São Paulo (the biggest city in Brazil) is where my wife grew up, and it’s where we’re living at the moment.
It’s an explosive sort of place.
In 1870 it was a small town of 30,000 people. In 1900 the population had grown to 240,000. By 1950 it was home to 2 million. Twenty years later, 6 million. And today 20 million people live across the whole sprawling megacity.
Imagine seeing that as a sequence of photos taken from the sky! It would look like a bomb going off, as the city blasted its way outwards.
And São Paulo isn’t famous for being an inspiring place. It’s a hectic, grey, violent, smoky, money-minded sort of city…built using an awful lot of concrete and tarmac.
But it is an inspiration to me. I’ve done a lot of interesting writing here. (And by that I mean things that have taken me by surprise.)
So what is the inspiration?
There are the things that I, personally, love. Relationships with family and friends (and the Brazilian warmth and easiness that comes with them.) São Paulo’s cultural life which (as one of the great artistic hubs of South America) is forever abuzz and springing surprises. Capoeira lessons with one of Brazil’s respected old masters. Warm weather most of the year round. The magical stretch of forest and coast between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, which is easy to get to and an antidote to the city smog.
All those things feed into my writing. But something else goes on too.
I grew up in Surrey, in England. A quiet corner of the world. And the contrast between there and here is so total that I’m a long way from home in many more ways than one.
And I think that helps.
Being a bit bewildered, out-of-your-depth and questioning is a good place for any artist to find themselves. And so, perhaps is being in a place where you are a bit bewildering and a source of questions to others (as I know I am to Brazilians!)
I sometimes write about São Paulo, but most of the time I’m writing about back where I’m from. And, in a strange way, being far from it means you can see it well. (The British author Rudyard Kipling once asked, “What do they know of England, who only England know?”)
Being cut off from the everyday routines, ties and responsibilities of where you’re from frees things up. Life is more of an adventure and (to use a word that doesn’t actually exist) storyful.
So, part of the inspiration of São Paulo isn’t even to do with what it’s like. It’s to do with being away from what is familiar, safe, convenient.
They say fairy tales teach 3 things: be brave, be honest and marry far from home. At least I managed one of them!