Paulista Avenue and a government initiative done right
Ask any Paulista - a resident of the city of Sao Saulo, Brazil - what to do on a Sunday, and you can expect the automated response of: “Go have a stroll down Paulista Avenue!” The long, wide street is closed for traffic on Sundays, giving residents the opportunity to freely walk, cycle, run, skate, etc. up and down this runway-like avenue. Following up on this advice, I took a quick subway and emerged on the outskirts of the approximately 2.8 kilometers stretch of road running through the financial district of Sao Paulo where most of the head offices of big corporations, big banks, and cultural institutions reside. The street is barricaded off on both sides by traffic cones and metro police to restrict the flow of traffic into the closed-off avenue. Walking around the temporary barrier, sidestepping a shirtless, sweaty rollerblader jetting by my left and having a near-miss collision with a cyclist to my right - this was not going to be a mere lazy Sunday stroll.
Before jumping into the exciting cultural hot-pot that is Paulista Avenue on Sundays, a brief history of the street, along with the origin of the initiative could help explain the significance of this recurring event more clearly. In the 1890s, coffee barons commissioned the work of Uruguayan architect, Joaquim Eugênio, to build a spacious residential lane on the highest area of the city known as “The ridge of Sao Paulo”. It soon filled with mostly low-rise mansions and commercial buildings and became a residency for the more wealthy middle-class. Fast forward past the second world war and Brazil, along with the rest of the world, had to undergo serious changes. Mansions were knocked down and replaced with large commercial business complexes and apartment blocks. After Italian-Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi built the Museum of Art of São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand, better known as MASP, the area soon became an important center for culture and societal expression. The museum is located in the middle of the avenue and still remains one of the best examples of Brazilian brutalism in architecture. In the 1980s and 1990s, Paulista Avenue cemented itself as the most important street in the city.
The influence of MASP in Paulista Avenue is unignorable - it’s a ground-zero for liberal and left-wing demonstrations and protests including the annual LGBT Pride Parade, the largest of its kind in the world with over 5 million participants attending the march in recent years. During the mayorship of Fernando Haddad from 2013 to 2016, a new cycling lane was imposed followed by the announcement that the avenue would be closed off to traffic on Sundays. Initially, families, runners, cyclists, couples, etc. would utilize this opportunity as a fun way to get out of the apartment on Sundays. Soon after, spontaneous streets acts emerged such as rock bands, Brazilian funk performances, Samba dancing, magicians, trash-can drummers, fusion jazz saxophonists - the list is endless. A stroll from one side to the other will leave you turning and twisting, getting caught up in a dancing mob of high energy, African-influenced rhythms. Proud afros are out in full force, swerving and bouncing as dancers get flipped, twirled and caught - lips millimeters from touching. Every few meters a new sub-genre emerges, stocked with its own sounds and devout pilgrims. Smooth electric guitar from three-piece indie bands to covers of Brazilian folk classics.
Gypsies selling leather and copper infused jewelry, sketch artists drawing up caricatures, Angolan Rastafarians chanting and playing the bongos with their tucked-in shirts and a man dressed up as Freddy Krueger, posing for photos, all minding their own business with the hope of making a couple of bucks or provoking some sort of reaction from onlookers. The smell of street food serves as a guide through the crowd, following the smell of soy-tossed dumplings or steamy feijoada to the food vendors under the trees. Freshly squeezed juices from a giant array of fruits quench your thirst and after finishing your desired high sodium main course of choice, a crepe, cake or a pastry can be enjoyed, dressed with sweet dulce de leche.
The bike lane is dominated by rollerbladers, cyclists, and skateboarders cruising along with sunglasses and shirts hanging out of their back pockets. Anti-establishment and pro-animal rights activists line up with their expressionless faces in the streets covered by journalists and street photographers like flies on a spoiled piece of meat. One can easily spend the whole day sitting around watching people, buying art, dancing, photographing, singing, eating and adoring oneself up and down this extravagant display of a government initiative done right.
The festivities are ended around 6pm with loud fireworks echoing like gunshots through the skyscrapers. A police fleet with screaming sirens slowly makes its way down the lane through the crowds, leading the incoming traffic as the crowds disperse in the late afternoon. Like a street party, crowds of people still hang around drinking and conversing while vendors and performers pack up for the day. A rock band with a redhead lead singer covering U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday was my anthem for the day as I disappeared into an electric ocean of culture…
All photos were taken by me and are left unedited.
Shot on a Nikon FE2
Photographs by Carl van der Linde
Story by Carl van der Linde