I looked more like a cat, sprawled on the rug.
It was late morning of the leaden January 25th, 2004, the 450th anniversary of the city of São Paulo.
Three years earlier, the already-elected-but-not-yet-inaugurated Mayor of São Paulo, Marta Suplicy, had called me to repurpose the spaces of Matarazzo building, as to set there the mayor’s cabinet and all city secretariats.
It was long, rewarding and hard work. Finally, the day before the opening, I set each thing in its place. The rug, the furniture, the pictures, the flags, and went home to get some sleep. The next morning, I arrived early and walked the whole building by myself.
Upon entering the empty cabinet, in daylight, I noticed the rug was covered in threads and piles – even expected, for a new rug.
I think they had forgotten to vacuum-clean it. And I, obviously, would never find a vacuum cleaner at that time.
I did not hesitate: got down to the floor and started picking out piles, which were never-ending.
After a while, I tilted my face up slowly and noticed the drapes swaying, as someone who wants to squeeze out through the French door, ajar.
With a fixed gaze, seeing the city of São Paulo through the drape material, I recalled my father, Gregório. He had passed a while earlier. Although he would have preferred me to follow in his footsteps into the weaving mill he had founded, he had always respected and supported my choice to go a different way.
I thought he would have been proud to know his son had worked in the project for the new head office of São Paulo City Hall, a city he always loved, defended, and thought of as the best place in the world to live.
The city that welcomed him after the great suffering experienced in the World War. He had been born and raised in a small hamlet set deep in Poland, whose name was impossible to pronounce, Koprzywnica.
My grandparents owned a small mill and lived with their four children – my father, a brother and two sisters.
When the war broke out, they paid their neighbors bags of flour to hide them– the parents in the basement of one house, the children, in another’s.
One evening, from the basement where they stayed for more than three years, under the bed of the lady who sheltered them, the children overheard a conversation and learned that their parents had been executed in the village, that very afternoon.
(Years later, on a trip to Poland, I found the little town, the mill, the house, the basement, the documents, the people and my history).
World War II ended, and the four siblings crossed some countries in Central Europe before settling in Italy.
Years later, in search of a new life, they disembarked at the port of Santos, in a country they did not know, but that – so they had heard –, was a country of opportunities, the country of the future.
My father was asked: Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo? He wanted to know: “Whichever is less hot?”
The young man who answered him could never know the importance of his reply.
Suddenly, the double door to the mayor’s cabinet opens and there walks in, decidedly, Marta Suplicy, followed by a few of her secretaries. Surprised, she stops and smiles upon seeing me stretched on the floor, picking out loose cotton threads.
I had a pleased gaze, lost across the drapes dancing through the French doors.
Folha de S.Paulo
November 27th, 2011
Today, when the dry cleaner comes and asks “Do you have clothes to be cleaned?”, I will lie and say “No, not today, sir…”
Last time I sent my clothes for cleaning after a Radiohead performance, the next day I saw the dry cleaner return with a certain melancholy written on his face… Their music impregnates even your clothes. It won’t come off. Immediately after the show, it is impossible to even turn on the radio in your car. Talking to somebody, not a chance… Depending on who is with you then, that is a great excuse.
The next morning you still get up feeling uplifted, wondering: what is that, that came over me so strongly? But anyone who boils these feelings down to melancholy alone completely misses the point. This is just one of the countless chills you feel when you listen to them live.
And, at each song, the journey takes you to different places. You will fatally fall in love with their work, provided the places their music takes you to are those you would like to eventually be, to eventually know… Otherwise, you will not like it.
The music is magical, enigmatic, stabbing, daring. The band performs exactly as they are off-stage. No affectation, fads, frivolities. They do not put up any pretense.
They go there, send their massage and, alas, go away. And they are generous. Over two hours of all that, with a mixture in the exact measure of sound, lighting and image. One complementing the other. Light and image at the service of music. Nothing is there without a reason, merely to grab your attention. Everything in the right measure, elegant. An impeccable, unforgettable, performance.
It is hard to highlight any one particular song (despite my passion for “Videotape”). Not even the older seem out of place in the overall context of the show. Thom Yorke, charming genius, excellent singer and absurdly charismatic, leads you with confidence and a bit of satisfaction to another dimension. Afterwards, it is very difficult to come back… Our real world here is a lot duller.
I just get a bit annoyed when I read Radiohead is a rock band. Being just a rock band is certainly no small deed, but they go way beyond that. Way beyond…
Evidently, these feelings are quite particular. They will touch one, but not the other. All I am trying is to say that this group of five guys, school mates, got together and blended lyrics, music, technique, performance, light and image in a way that disquiets me, upsets me.
It is art. Pure, quintessential. A punch in the stomach. Ed, Colin, Jonny, Phil and Thom, I am led to believe, conspired with the purpose of making me levitate with their music. And I, from high above, see a crowd leaving the show late at night… at peace. Happy.
