Piauí, a monthly Brazilian news magazine, recently published an article about Praça República entitled Boceta de Pandora or “Pandora’s Cunt.” A bit extreme. Praça República isn’t the safest or the nicest place in Sao Paulo, but it’s got more than its solid share of charms: pedestrian only streets, cafes, a vibrant community of African immigrants, hippies selling handmade jewelry, tattoos and a tree filled praça. Drugs, bootleg DVDs, prostitution- it’s got those too. But in general everything is kept respectful. You can walk your kid through here during daylight hours. Even the guys selling knock off sneakers take no for an answer (the second time). On sunny Saturday Praça República and the areas around it are nice place to be.
But Praça da Sé is not Praça República.
Sé never feels comfortable, no matter the weather. Stepping out of the Sé metro station sets people on edge, and it should. Sé feels like a rabid animal taking a nap in the sun, even at rest there is something wrong with it. Of all the Metro stations, only Estação da Luz feels closer to the edge of the pit of humanity. Sé is only two stops away from Luz and from the shade provided by its rows of grey palm trees one can see down all the roads from which there is no easy return.
Sé is anchored by the Sao Paulo Palace of Justice and the Cathedral of Sao Paulo. Of the two the cathedral looms largest. It defies light; either refusing to cast a shadow, leaving the guys selling 3 for 5 Kit Kat bars and pen drives to burn in the sun, or engulfing the space entirely in early night. Despite the feeling of unease that coats this place, the praça is always full. People just seem to mill about in this place. Puffy eyed men, young men with dirty ankles, the occasional woman with mismatched flip flops. There are others, passers by, taxi drivers, even the occasional student group. But there is a presence, a near permanent occupation by people, manly men, who seem to lack alternative destinations.
I asked a friend why the constant crowd and she told me that there were restaurants near by with “popular priced” lunches. Meaning that hungry people can get a hot meal for as little 2 or 3 Reais or less than a dollar. I’m glad there is a pace where people can eat for so little money and I thank god I’ve never known real hunger. Yet even knowing this, I still can’t find a warm thought for this place. I know why. In the faces of some of these men I see everything I’m afraid of. I know none of them dreamed of being homeless and destitute. None of them dreamed of having no place to shower. They all dreamed of being somebody. What makes me different? What makes me immune to failure? I’m old enough now to know that the answer to those questions is nothing at all.
Note: All photos taken with Pentax Sportmatic 35mm with B&W Film