“Ladies and gentleman, we shall shortly be landing at Sao Paulo International airport where the local time is…”
Baaaaaaang…The guy sitting next to me, who was an experienced aviation consultant, went a sickly white colour and gripped my arm in what I hope was a paternal show of support, “there goes the undercarriage…”
Even I winced as there was a sickening metal on metal sound that one doesn’t really want to associate with commercial airline travel. The Brazilians all around me, instead of the traditional round of applause which greets every homecoming, reached for their bibles and began crossing themselves hastily. We did manage to taxi halfway down the runway before the captain decided that his day wasn’t going to get any better than this and a fleet of buses were dispatched to drive us to the terminal. As I emerged into the hazy light of a dreamy Saturday morning I tried to ignore the large collection of metallic fragments scattered along the taxiway and concentrated on the wonderful feeling of being back on Brazilian soil.
As I worked my way through formalities, I let the old familiar sounds and smells wash back over me. By the time I had collected my luggage and had my passport stamped my mind had made the small jump back into Portuguese and I felt terribly at home once again. As I looked for my friend who had so nobly agreed to pick me at after my red eye (and brown trouser) flight from the UK, I thought back at the strange chain of events which had lead me back to the place I often feel most at home in after leaving ‘for good’ a few weeks previous…
I had been in a weekly sales meeting for my new company, sitting at the back of the room as I normally do, idly drawing up a list of places I would like to go and not really listening to the person giving the pep talk. Through the haze I heard the magic words ‘Brasil’, ‘opportunity’ and ‘immediate’ and before anyone else had a chance to respond I leapt out my seat and shouted, “Meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” Things had then happened so quickly that before I really knew what was going on I was standing on the tarmac under a tropical sun and remembering the old maxim of any landing you can walk away from is a good one.
As surprising as it may seem I had never been to Sao Paulo. I had been to the airport countless times and had even passed through the bus terminal a few times on the way to somewhere else, but I had never really dived into the city to any great extent. I had always planned to go, purely for the reason that not only is it such a strategically important city, but the Brazilians always refer to it as a megalopolis, which to me sounds exceedingly cool if not inspirational.
The extent of the megalopolis, however, wasn’t really evident as we zipped through the early morning traffic. It was only when I had finally checked into the hotel and stood in the rooftop bar with an early morning beer in my hand did the sheer magnitude of the city hit me. In every direction as far as the eye could see were high rise buildings. Some were new, some were old, some were glittering in the light and some looked like they were about to fall down. They were all cramped together like trees in a rainforest jostling for light. I wasn’t sure if it was the most inspiringly awesome sight I had ever seen or one of the saddest, but without a doubt it was certainly mesmerising.
The locals will tell you that Sao Paulo is only the third greatest city in the world (I seriously doubt this) after New York and Mexico City. For my money, and after many happy experiences in both Mexico and NY, Sao Paulo is in a different league and the most visually stimulating place on earth. Visually saturated, I grabbed my note book and went to see the city from street level.
Outside my hotel was a concrete monstrosity by Brazilian legend Oscar Neidameyer under which I found a taxi driven by the unlikely named driver Archimedes Lombardo, who was as insane as the name might suggest. No sooner had I told him I wanted to see the city than we were off, hurtling against the oncoming traffic at relativistic speeds.
“Archimedes, that light was red.”
“Ah, don’t worry, but did you see that girl’s bottom. Nossa…”
“Archimedes, this street is one way…”
“I am only going one way.”
“Yes, the wrong one.”
And so it went on and I didn’t really see all the things I wanted to because I was too busy trying to peel myself of the seat and keep up with Sr. Lombardo’s conversation (most of which concerned the disgraceful state of the Brazilian energy system and bottoms). He picked me up a few days later on my way to a meeting at the British Embassy and managed to detain me for almost an hour (“Don’t worry, I am sure the ambassador will wait.”) because I made this mistake of asking him about football. Like most things in Sao Paulo he was much larger than life, completely endearing and probably unique.