As every pet owner and parent discovers, no two pets — or children — are alike, and so, in a similar way, no two days of Viva Brazil! are exactly alike either. On this, our third day, the participant number was way down (only 10 out of 25 showed up at departure time), “decimated,” as it were, by the “ravages” of travel: little or poor sleep, changed diet, not enough – or too much – diet, unfamiliar surroundings, stress, and perhaps the occasional indiscretions of youth.
Today’s walking tour, led by our fearless and intrepid teacher and colleague, Dr Ilka, was focused on seeing some of the landmarks of São Paulo culture – its most historic, cultural and artistic buildings and parks. First stop was the oldest train station in SP, the Estacao da Luz (Luz train station), housing its famous Portuguese Language Museum. Inside the station we soon discovered an old upright piano in the middle of a central room, in decrepit condition, of course, but still playable (mostly) and lovingly painted in bright Brazilian colors. The odd passerby would plink a few notes on it, not even sitting at the available bench, so of course, with four pianists as adult group leaders, someone was going to step up to the plate! Without hesitation, Ms. Miruka seized the moment and launched into Brazilian Zequinha de Abreu’s 1917 showpiece Toco-Tico no Fubá – with all the strains and repeats! We three remaining pianists also took turns at the keyboard, in order: Jose Cubela presented a very convincing rendition of Chopin’s Minute Waltz, Dr A gave an energetic presentation of local Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth’s raggy Odeon, and yours truly performed a truncated variant of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, I. The sorry truth was that the piano was in such bad physical (many central keys not playing!) and acoustic shape that it was a real challenge to play or project ANYTHING well. We all did our best, of course!
Once that exciting moment passed, we gave the very impressive Luz station a final once-over before stepping back outside and across the street to the Parque da Luz opposite. Along the way we sadly noted a number of homeless people sleeping on the street next to the station.
From the Americanized music and presence of many vintage-era classic cars – Volkswagen beetles and vans, 50’s-era Chevies, even a mint-condition vanilla-colored Nash – it was clear there was a festival of some type going on in the street in front of the park. Very lively and fun. The park itself was lush, humid and warm, with jack fruit and bamboo trees in abundance. There was an impressive monument to Garibaldi, the “Hero of Two Worlds” (Italy and Brazil), and a very interesting outdoor fitness area with concrete weights – which we of course had to try out!
After our visit to Parque da Luz, we were ready for some mate gelada, a very refreshing cool drink similar to our iced tea. At the end of the street, and across from the Luz Station, sits the Pinacoteca, SP’s upscale modern art museum. Though we didn’t have time to visit, we did get there in time to get a few pics with the “King” himself – the local Elvis impersonator, standing out in front of it – and at no charge! He was just having a lot of fun. Did he look like Elvis? In the clothes, yes…
From here we all braced ourselves and headed south into the center of São Paulo – with the first neighborhood we passed through being nice, but perhaps a bit too intensely urban for our little band of naïve gringos. The key word here was circumspect. As Dr. A reminded us, in this part of town we just had to take a bit more precaution with our multiple cell phones, purses, wallets and other valuables – which we did, so there was not a problem. After a leisurely lunch at a delightful all-you-can-eat place called Churrascaria Garrote, we set off again, though now in a light rain.
The lion’s share of Ilka’s Great Adventure, as it came to be called, was yet to come. But have no doubt: all of it was spent on foot, wandering, looking, seeking, discovering and covering as much ground as possible throughout central SP. Along the way we saw a great deal, including: SP’s “opera house” (called the Municipal Theatre); a multi-storied trip through the Light Shopping Mall, where numerous Christmas Santas still greet visitors; the main downtown Correio (post office), where we were lucky to catch, on a Sunday before 5 o’clock (!), the very last day of an excellent 3-room photography exhibit on German ship emigration and commerce to/from Brazil in the 20th century. Hence the notable presence of a German community in the country to this day. I especially noted activity and travel events during the years 1928 – 1931, the time when some of my father’s and grandfather’s family lived in SP and Montevideo, Uruguay. After even more extended peregrinations, we had one more treat in store: a view inside the darkly beautiful Mosteiro São Bento (monastery of…), with all its medieval gloom and a service going on – including a magnificent postlude played on their big pipe organ!
After that, our happy but totally exhausted little band was ready for the return metro ride and walk to hostel and hotel. But not before pizza and a caipirinha! Ciao!