Above: The Catedral Metropolitano at the head of Sao Paulo's Praca Se.
Continuing our Brazilian adventure (see the posts below), yesterday we jumped on San Paulo’s modern, clean and efficient subway system and headed to see a church. It’s what tourists do, right?, visit the grand buildings that people build to honor their God.
My friend Mitch Finley would be proud of me, because the church we chose to visit was Catholic, the Catedral Metropolitana, which fronts the Praca da Se (visualize an accent over that e). Having walked through churches all over Europe, from London to Lublin, Poland, I have to say that a church designed in 1912 and inaugurated in 1950 isn’t exactly the kind of historic site that typically jump-starts the heart.
But it’s big. And the German-designed stained-glass windows are nice.
We walked around a bit more, and no doubt this part of Sao Paulo, the Centro Historico, is clearly relevant: The Praca da Se has been the site of many of public protest against government corruption, and the spot where a group of Jesuits founded what turned into the current metropolis is only a few blocks away.
Still, the overall atmosphere of the neighborhood is more than a bit dicey. The guidebook puts it this way: “The praca is always busy with hawkers, beggars, shoeshiners and businessmen rushing between meetings.” It also says to take care when taking photos that no one is following you.
The guidebook’s warning weren’t the half of it. It said nothing, for example, of the rows of homeless we saw lying on mats of cardboard next to a federal judicial building.
One of the guys wearing a Bob Marley-style knit cap, hearing us speak English, came up and kept rubbing his stomach, repeating maybe the only words in English that he knew: “You have money? You have money?”
I couldn’t deny it. The change I gave him may have amounted to a dollar or so. But the sounds that he made to his friends as we walked away made it seem as if he’d won the lottery. Or maybe he was mocking us. I’ll never know.
Anyway, we returned to that modern, clean and efficient subway, which took us back to our lives of privilege.