Wednesday, November 04, 2009

São Paulo - city with a future

The chocolate is melting and so am I. It is 34° and I am sitting beside a small pool on the roof of the 27th floor of my hotel. As far as I can see in almost every direction are buildings: a crenellation of 10s of thousands of high-rises. Their rooftops map an archipelago of suntrapping eyries, many of them inviting landing spots for helicopters.

São Paulo is a city with a future, confident of its ability to be the capitalist Mecca of the South American continent. Its infrastructure creaks under the strain of its 10s of millions of inhabitants, but its optimism propels it to meet and exceed expectations during the 2016 Olympics when the world's eyes will be on Brazil.

As we crawl along its sclerotic arteries driven by taxi drivers who can't read maps and rely on us, strangers, to give directions in their own city we witness a bank robbery, street urchins and rubbish recyclers pushing their carts alongside splendid temples to the banking system.

Brazil knows crises and thrives on them so, unaffected by the recession gripping the rest of the world, its burgeoning young population demanded the baubles that have satiated and bored the dwindling young population of the North.

At Frankfurt, my lovely Brazilian editor Otaclia - of the Brazilian edition of Hybrids - reports that she was was doing more deals than anyone from a northern publisher. The children of the huge middle class of Brazil need literature, and if publishers can't buy it from Europe or America they will buy it from India and China. The balance of power in the publishing houses of the world has shifted. American comics publishers seek Brazilian artists for their energy and hard work. Brought up on a diet of both Japanese manga and Marvel, they look both ways. There are more Japanese people in São Paulo than there are in the whole of Japan I was told. Can this be true? It's big enough.

The children are astonishing. St Nicholas British school in Sao Paolo has to be one of the best schools I have ever been to. English is a second language, but at all ages they are highly motivated and must be among the brightest kids on the planet for their age.

They ought to be - the school is well resourced and costs £1000 a month to attend. These sons and daughters of bankers and multinational executives are of many nationalities - Europeans, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Jewish, South African, Brazilian, with a few Indian, Muslim and the odd descendant of African slaves. The small campus crawls with security guards and technical staff who in radio contact with each other, shepherding students across the public road and into buses and cars.

The threat of kidnap and ransoming is high.

Greater Sao Paolo is reputedly the third largest city in the world: 30,000 sq km of buildings, with about 10% of the 20 million population living in makeshift favelas. But this area is one of gated communities, choked by jams of the latest models of cars, stress-fueled horns blaring in rush-hour.

I am running workshops on story-telling, journalism, and my own work, and when I give them exercises the students all complete them perfectly in good time - show me this in a UK schools, apart from the odd academy school.

Looking at their work books I notice immediately that teachers correct their English - grammar and spelling - in every case; something considered discouraging in UK education, but which I consider vitally important. If children are not taught these things how can they be equipped to be fully articulate? Is the language not the blood of a culture? Infected by misuse can it flow smoothly?

Next week I am in another school - St Paul's. This will be larger, and I look forward to seeing how different it will be. Otacilia promises to take me to a 'normal' school for comparison. The wonderful Otaclia promises me many things: guided tours, a party, introductions to environmentalists trying to make the world a better place, art galleries, and a publishing deal. In a couple of weeks we go to a bookfair together in Porto Alegre, where I am to give a talk on science fiction and surrealism. This is very exciting.

Having collaborated by e-mail for 18 months, I meet penciller/inker Felipe Cunha and his colourist George at my hotel for the first time. It's as if we have known each other for years. Over iced beers we discuss the challenge of surviving and succeeding in a city so huge you are less than nothing. Felipe lives two hours outside the city -- he came by bus, Metro and bus. Where his parents moved to 20 years ago was then trees. Now a favela has sprung up just five minutes away -- the rural desperate pursuing their own dreams to find themselves trapped in the double net of poverty and prejudice.

Over an excellent Italian meal the three of us plan escapades and promise to meet again on Friday night at a party at the city's best comics store, thankful, as everyone is, for whoever invented air-conditioning.

1 comment:

Diego Remus said...

Hello, David!

That's good to hear from you. Let's meet up, yes! I'll write you an email.