Folha de S.Paulo
March 24th, 2009
“Living well” may have several different meanings… For those who have never had the chance of even a roof over their heads, “living well” may be simply “having a good mattress”. For those who have had all chances, the concept of “living well” changes over life. At first, the nursery, the mother’s taste, the children sameness. Afterwards, the first desires, the colors, the place to play. Later on, the first symptoms of a personality, the bedroom becomes a private small world, the madness. As we grow up, we start accumulating – the records, the books, the stuff. We start realizing those are the things that translate us. Our homes become a clutter of memories; we start collecting objects, art, useless things. “Living well” no longer fits into our space. We feel the need to show off, to entertain people at home, to expand the family.
All in all, to have more space. Everything is so large the mis-encounters become more often, loneliness increases, the void becomes unbearable. We mature, the meaning of “living well” continues changing. We are no longer that happy about getting lost within our own homes. We approach the last stretch of life, and we have an urge to synthesize, to throw everything away, to divest, to search for our essence, to be free… at last. At that point, “living well” means being in the smallest space possible, keeping only that one piece that summarizes the whole collection. It means the plain white wall. It is then that it becomes clear we do not actually need much. Nothing much really, besides a good mattress.
Revista Joyce Pascowitch
São Paulo is a city you cross.
If you are by car, you’ll probably have your windows closed.
Keep them rolled up and try to see the city or, in any case, what’s left of it, while listening to a soundtrack. Nowadays, anyone has 2 wires hanging off their ears.
If you are going past Jardins and cannot see any house because of the walls and the fences, listen to Diário de um Detento, by Racionais Mc’s.
As you stop at a traffic light and watch the people crossing the street, listen to Nino Rota, and you will realize it is not necessary to be Italian to be Fellinian.
If your look wanders off to that group of hobos sitting on the floor, listen to Esther Ofarim singing Earthquake.
When driving past Ibirapuera Park, it is mandatory to play any CD by Dalgas Frisch. Otherwise, you might not hear anything at all.
If you go past Bixiga, you will certainly hear Domenico Modugno, even with the windows rolled up. Yet, if you are in Liberdade, do not listen to Sakamoto. There is no fit.
In case you feel harassed by the beggars as you stop at another traffic light (and the previous traffic light’s Nino Rota has already finished), try listening to Bernard Herrmann – and take advantage to swallow a Lexotan all along.
If you will go up the Minhocão, listen to anything. It does not matter.
If, all of a sudden, you woke up on that day to be happy, listen to the soundtrack of the movie The Next Best Thing. Not even the ugliness of the city will make you unhappy then.
I you have a bit of humor, try listening to Hanna Aroni at 25 de Março and to the wonderful Warda in Higienópolis.
If you divert from your route and take the Marginal, remember Cry me a River, but prefer Chora um Rio, the intelligent version by Arthur Nestrovsky.
Rita Lee does not count. It is cowardice. She goes with any moment of the city, anywhere, anytime. She will never be an obvious choice.
Yet, do not listen to Sampa at that intersection, nor to Trem das Onze in Jaçanã.
As you go past Edifício Itália, forget Peppino di Capri and remember Tom Zé.
If you are driving close to Ladeira da Memória, do not be tempted to rid of your car and lose your course. Listen to Zecarlos Ribeiro’s music and go down to Anhangabaú Valley.
As you cross the Latin America Memorial, avoid Mercedes Sosa. Chopin suits it better. The march, for sure.
In case you love the dazzling Brazilian-Mediterranean architecture, choose Mikis Theodorakis. If you drool over the Neo-classical, try Arvo Pärt. He is far better than our buildings.
If the traffic keeps you driving in circles, listen to Yes, but also listen to F. Lemarque, and understand the reason Jacques Tati is a citizen of the world.
If they come sell you flowers, try to quickly synchronize the offer with the verse “compre-me este ramito…”. Sarita Montiel would never say.
Yet, if you really want to feel strong thrills, pump up the sound of your car stereo to full blast and play 4’33”, by John Cage. Open all windows, step down on the accelerator, take a good look at our dear São Paulo and let in the fresh air and the morning sun…
Folha de S.Paulo
September 28th, 2007
Luxury in architecture is not different from luxury in life.
Luxury is having what makes you happy at home.
Luxury are spaces that make you take a deep breath, that amaze you, that make you think, find it strange, that move you…
It is possible to try to be happy with the minimum, get rid of all excesses, yet, if for you the least must be the most, then stay with the most. Luxury is having no rules.
Luxury is not owning “Bombé”, “Délavé” or “Flambé” furniture, but it might as well be. Luxury is not being ashamed of saying I like it when you like it or I don’t know when you don’t know. Luxury is not having a collection of famous brands, yet it is not the basic white T-shirt, either. Luxury is being able to mix these things naturally.
