On Saturday morning the ceaseless rain wouldn’t call it quits. It wouldn’t even take a break for the lonely hour of noon, so people braving the soaked city streets could enjoy the midday meal. My expectations were not high. But as I strolled down these streets I’ve known all my life, I noticed something unusual about the way people were behaving, something the rain could not explain.
The Ceaseless Rain (Photo by Alice Salles)
I tried hard to read some small sign in the intense looks and energetic gestures of passersby – to catch their different tones, or the words that slipped past me. But I couldn’t grasp the incoherent picture swirling around me.
I kept my handbag pulled close to my body, as you must if you’re walking by yourself in the streets of São Paulo, Brazil. This city is known for its great food, busy nightlife and amazing people – but it’s also known for its hard to handle stickup action. My phone rang inside my purse’s small compartment. It was my best friend from high school, Simone, with an answer to the mystery.
On the other end of the line, I could hear an intense human buzz going on in the background. “Alice, where are you now?” Simone asked. She sounded excited.
“Well, right now I’m on my way to the bank. You?” She said she could barely hear me, so I had to repeat myself more loudly.
“Then stop whatever you’re doing and we’ll pick you up.”
“But Simone, we? Who’s we?!” No answer. She’d already hung up. She picked me up minutes later, and I found myself inside Simone’s car with three strangers, sharing one bag of Cheetos and one destination: Virada Cultural de São Paulo, Sao Paulo’s Overnight Culture Fest.
So that’s what put the avid look on people’s faces, the sparkling glimpse of happiness I found in their eyes, even though the rain wouldn’t stop pouring. The great Spirit of Art was running wild in everyone else’s veins but mine, and my good friend refused to let that remain true a moment longer.
Virada Cultural de São Paulo (Photo by Simone dos Campos)
As we arrived downtown, the clouds began to scatter and the rain mysteriously disappeared, leaving us all in a better mood. Was it a sign? One of the not-so-strange-to-me-now strangers in the car, announced our arrival, and gave us our instructions:
“This is the Overnight Culture Fest,” he said. “Ladies, don’t take any purses or handbags with you. Hide your money in your socks, and don’t look too… ‘touristy’!”
“Touristy?” I asked vaguely.
“Yeah! Don’t look like it’s the first time you’ve been to this event”
“But it is my first time!” I protested.
“I know, but no one else must know this, OK?” our new friend said.
He then handed us fliers with the program lined up for that night and the next morning. He also gave us a map, to help us navigate through the crowds and find the many events. Open street drama groups acted in plays that were completely free to anyone who wanted to see them, great artists painted and sculpted right before our curious eyes, and grand historical theaters threw their doors open to the public. No tickets required: first-come, first-served.
Theatre in the Streets (Photo by Alice Salles)
Rain showers gave way to a shower of shows featuring both big names and newcomers to the Brazilian popular music scene. It was a free, non-stop ode to culture, to togetherness and to what humanity can create when they put their hearts into it.
Simone and I had the time of our lives: watching Shakespeare in the moonlight, singing our favorite tunes along with thousands of people, sitting in chairs where once sat great people of another era. All of this with no violence, no casualties, and no need to call for any of the police officers who stood quietly waiting on the outskirts of every event.
This was my moment to experience my whole city breathing and living together for the first time. Throughout one whole weekend, thousands of Paulistas (the people of São Paulo) learned the value of celebrating life and art as one.
Guest blogger Alice Salles was born in São Paulo in 1984. She’s been traveling between Brazil and the U.S. since when she was 14. Alice likes to take photos, drink coffee and journal. She sees things in a bright shade of red. For more of her colorful views, check out her blog: http://sallesinenglish.thedharmabum.org/.