If there was ever a city that epitomised the term ‘concrete jungle’ then Sao Paulo would be it. The biggest city in the southern hemisphere, ‘Sampa’ is home to nearly 20 million people and an endless sea of skyscrapers. From a height, the metropolis looks a bit like it is made from lego. It’s a sprawling beast of a city, but focussing on a couple of interesting barrios makes a visit a bit more manageable. Paulistanos (as the locals call themselves) are a mixed bunch, with large immigrant communites of Italians, Japanese, Koreans and Arabs added to an already diverse Brazilian population. This international stew makes Sao Paulo a great place to eat - pizza, yakisoba, ramen, kimchi and falafel are all authentic here.
A lot of people write off Sao Paulo as dirty, grimy, dangerous and just too big to bother. But I saw it in a different light: gritty, cosmopolitan and buzzing. It is an epicentre of creative talent, and the beating heart of Brazil’s cutting edge music, art, design, fashion, food and style scenes. The best way to know if there’s interesting creative stuff going on in a city is to check the walls. If there’s (decent) graffiti around, that’s generally an indication to me that there is some kind of alternative, underground scene bubbling away somewhere. Sao Paulo is a prime example of this. There are some awesomely talented graffiti artists based here, many with unique, illustrative styles. Their work is difficult to miss. And all the graffiti is a symptom of an exciting creative scene. Vila Madalena in particular is a hotbed of independent galleries, design stores, vintage shops, fashion boutiques, graffiti alleys, bars, restaurants, cafes and clubs.
I have a theory: that avant-garde culture thrives better in colder climates. Cities in warm climates tend to be less conducive to culture incubation because heat makes people less productive. When it is hot, people prefer to be outside, at the beach, in a hammock, basically doing nothing but relaxing. On the other hand, colder climates keep people indoors for longer, keeping them busy and encouraging productivity. Sao Paulo is the kind of city that lends weight to this theory. On average it is about five degrees colder than Rio, but the trade off can be seen in the kind of cutting edge culture each city hosts. Sao Paulo trumps Rio hands down. While the Cariocas of Rio are sunning themselves on the beach, the Paulistanos of Sao Paulo are busy working, creating, collaborating. If Rio was the body of Brazil, then Sao Paulo would be the brains.
And in case you’re looking for further proof, other avant-garde hubs like New York, Montreal, Tokyo, London, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Berlin and Melbourne all tend to be located in cooler latitudes. Just a theory.