It is not owing anyone anything.
The pillow might be stuffed with goose down or horse mane. Luxury is being able to rest your head on it, peacefully.
To some, luxury may be buying a first-class ticket. To me, it is gobbling down a quarter pounder with cheese at the airport before boarding, instead of eating the hideous food that is served.
Luxury is being able to change your plans at any moment.
It is to be independent, unchained, free. It is to say no, it is to say yes, it is to say maybe, whenever you want.
It is to linger a little longer, if you feel like.
Luxury is to sit by the fireplace at dusk, in Winter, wearing a threadbare cashmere sweater, a pair of Scottish socks with some holes in them, a small plain glass full of cachaça, a cocker spaniel by your side, and a never-ending CD by Blossom Dearie. That might be in the English countryside, yet, with the passing of time and the onset of maturity, we realize it may also be in São Paulo’s countryside.
And that perception is truly a luxury.
Vogue Brasil. n.313. 2004
Sometimes it rains, sometimes it is sunny. There are moments you want to be alone; at others you do not. There are days you feel more like McDonald’s than foie gras. Sometimes we want to walk, other times ride a bike. Sometimes you would like to go out with the right person, other times you must go out with the wrong one. There are certain days we are dying to have some cachaça, other days, too. Sometimes we wake up feeling like listening to Dalida, and we fall asleep to Arvo Pärt. Other times it is the other way around. There are days we want to be just in our trunks. Others, not even in our trunks. One day we think Sao Paulo is very ugly. Other days, too. Some times we want to go around singing, other times we realize how ridiculous it is. Once we love, another time we do not. Now, if you are walking, with the right person, on a sunny day, listening to Chris Montez…, all of these together, mixed this way…, this might be happiness. Yet, if you prefer to ride your bike in the rain, with the wrong person, listening to Arvo Pärt in Sao Paulo, that also might be happiness. In life, each of us mixes these ingredients as we please. That’s where the fun lies.
Only Christo Might Save São Paulo’s Architecture
In addition to being the ugliest, São Paulo takes the cake as the most fun city I know. Its major joke is its architecture. An architecture that no longer thrills, yet, incredibly enough, still communicates: it is so ridiculous it makes one laugh. Evidently, it is not the clever smile, yet the easy laughter. Starting from its various architectural styles: utopist, vernacular, post-modernist, bureaucratic, erotic, messianic, fundamentalist, cybernetic, neo-fascist, metaphysical, etc., architecture, in São Paulo , closely resembles Epcot Center’s – in the bad sense, that is.
Here, there are also buildings representative of civilized countries. There are the French- inspired and named, neoclassical in style, that make their dwellers feel as if in Paris. Nothing better than to leave one of their flats to enter one of those restaurants bearing a French name and continue imagining, inside, that something resembling French food is served within.
Still in this wonderland, we see the sober and elegant façades of English-style buildings. We have the clear feeling of being in London. If your building is located close to Roosevelt Square, try to walk there, and you will certainly feel in Hampstead Heath. The only problem might lye in the fact not a single tulip can be found in the place – yet, after all, who needs them?
If your building, in its turn, is located in the Jardins area, walk to Marginal Pinheiros freeway, trying to figure the window in your building from which Turner used to paint. Not to mention the “designer” buildings, any Maison by some international couturier, perfect for those wearing Pucci, Ricci, or Gucci, whose architecture can be worse than its haut-couture models.
Yet, for those who were already fed up with the round corners of the Mediterranean-style buildings which overwhelmed our city, now pay attention to the proliferation of jutting buildings, in which there is not a single straight-angled wall. Bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens and bathrooms are now full of corners, chamfered walls, and juts. All furniture must be designed to fit those triangular spaces. Cut-crystal glasses and clothes purchased at outlet shops are welcome. If the dwellers are privileged enough, they will see one of these new and accurate street clocks – also beveled in shape – placed in front of their apartment, perfectly matching their building’s architecture.
Prince Charles of England, who had already demonstrated all his sensibility when picking Rita Lee as his favorite rock singer, has wisely made his contribution against modern architecture by saying: “If a building cannot express itself, how can we understand it?”
Sometimes, poor architecture tries to express itself, but there seems to be no-one willing to hear. Let’s just look at the cosmetic operation clinics around the city. All it takes is for us to pay attention to their hideous banners. What will those surgeons not do to the face of the ladies seeking them, once they were able to do such atrocities to the façades of their own clinics?
There are also those works of art who want to say something, but just cannot, or those whose projects do speak out – but only say non-sense. In those cases, the solution would be to request the city’s Historic Heritage Council to continue, in addition to assigning historical value to buildings worth preserving, to tear down all the rest, in the literal sense of the word.
If, at the end, that is not possible, all that is left to do is pray. Ask Christo to save us. The Bulgarian, evidently.
Folha de S.Paulo
August 27th, 1991