Cousin Raquel and her friend Pati invited us to go to this annual 24-hour music and street festival with them in the historic center of São Paulo. Virada Cultural is their “White Night” festival, but is major music festival (vs. art) all the Center; maybe more like Cochella or South x Southwest? but for 24 hours straight. It has been going on for more than 5 years in the city, and is an attempt at revitalizing the historic core which is usually deserted at night and seedy. It started Saturday at 5 pm and goes to Sunday at 5 pm, all night long in all corners of the historic center of São Paulo.
We 4 arrived around 6 pm by Metro and walked around. We saw a Carnaval like the famous ones in February, just a LOT smaller. There is music, people dressed up, dancing and dancing – so fun. It was a very long line of dancers. We went to see a show of this pop singer that was really popular in the 80s, so it had a diverse age group in the audience. There are large stages set up everywhere with a screen. You couldn't actually SEE the performer as it was so crowded. There was a map with countless performances, of all genres of music both Brazilian and international (e.g. they had George Clinton), both outdoors and inside venues – really overwhelming to choose!
Everyone drinks beer…you can buy beer from vendors from their coolers, at the bars, or makeshift “bars” from storefronts. Or you can bring your own. Beers ranged between R$5 ($2.50) to 3 for R$10 ($1.65 each). There are food stalls selling food from the region of Bahia, sweets and desserts, Japanese food (yakisoba), pastels and other fried treats, or you could buy at the bars salgados/juices/etc. There are also random vendors selling mysterious bottles of alcohol/concoctions that are best avoided.
We stopped by a São Paulo country music band, then Raquel and Pati wanted to show us a Funk Carioca performance, which was an eye opening cultural experience. First of all, it is mostly teens – they looked very young, like 13+. They also drink/get drunk very young in Brasil, and brought their own bottles of hard liquor and were making their own drinks in plastic cups. Then, with Funk Carioca, house/thumping/repetitive/dance music, the dancing is straight-up bootie dancing. The girls wear really short and tight jean shorts, and they dance with their booties sticking out (all the way out), shaking up, down and all around – they are quite “talented.” They dance with each other, and at certain points, one girl will get on her knees (still shaking the bootie, bare knees on the hard/dirty ground) under the legs of another girl. It was an eye opening experience of this subculture and we couldn't help but stare!
The historic core of São Paulo is just like many, that has been neglected and is seeing some reinvestment. On some main avenues, they are nice with renovated historic buildings, but turn down another street and the façades are dilapidated and graffitied. There is also a “skid row” like street with homeless people that looked like they were on something. The areas have that global pungent, urban aroma. Well, at least for one night, all Paulistanos (the city residents, while “Paulistas” live in the State of São Paulo – Raquel just informed me) coexist on the same streets. There were plenty of police presence that we felt safe.
Raquel told us of the occupy movement, where people are moving into abandoned buildings and trying to set up like a collective to live with rules. There are also buildings that are abandoned with squatters. There is of course immense affordable housing issues in this megalopolis. There were also plenty of port-o-poties.
We tried to go to the big stage with the famous Bossa Nova artist, Gal Costa. There were so many people that we couldn't get near the stage. We tried to go around the block, but before too long, we gave up and ate pastels sitting on the curb (R$5 each / $2.50, Raquel said at a feira they are usually R$2). It was a much needed break for our feet after 4 hours of walking. We met up with 2 more of their friends, who later “hooked up” and made out like teenagers. I guess this is pretty common here too, but you don't see it as much in LA with people who are over 20 and/or sober.
We walked a bunch more to the historic law office/courts area to see a DJ playing electronic music, where there were of course tons of youth. At that point, Fernando and I were pretty tired (and the night before we were with Raquel and Pati until 3 am, which everyone including Vovô knew about the next day, by the way), so the 2 of us made our way through the crowds to Metro it home (R$3 per ride / $1.50 – perfectly safe, clean and crowded), arriving around 1 am. Raquel come home around 3:30-4 am – what it is like to be 23 again!
The city was alive, super crowded, colorful, vibrant and energetic. We were happy to get to experience this youthful side of the city. Raquel made a Google map of our route the next day, and excluding all the back and forth we walked, we walked a minimum of 5 miles, but it was probably closer to 7-8 miles, over our 7 hours. No wonder our feet and legs hurt so much!