“Sampa, as it’s affectionately known, was once called 'the ugliest, most dangerous city you’ll ever love' by the New York Times.”
Rio has the reputation and Brasilia has the Neimeyer, but Brazil would be a pretty tropical also-ran on the world stage if not for mighty São Paulo. The city is among humankind’s largest, and its metro is home to just over 20 million people. It’s also geographically enormous – people swear they can see it unfold along the curvature of the earth as they fly overhead. It has been the epicenter of the country’s epic economic rise, and by most measures it is the most important city in all of Latin America and undoubtedly the most important lusophone city anywhere. Its gritty, populist politics and will prove a litmus test for this century’s post-Snowden democracy, and its soft power prowess should help improvements in its massive income disparities.
Sampa, as it’s affectionately known, was once called “the ugliest, most dangerous city you’ll ever love” by the New York Times, and there is still more than a kernel of truth to the assessment. While it remains known for its grey, indifferent architecture and colossal favelas, there’s a design renaissance afoot, with a new generation pushing forward while drawing on Brazil’s rich aesthetic history. And there is vast – vast – amounts of money here, which has in turn fostered a wildly exclusive shopping scene that could even make Milan blush. As elsewhere in the country, its food is positively extraordinary and despite its modernity, just enough idyllic Brazil romance peeks through that it remains vibrant and full of character all its own.
For our 8th and, sadly, final Go Explore City Guide, we take a little tour of this massive metropolis with renaissance man and São Paulo son, Marcelo Baldin.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your work.
My name is Marcelo Baldin, I’m a musician and art director, working mostly in advertising. After working for several agencies I decided to work full-time with music and sound design — both with my own studio and on advertising and art projects. I also have some side gigs, like Omega Code. I lived a short bit in Milan and Paris, but I’m back in my chaotic home city of São Paulo.
How’s life in São Paulo?
São Paulo is a city of extremes. Like any other megacity, life here is pretty fast and doesn’t allow for much time to relax. Somehow São Paulo is the most time-consuming city that I’ve ever been to (even more than NY), which makes stress levels go through the roof! In Brazil, the city is know for its workforce and has the nickname of “Brazil’s locomotive,” as most industries and companies are here. Although the city is very crowded, it’s not as packed-feeling as NY or Tokyo, because the city is huge geographically. When my friends from abroad come to visit, the first thing they say is that they can’t see the end of it when landing in the airport.
Beyond the chaos, Sao Paulo offers plenty of opportunities and entertainment. Practically all major music names come to São Paulo during their tours. We have big festivals, nice football, F1 racing, expos, museums… What’s more, we have amazing restaurants, too, including 2 of the world’s top 50.
The only downside is that the city is not totally safe from harm and during the past few years we’ve been experiencing a serious rising of prices, making the it a very expensive place to live.
What brought you here? When did you first arrive?
Well, since I was born here — in the most important city of the Southern Hemisphere (not to brag or anything!) – I’ve had all my needs fulfilled: education, work, entertainment, good food. In 2006 I moved to Milan, then in 2007 to Paris, aiming for a different experience in life. It was a good period, but Sao Paulo drew me back and since then I’m experiencing more and more here.
Where’s the best breakfast in town?
Here in Brazil we have something called “Café Colonial,” which is a variation of the traditional brunch and comes with a variety of dishes. Even though it’s more popular in the south of the country, here in São Paulo we have some good places like As Noviças, in the Moema neighbourhood (although this one opens late). If you prefer a regular breakfast, you can go to Benjamin Abrahão, which is a well known bakery in the Jardins area, highly rated by costumers and guides. Sao Paulo has good bakeries all around.
How about your favorite coffee spot?
São Paulo is an amazing city for coffee. As Brazil produces 1/3 of the world’s coffee, we surely have nice places to enjoy a nice espresso. The best place is Coffee Lab, where they have their own beans and method of serving. There’s also the Santo Grão, which is famous in Sao Paulo and have different addresses. Sometimes I go to Cristallo where they also have a nice “bomba de Baileys,” which is a traditional Brazilian sweet stuffed with Baileys’ cream.
Do you have a secret hideout anywhere in the city?
Tough call. What is secret in a city with 11 million people? There are some good small places to go to drink and listen to jazz or brazilian music, like Jazz nos Fundos or JazzB. The city offers good parks, or even the cool Saturday morning fleamarket at Praça Benedito Calixto, but if I really want a peaceful time, I get out of the city. One hour’s drive and I am on the shore, or if driving the other direction, in a very calm valley.
Which is your favorite neighborhood?
There are 2 areas that I really like in the city:
Ibirapuera is where I live, which includes Moema, Vila Clementino and Vila Mariana — all them surrounding the city’s main park. It’s the greenest area in the city, has easy transportation and a bit of everything.
Vila Madalena is a great neighbourhood, which has a very interesting creative hub for young people. Several bars, studios, art galleries, graffitis, coffees — a bit like Wlliamsburg in NY, but with a different flavor. The downside is that the streets are pretty confusing.
Where do you go (and what do you drink) on a weekend night out?
Veloso has the best caipirinha in the city. It’s freaking packed! So you need to get there early or else you will have to wait a long time to get a seat, but when you get a table and taste their drinks and eat their snacks (coxinhas and bolinhos de arroz are a must!) you forget the time you waited.
What sets Sampa apart from any other city on earth?
São Paulo is an extreme city, for better or for worse. A famous American music producer, Roy Cicala (who passed away here in SP just this January), compared Sao Paulo to a 1970s version of NYC, which I think fits perfectly. Still, it has Brazilian peculiarities. But what I really love here in São Paulo is the food. Paris may be famous for its restaurants, but the good food there is focused on the chefs and fancy dishes. São Paulo offers a larger variety and has an amazing quality for all ranges and prices. Maybe what keeps me here in Sampa is my stomach!
What should you pack for a summer trip to the city?
If you want to visit São Paulo during summer, you should be aware of the heavy rains we have here during the afternoons. So bring an umbrella. During summer it is usually over 30ºC, so light clothes are a must – but don’t get too casual. Although we have our traditional Brazilian Havaianas, I don’t recommend using them the city. Paulistanos don’t use them when going out, only on the beach (which is 70km from here) or in the parks.