City of Phlegm

October 3, 2008

Many visitors liken São Paulo to an organism, with its cinder and cement follicles and thick avenues pumping grit, labor and oil. They call it a city of indigestion. But I disagree with that metaphor, for its notion of specificity, of traceable limits. São Paulo is more like a metaphysical trick, a cinematic trick, in which all its images are strikingly similar and unmistakably unique. Its streets branch randomly –almost absurdly— in nervous patterns, so that the routes in between images, its guiding algorithms, coalesce in my mind as dreams do.

And what are the textures of such dreams? The dusty pallor of concrete laid flat against the grey-blue-yellow sky opaque like construction paper… the murky rivers soaking up tattered metallurgical hopes, chemical memories, the heavy consciences of industry… the hues of dilapidation, rotting tiles, human mold, and the sweat of modernization: the marbled shanty skins of the outskirts… the collage of cars, their European visages and monogamous colors, under languishing traffic lights, and delivery boys on cheap Japanese motor bikes weaving through automotive fabric, buzzing like infernal wasps… the facades of bakeries, shops, and boutiques arranged as delicate elements in a composition… I remember all these images and their subtitles, air sprayed on the margins of edifices, sometimes even speaking the language of commercials.

I remember the flux of people, day laborers, executives, children selling peanuts at intersections, young girls in shopping centers, old women browsing fruit markets, football games in courtyards, tumultuous bars and restaurants, and the over-arching dissonance of sighs and voices seeking respite… it was night, cool and crisp. I saw the trail of street lights curve down a hill like an elegant glowing necklace. I remember meeting a girl whose eyes were faded green like frozen grass and vibrant yellow like the bands of a yellow jacket. Her name was Patricia, every Wednesday she walked to an evangelical church to pick up a free basket of provisions for her two parents, four brothers, two sisters and three grandparents. I remember how my ears swelled, my eyes burned and reddened, and my throat inflated like a phlegmatic balloon.