Sao Paulo lives on the street socially. The apartment blocks, ‘vertical villages’, have meeting rooms for parties and so on, and you chat to your neighbours in the lift and the lobby, but spontaneous social intercourse is much more likely on the street. You may have exchanges at the taxi rank or ponto (if you can tear them away from their chat, their water coolers, their telephones and their TVs – yes, even at the taxi rank), at the paderia or delicatessen, even at the shop where you bought something. I shook hands warmly with la patronne at the local upholstery shop as I went by.  Good to see that her advertising is bearing fruit.

Soft tree bearing fruit

Beggars ply their trade, some with crutches which are clearly props, some just as clearly physically less able. People – mostly men, but some women too – sleep on the street by day or by night. They may be destitute – it’s the habit for the better-off to give them small-denomination notes, both philosophical about their stations in life. The less destitute may use a handcart to collect cardboard, wood or metal for recycling. They tend to sleep under their carts at night, singly, in couples, or with a dog. Many of them are from the north-east, drawn to Sampa by the prospect of paying work. Prostitutes work at stretches of road where traffic jams are frequent. I’ve even seen eggs being fried in a well-used spot outside the local supermarket, and a portable stove in use on a central reservation.

View from the under-storey – folded cardboard on a handcart foreground

If you sell fruit and vegetables and there’s street renovation going on, you set up around the corner until it’s finished.

Road works and  displaced  street trader, Rua Sumidouro

Other trades work on the street too. Sellers of bottled gas make their rounds with a specific, musical fanfare, hauntingly repeated. Street traders are not restricted to markets – around a building site they sell hand tools and hardware, in the park refreshing agua de coco. At traffic intersections when the lights are red, vendors offer football club merchandise, fruit, drinks, sweet and savoury snacks, flowers, umbrellas … and if it sounds like a circus, yes, there are buskers too – jugglers, clowns, unicyclists, living statues, even one evening a pair of very amateur acrobats (if standing on your sister’s back counts) neither of whom were yet teenagers.

The knife sharpener makes his rounds regularly.

Pedal power, Avenida Pinheiros

Although Sao Paulo is overwhelmingly motorised, cyclists are active even during the death-defying rush hour, and on Sundays many make the journey in groups to the largest park, Ibiripuera, to ride around its leafy cycleways. Cycling campaigns run regular cross-town rides, or are they demonstrations? One night I stood on the corner for more than ten minutes while campaigning cyclists rode by, bells ringing insistently, LED headlamps flashing in disjointed syncopation, and ride marshals over-riding the traffic lights, stopping the cars at intersections to allow the cyclists through. There must have been hundreds of them. The city cycling club which I saw today were celebrating their fifteenth anniversary.

… and all of them with the yellow jersey, Rua Teodoro Sampaio

Traditional attractions remain. A street vendor had taken up his pitch opposite the busy local supermarket, his hurdy-gurdy cranked by hand, with a bright yellow cage on top. I asked if I could take his picture and he agreed. At the music his green parrot squawked and whistled, emerging untethered to see what it  could see. It regarded my out-stretched hand coldly and retreated to its perch. Disregarding his keeper’s warning, I whistled and stretched out my hand again, receiving a well-judged bite for my troubles. We agreed it could easily crack nuts, but its final response sent me laughing down the street. At my second overture, it went indoors, and pulled the door closed behind it in a well-practised action. Its opinion of Sao Paulo street life was clear.

Brasileiro both

P.S. What I hadn’t realised was that for two reais, this is also a form of telling your fortune. The parrot can pick a folded slip of paper from a drawer under the yellow cage, which it ‘kisses’ before it’s taken by the vendor and given to you. The drawer is divided into compartments for men and women. And your fortune includes a lucky lottery number for you. A wise old bird.

Fortune teller

Fortune teller