Rio is a beauty. But São Paulo – São Paulo is a city.
– Marlene Dietrich
Nicknamed “Sampa” – the title of a well-known Caetano Veloso song about the city, in which he admits that, “When I arrived here I didn’t understand the hard concrete poetry of your streets and the discreet casual beauty of your girls” – São Paulo does not have an immediately appealing aesthetic. It’s a place most people come for business; residents of the city, paulistanos, boast frequently of their work ethic, supposedly superior to what dominates the rest of Brazil, and speak contemptuously of the idleness of cariocas (in reply, cariocas joke sourly that paulistanos are simply incapable of enjoying anything – sex in particular).
Increasingly, though, visitors are also coming to São Paulo to play. Often described, not inaccurately, as “the New York of the tropics”, the city lays claim to having surpassed Rio as Brazil’s cultural centre, with a lively and varied programme of exhibitions and shows; its food is often excellent, in part thanks to immigrants from so many areas of the world and a new wave of imaginative cooks; its wide range of stores make it Latin America’s best place to shop; and its vibrant nightlife has put it firmly on the international clubbing map. With over 70 museums, 120 theatres, 50 parks, dozens of cinemas – and not forgetting 15,000 bars – you certainly have no excuse for being bored in São Paulo.