01 February 2009

In Country: Pousada Dona Zilah

We have been staying at the Pousada Dona Zilah in the Jardim (garden) District of Sao Paulo. This is a toney neighborhood southwest of downtown. The first two nights were a bit unpleasant because we were placed in a noisy room directly facing the street, which is busy, and with beds that seemed to be alive with animals, which were bed bugs. Gross, I know.

So I asked (twice) to be moved and my persistence paid off as last night we got a good night's sleep, thankfully in a room relatively free of insects. The staff here are pleasant enough, although they have a habit of acting like they only speak Portuguese and then, in the middle of a raggedy conversation in which I am botching every single verb conjugation possible, they break into English. "Ohhhh, you speak English," I say in relief. Invariably, the staffer just nods with a slight smile. Perhaps they enjoy watching an American squirm. From their perspective, I am sure it is very funny since my Portuguese is really bad. I am talking muito malo.

As for the neighborhood, David claims to hate it. It's too swanky for him. I choose it, however, because the guide book I'm using (Lonely Planet Brazil) says Sao Paulo is dangerous, and I didn't want to lose my shirt, my daughter or my life in this city. Hence, we're situated in swank. And it's about as different from the favelas of Belo Horizonte as any neighborhood could be. The ultra-rich who live here fly helicoptors to work rather than drive. You think I'm kidding? Check this out: http://www.ainonline.com/news/single-news-page/article/sao-paulo-the-worlds-helicopter-capital/ .

And I have just learned of a newly published novel entitled Heliopolis by James Scudamore which illuminates those differences. Unfortunately books written in English are hard to come by in Brasil and I have not read much Brasilian literature since I arrived. I have scoured book stores in Belo, Campinas, Curitiba and Sao Paulo. If a book store has an English section, the titles are of the Danielle Steele ilk. And I have also scoured used book stores. In most cases, there is one lonely shelf dedicated to English titles. These, too, are often in the harlequin genre and, more often, conveniently placed next to pornography, which seems to diminish the pleasure in used book browsing, if you know what I mean.

While I'm on the topic of books, I did encounter something pretty interesting today while using the subway: a vending machine which only sold books. There it was. William Shakespeare next to Excel manuals; the Brasilian Federal Constitution adjacent to Neitzsche. And they were pretty cheap, usually for less than $15 heis (about $7 bucks U.S.). Apparently the Lula government is really trying to emphasize literacy, and enabling the citizenry to select E7 for sonnets is one way to meet their objective. Alas, all of the titles were in Portuguese so I did not partake.

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