Wednesday, December 12, 2012

to São Paulo

If my journal is to be believed, I had spent ten days in Rio.  Whatever did I do with my time?  I do not hang out well and one tires quickly of caning rascals.  I did several long, serious interviews about things that seemed important at the time, and may still be, and perhaps it is just I who am now less serious.  In any event, it was time to go elsewhere and I checked out of my hotel and went early in the morning to the central bus station to catch a bus to São Paulo.
          Their departure time was written in whitewash on the front window of the bus and there was an air of make-do Latin disorganization about the terminal, but as it may be in other countries where they do things differently, this may have been more apparent than real as my bus left on time.
             Our bus tickets must have our ID number on them.  For Brasilians, it will be their government-issued ID card and for we foreigners our passport number will do.  Or actually, most anything: the fellow at the counter really didn’t care: there was a space in the form to be filled in and any sort of official-looking number was fine with him.
          I noticed at the bus station that there was an office that apparently looked after children traveling by themselves.

The day was hot and humid and overcast and it seemed a nice one to spend curled up in a comfortable seat on an air-conditioned bus while I watched Brasil slide past my window. 
          I always admired the sturdy English gentlemen travelers who would relax in the evening by a flickering lamp in the wilds of Kaffiristan with Boswell’s Life of Johnson or Stanhope’s History of England, comprising the reign of Queen Anne until the Peace of Utrecht.  Perhaps it had been the weather or the relaxed atmosphere of Rio, but I, alas, had read nothing on this trip.

The 490 km trip to São Paulo was scheduled to take seven hours.  The road climbed through green hills, past banana stands.  Magenta soil and red blossoms on small trees along the road.  It was raining and the water seemed to be running high in the rivers and streams.  The land seems to be used for grazing.  The road is a divided highway and the bus made good time.  In the seat in front of me a young man is reading a magazine called O Sexo.  Considering its subject, it seemed to have curiously few pictures.  Looking more closely I see that he is reading the section on Religion and Morality.  Perhaps I ought not judge the young fellow so quickly.
We have lunch at a huge rest stop.  We must step lively as only twenty minutes is budgeted, but there is a large cafeteria and service goes quickly.  The prices seem on the high side of reasonable or perhaps the low side of expensive.
The rest stop was a nice place, reminding me somewhat of rest stops on our Interstates.  It may be an unfair comment since it is entirely sensible in the climate, but there seemed to me to be too much tile and marble, plate glass and metal and terrazzo for my comfort.  There were no wood surfaces or anything soft and giving.   Everything seemed designed to be cleaned with astringent chemicals, like one of those attractive new prisons.  But perhaps I was just being over-sensitive.
The highway was a limited-access toll road so I saw passing towns only from a distance, but they all looked like slums.  It was a nice bus trip, though.  Not the sort of poor, back country Latin America bus with people riding on top and packed into the aisle carrying live chickens and iguanas.  It was as nice  --  or better  --  than some North American busses I have been on.

In São Paulo my cabdriver couldn’t find my hotel and when he did we had some argument over the fare, as if I was supposed to pay for his learning his way around the city.  Once in the hotel, I discovered that the elevator was out and my room was on the sixth floor.  All of this I took in good spirits, for what is adventure but inconvenience rightly understood.  I simply would not be running back and forth to my room all that much.
After settling in to my sixth-floor aerie I went out for a walk.  The hotel is in the heart of town and the corner of Iparanga and São João reminded me of Rush Street in Chicago or Broadway and Columbus in San Francisco.  Degeneracy seemed near at hand, with the news stands selling much more pornography than news. But there was a MacDonald’s and I comforted myself with a Big Mac.

Later, back at my room, I remember some folk wisdom that mosquitoes do not fly above the 5th floor.  I had found this not to be the case in Ipanema, but had written that off to peculiar air currents, but here they were, biting above their station again.  But having come prepared for the jungle I swabbed myself with bugbane until I smelt like all that a mosquito finds loathsome and slept an untroubled sleep in a room full of hungry mosquitoes and awoke the next morning from pleasant dreams to a room full of mosquitoes even hungrier than they had been the night before.

When I said that the city reminded me of Rush Street I did not mean it as a compliment, but it had been dark then and even that part of Chicago looks better in the morning, so I went out to give São Paulo another chance.

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