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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Six Stories from Sao Paulo: The 4th Night (Crybaby)


Horacio Costa
Upon my second trip to São Paulo in 2000 I was put up in a nicer part of town than where Michael Palmer and I stayed upon our first visit. Régis Bonvicino, our host, had warned us on that earlier visit to not leave the neighborhood, which seriously delimited our free-time activities. One day Michael and I—frustrated with the boundaries we’d been given—ventured into to the older and definitely seedier part of the city.

This time, I was given no such limitations. Indeed Régis and fellow poet Horácio Costa took me to the heart of the city for a spectacular view of the São Paulo skyline from a restaurant atop one of the older skyscrapers. Another afternoon Horácio took me to an historical museum near the old city center, and later, at sunset, we wandered the streets where hundreds of poor Indians and others who had migrated from Brazil’s provinces gathered on outlaid scarves and worn rugs displaying whatever deitrus they hoped to sell—pencils, cards, change purses and, in many cases, seemingly worthless trinkets of what can only be described as junk.

It was a terrifying and eerie experience to wander about these seated and sometimes supine street peddlers, each calling out to the two us to witness their wares. There was something horrifyingly spectacular, as if thousands of starving human beings had suddenly bowed at our feet. Régis—who works as a judge for juveniles—was angered when I told him that Horácio had taken me there. But I was appreciative of the experience of witnessing such vast poverty first hand, a humbling revelation.

Since I now had been given no limits in my perambulations of the city, I walked long distances, encountering, for the most part, the stylish and sophisticated shops of this vast metropolis.
One still sees things in wealthy São Paulo, however, that one would never witness in Rome, Paris, or New York. Near one of the swankiest shopping centers of the city, a small child, still almost a baby, had been posted to sell what seemed like sets of colored pencils. The child was crying in its evident abandonment. I watched for a few moments in a combination of horror and fascination before turning back to my hotel.

I had walked about a half hour away from the bawling boy, but could not rid myself of the image, finally determining to return to the child. After what seemed like a far longer period of time than my first journey, I reached the babe again.

I knew that they—the delinquent parents or whoever “looked after” this being—had possibly taught him to cry in order to capture the attention of just such people as I. But the tears still poured from the sobbing boy’s eyes; there clearly could be no pleasure in such an enactment.
I dropped the equivalent of $50.00 in Reals into the child’s cup, the boy hardly noting my presence.

“At least,” I whispered in self-congratulation, “the family will be fed for a few weeks.” Yet, at the same moment I knew that my action may have merely led to a perpetuation of that poor child’s position on the sidewalk, indenturing him only to more months of torture. And when I reached my hotel room, I too began to cry.

New York, May 3, 2000

1 comment:

mara said...

I was looking for recommendations for Sao Paulo restaurants and found your blog. Obrigada! I'm thinking about going to Brazil in the fall and am in the meantime trying to learn some Portuguese on Babbel.com (http://www.babbel.com).