Simon Wright

Drifts through a São Paulo streetscape and beyond


. . .September now, and I’m back at the window; the eighteenth floor, looking over the city, this time in the evening. I’ve poured myself a cachaça and sit sipping it, looking out. A bird tweets its chorus overhead, and I’m reminded of something I was reading today, but can’t quite remember what. A warm breeze blows balmy, summer’s early breath. Just look at this place! To think, once it was all Matta Atlantica – Atlantic rain-forest, stretching out as far as the eye can see. I’ll take that one on trust – I’ll have to – it’s so utterly inconceivable from here. I’m off again, the brutal excavations of my mind’s quiet murmurings are well and truly underway; injected with the intellect till all the magic’s gone. That bird; the wind; ‘Nature’ maintains its presence in the city, it’s just harder to find these days. Perhaps the well-told story of its expulsion from the city is an oversight that shows a lack of sensitivity – an ideological slogan of reaction. A material historicism can’t exclude the unique qualities of an originary place and its persistence – gentle inclines, watercourses, hollows, escarpments, wind patterns, the lie of the land generally, trails that become roads then thoroughfares. Somewhere in the urban, natural conditions find responses in the layout of the modern cityscape. Irony? São Paulo? Surely not in this icon of vanquished nature, this glittering paradigm of synthetic urban sprawl? I don’t record anything for a while and get taken in by . . . by what? By it, just it, impossible to express. An indulgence – the privilege of panorama. Distance in space doesn’t mean distance from myself; I’m involved; up here mesmerised, captivated – removal doesn’t necessarily imply passivity. It’s both soporific and intense, close to dreaming; tune in, let go. The myth of totality comes, goes, explodes. I close in on small occurrences going on down there; I could make a list going on for ever, but it would always lag behind. Each event indicative of fifteen million others going on around the city as I look. The evidence becomes a supposition, and then a fact. I see the streets as carriers of lives, and let them regress again, once more off into the distance to turn indecipherable shades of grey. And mountains – to the right – they stave the terror, a reminder that the madness ends. It’s evening, have I said that? I took a couple of pictures of the setting sun, but now the sky quietens, settles to cool blue, and the city glistens in reply. One great lightshow is giving way to another; teamwork. Evening fascinates, the world transforms in uninterrupted flow; just slow; just steady; it eases. I crane my head out of the window and look over to the left. I see the Radial Leste – the elevated motorway, with its busy headlights on. This time of the day – NOW – it flickers with magic and mystery, but benignly, it’s equally mundane. In the city’s half-light, the cosmic hands over to the human – lights go on and off in buildings while headlights bleed through all the streets. And it’s comforting somehow, perhaps because it makes more sense – restored to the micro-marvel where I live – this is my world. Ah, the end of the day; I’m not working at the moment, but I share the way things loosen up, I appreciate and feel the release as daylight fades. I’m drawn to the intersection outside the Panafiadora down below – cars move, reverse and turn. Stop; start; left or right; shift direction; contraflow. I move a little to the right – a side-street – a bit more – another one. Strange how it’s excused from the weaving evening pandemonium going on around it. Traffic regulations have seen it fit to bless this little street – a girl plays quietly with a ball while someone sweeps their piece of pavement with a broom. The city’s shades of difference. Cars snake prescribed routes through the backstreets with a continuity redolent of thing-ness; as objects they’re deceptive, containers of people in transit that pose descriptive problems. Buses too – heaving breathing groups contained within a hulk of metal; I could be describing architecture here couldn’t I? I sit for a while, sip on my cachaça, not thinking. I look down, around, and get the sense my verbal interventions are spoiling the great event unfolding all around me. I sense a tension between it and my need to adopt an attitude; a move that chops and isolates. Time stutters like this, it trips and falls, gets forced to hang around. When it’s actively pursued, the intellect refuses to let the city’s flow to flow. Its own shifts and silences bring up the rear, always out of step, always a tangled ‘post’; the intellect is clumsy. The red pause button flashes on my digital recorder, it reminds me of the taillights and the rotund reddy sunset passed. So diverse, yet look how it all comes back to me; reduced to a moment then put in a frame. From cosmic cycle to battery powered circle in my hand, here and close. There’s no way to keep with the flux if you pause to represent it; but you can’t; not without the break, the hesitation, the creation of some new reality. Lights come on; others go off. Metal shutters close over windows. Lights sprinkle across the heavy haze of the Avenida Paulista, their choreography’s begun. Nature, society, working together, in tandem. The luminescence from all these little lights appear like beacons to a natural rhythm from here, but switching on a light indoors becomes an act against nature and her laws. Darker still. Cars as streams of light, the people I watched earlier sauntering home, now vague unsettling forms shifting hurriedly. The city’s lighting up. The lit windows of that apartment block across the way form an achingly beautiful composition of discrete lives; of light and dark; that’s poetry, that’s art. But it’s more than aesthetic, it’s significant; It’s really significant; a keyword for the city, I know it is, but what’s it saying? It’s meaning is veiled . . .it’s there, I can’t quite get at it. It’s lost, whatever it was, so beautifully revealing. The cachaça’s starting to take hold, the evening’s feeling special; I’m glad, and thankful to have witnessed it. I get a bit euphoric and decide not to record stuff anymore. I don’t want to have to think, just want to sit and soak it up, let it wash all over. . .