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The esthetic of são Paulo is often surprising with its splendidly elegant lines. And it couldn't be any different: São Paulo was the cradle of Modernism in Brazil in 1922, and since then it has been the center and bastion of artists and architects who express their concepts of beauty on its walls and buildings.
In Higienópolis, eclectic mansions mix with modernist buildings. Close to the Estação da Luz, cultural centers reveal artistic refinement in restored constructions that unite the historical with the contemporary; not to mention museums spread out here and there, including one completely dedicated to the Portuguese language.
Below, suggestions for a one-day tour around São Paulo.
Take a walk through Higienópolis and notice the facades of modernist buildings that sprang at the beginning of the 1950s (the name means City of Hygiene; the neighborhood, taken by the richer classes, was supposed to have higher hygiene standards than the rest of the city - until today, Higienópolis is one of the richest areas in the city).
Then head toward the Praça Vilaboim, one of the most charming plazas in São Paulo. There you'll find the Barcelona Pães e Doces, where one of the best rolls in the city is made (it has been repeatedly appointed as the best bakery in São Paulo). You have to stand at the counter to have breakfast; despite the lack of comfort, the place is usually very busy.
Right in front is the Fundação Armando Álvares Penteado - FAAP, headquarters of the Museum of Brazilian Arts (Museu de Arte Brasileira); its collection contains 2500 works by national artists and foreign ones living in Brazil. The sculptures at the entrance and the stained glass windows in the lobby merit attention.
Further down, on Rua Minas Gerais (streets in this area are named after the Brazilian States), in the middle of dream mansions and luxury buildings, is the Galeria Vermelho (Red Gallery); it holds periodic exhibitions of contemporary art that are open to the public.
For lunch, you can either try Sal Gastronomia, inside the Vermelho Gallery, or head to nearby Jardim de Napoli.
Next, take a walk through the Paulo Machado de Carvalho Municipal Stadium, better known as Pacaembu Stadium. The setting for classic Paulista championships, it was inaugurated in 1940 by Getúlio Vargas, who spoke on that occasion about the "sober and beautiful lines of its imposing mass of concrete and iron". Pacaembu doesn't belong to any club in São Paulo; it belongs to the city of São Paulo.
A few kilometers away is the Latin America Memorial (Memorial da América Latina), designed by Oscar niemeyer. The architect also created the sculpture with the stretched-out hand, with a bas-relief of Latin America in red, like a thread of trickling blood.
Another option is to go to the very beautiful Pinacoteca do Estado; this unfinished historical building was restored and today its exposed brick walls contrasts with its bolder elements. The museum's collection, with more than 5 thousand works, includes mostly Brazilian artists, but also has French sculptures by Auguste Rodin and Camile Claudel.
The Pinacoteca coffee bar has a few outdoor tables overlooking the Parque da Luz (Park of Light), the oldest park in the city; it's delightful to have a rest there. On the other side of the street is the Museum of Portuguese Language (Museu da Língua Portuguesa), installed inside the Luz station; this new space is dedicated to Portuguese language, literature and history (the Luz Station was built in 1867 to export the coffee from the interior of São Paulo to the Port of Santos, and from there to Europe and USA; the station was built by an English company, São Paulo Railway, and most of its pieces, including bricks, tiles and metals, were imported from England; read more here).
In the same area is also the Museum of Sacred Arts (Museu de Arte Sacra), one of the best of its kind in the country; the colonial styled building from 1774 has a thousand pieces on permanent exhibition.
It's also worth taking a walk through the Vila dos Ingleses, designated as an historic landmark and the residence of the British men who constructed the train station. Among its 28 small houses built in the style of London workmen's villas is the Yellow Mark Cafe Cozinha; serving 12 varieties of beer, it's a good choice for late afternoon.
Evening and Night
Set the evening aside to attend a concert at the Sala São Paulo, inside the Estação Júlio Prestes; now restored, the hall is magnificent to look at and has become a shrine for classical music because of its acoustics (while Estação a Luz connected São Paulo to the coast, the Estação Julio Prestes connected São Paulo to the coffee farms in the interior of the State).
For dinner, consider Mestiço, close to Consolação station; every three months, the restaurant's walls have a new exhibit of fine arts or photographs. It's not uncommon to see people from the art world there, savoring everything from Thai delicacies to Bahian acarajé (kidney bean paste fried in palm oil; in some Afro-Brazilian religions, acarajé is considered food of Gods, and its preparation requires following a ritual). For an appetizer, try the krathong-thong, a basket of crispy dough filled with chicken, corn and spices.
Complete the night with some good live music at Barnaldo Lucrécia, close to the Paraíso subway station. You'll finish your day convinced that this metropolis isn't just made of concrete, but of artists as well.
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