If each city is like a game of chess, the day when I have learned the rules, I shall finally possess my empire, even if I shall never succeed in knowing all the cities it contains.
—Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
Can you describe the mood of São Paulo as you feel/see it?
São Paulo is a hectic city, always fast-paced. It is also a chameleon—ever changing.
What is your most heartbreaking memory in this city?
I have been living here for nearly a decade, and have adopted it as my hometown—or, should I say, the city has adopted me. There are two categories of heartbreaking experiences in São Paulo and they are diametrically different. In the last ten years or so I have changed homes eight times and lived in five different neighborhoods. The city is vast. Every time I return to an old neighborhood or street I get butterflies in my stomach. Did I not leave them behind? I remember the sunlight filtering through my old window, the people I loved in those old houses, the plans I made, those that dissolved. This is the kind of heartbreaking experience that deals with attachment. The other kind is one of detachment. It deals with the sun rising from the airport sky when I return to São Paulo from my travels, which I do often. Returning is bittersweet. As I watch the sunrise from the cab window, I resent what I’ve left behind but I also miss home.
What is the most extraordinary detail, one that goes unnoticed by most, of the city?
The people are the best part of the city. So it is up to you to look out for the details. Ride a bus, ride the underground, pay attention to the man serving your coffee, you might just discover a true São Paulo gem.
What writer(s) from here should we read?
There are so many talented writers in this city! For prose I would say Paula Fábrio, Marcelino Freire, and Julián Fuks. For poetry, Augusto de Campos, Horácio Costa, Dirceu Villa, Júlia Hansen, and Ana Rüsche.
Is there a place here you return to often?
Casa das Rosas, an old mansion on the main avenue, Paulista; the museum of poetry that hosts the collection and library of the poet and translator Haroldo de Campos. Also, a charming café at Vila Mariana’s district called Quinto Pecado owned by Maria Helena Serrano, São Paulo’s own Juliette Binoche from the movie Chocolat.
Is there an iconic literary place we should know?
Casa das Rosas, and the center for translation studies, Casa Guilherme de Almeida.
Are there hidden cities within this city that have intrigued or seduced you?
Many! They city is so huge that you can find as many cities within the city as you want. It is up to you to explore. I would definitely recommend a walk downtown to see the central food market, “Mercadão”; the churches of São Bento and Páteo do Colégio; and have lunch either at the Cameroonian restaurant, Biyou’Z, or the Peruvian, Rinconcito. In the evening I would suggest dinner in the neighborhood of Pinheiros at Chou, all organic, and then moving on to the club Jazz nos Fundos for some great music. Make sure you find some time to walk around Higienópolis and check out the modernist architecture, but also go up to either the Copan or the Edifício Itália or even Edifício Martinelli to check out the view and missing horizon of São Paulo. And don’t miss Al Janiah, the best Middle Eastern food restaurant. It is also a bar and cultural center founded and managed by Palestinian refugees.
Where does passion live here?
In the people, especially the immigrant and artistic communities, who create bonds to find the hidden passion and beauty of the city, and engage in a form of activism.
What is the title of one of your works about São Paulo and what inspired it exactly?
“Caminha invisível” (“Walks invisibly”), a love poem written in the underground and urban train station of Pinheiros during rush hour. I was inspired by the people walking frenetically, almost running over one another. As I observed that movement, I imagined love to be an entity, like the Fedeli d’Amore used to see it. I imagined him or her being alone, as I was, in rush hour, in the train station, almost being run over by those blindly walking through.
Inspired by Levi, “Outside São Paulo does an outside exist?”
Once you learn to live the hard life of São Paulo, it never leaves you. So outside, there’s always an inside, a city within, a glare you carry, something the city has taught you. But outside there’s plenty more, the eyes get well trained within here. It is a hard task to carve beauty out of the concrete jungle.
Francesca Cricelli is a poet, translator, and teacher. She was born in Brazil to a family of Italian immigrants, and grew up in Malaysia, India, Spain, Italy, and Mexico. Her collection of poems Repátria was published by Selo Demonio Negro in 2015. Her work has been published in numerous literary magazines and anthologies. She is currently a PhD researcher at the University of São Paulo. Her thesis is about the yet unpublished love letters of Giuseppe Ungaretti to Bruna Bianco. With Bruna and Silvio Ramat she has edited a book of the letters, forthcoming from Mondadori, Italy.