely-drunk wine – courtesy of a salesman friend and the leftovers from his rounds of the area stores.
Cruel: It’s Monday morning after one of my longest weekends on record: you think I can drink wine tonight? (I try, but it’s all been open since Thursday. The whole case is off. Probably ust as well!)

Cool: Stopping in at the Sunflower health store at Woodstock, and picking up two of bottles of Sambazon acai.
Cruel: That I can’t just walk up to a juice bar round these parts and ask for the real thing.

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November 2022