After receiving the invitation to write about “my São Paulo”, I asked myself what could I write about a city that is so important to me, but that I had left over 30 years ago. The reality is that I never left São Paulo, the houses where I lived, the streets and neighborhoods or my childhood and adolescence.
The first memory from that time is of relief and survival. At 4 years old, I ran after a ball and was almost run over by a car in front of my home on Tavares Cabral Street. A quiet street, with a white-fenced house, furnished with a 50s style. But it was a few meters from the intersection of avenues Faria Lima and Rebouças, from where nervous drivers tried to escape by taking a detour through our peaceful little street. Few millimeters separated the white Beetle from my small and fragile body. I survived without noting the danger, only seeing the look of disbelief in the nanny's face and of the couple behind the wheel, and I recall feeling powerful for making a car stop at the right time.
Our second home was in Pedroso de Morais Street, facing Omaguás Square and the Cisne bakery shop. Besides the few visits to the bakery to buy sweets and the square to watch a Brazilian music festival, I had little contact with the street. My sister and I stayed alone in the house's backyard, a place of little greenery and a huge wall, closed by a massive white wood gate that shut out the street view. I felt like a princess prisoner in a fairy tale tower. Outside there was a world filled with life, of wonders to discover, mysteries, danger, interesting people, everything but the tedium residing in that backyard. From there, I was confined within the even taller walls of a boarding school. It was my choice to live with the nuns of Cardoso de Almeida street. My parents had decided for economic reasons to sell all businesses in the city and focus everything on a car agency upstate, to where they moved. At 13 years, I refused to leave São Paulo, the city that I wanted so much to known better. I would do anything to stay and the only possibility was the Santa Marcelina boarding school. Soon I realized that living with nuns would be a true hell. They robbed me of the free weekends and locked me inside the school for bad behavior. Resigned, after one year without enjoying anything of the city, I left to first live with my parents then with aunt and uncle in Chicago for a year to learn English.
It was only at 19 that I returned to São Paulo. That was when I moved to the apartment of my dear grandmother in Bela Cintra Street, to this day my neighborhood in “my São Paulo.” It was there that I finally conquered the best the city had to offer, overcame my fears and managed to bring down all the walls separating me from the streets I wanted so much to take part. It became commonplace to walk through the city in the middle of the night with three or four friends, making the way from college in Pacaembu to downtown. Then, from Paulista Avenue to Consolação Street, passing by the famous Bar das Putas, offering the worst sandwich in the city but attracting at the time intellectual patrons that mixed with the sex workers that name it. By the way, only São Paulo can have a restaurant a few blocks from there named Sujinho. It became so successful that a branch was opened on the other side of the avenue. The name obviously was not what made the place a success.
It all came to my mind when I saw the picture, taken at Paulista Avenida with Frei Caneca Street, by Cannabrava. It shows a big city, filled with lights, nocturnal, happy and young. It all reflected such a familiar scene. The picture is recent but if it were not for the electronic gadgets, could have been my own past experience.