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Brazzil - Life - February 2004

Brazil: São Paulo Needs a Shrink

The proportion of people in São Paulo who visit psychiatrists is
amongst the highest in the world, even higher than neurotic
New York with its Woody Allens and Jerry Seinfelds. Most of São
Paulo's psychiatric patients are not nervy Jews but Catholics
who obviously need to talk to a stranger about their problems.

John Fitzpatrick

The celebrations marking São Paulo's 450th anniversary did not last long. The goodwill, back-slapping and self-congratulation, which was oozing out of every cranny in mid-January quickly evaporated and life returned to its normal grinding grimness. For those of you lucky enough not to live in this monstrous megalopolis here are a few samples of what we locals have to put up, starting with our loud-mouthed mayor, Marta Suplicy.

Marta Rants While the City Floods

As usual at this time of the year, several parts of the city have been flooded due to torrential rain. This seasonal rainfall was even noted over 400 years ago by José Anchieta, the Jesuit priest who, for some bizarre reason, founded the city on this inhospitable spot. However, over those four and a half centuries no city government or engineer has come up with a solution to the problem.

So every year the rain falls, runs down the city's many hills and floods lower-lying areas. (At the same time, believe it or not, some districts face water rationing because some reservoirs are almost dry.) This year's floods might have ended up claiming another victim—mayor Marta Suplicy.

Marta, as she is known, decided to check up on what was going on and presumably get some publicity in this election year. At one point, instead of being met by cheers and handshakes, she was verbally mugged by an irate woman resident who accused her of being more concerned with planting palm trees in the rich district where she lived than with the areas which are flooded every year.

Marta tried to deflect the criticism with an irrelevant comment about the large number of children being looked after by the city government but the woman was not to be fobbed off. She continued attacking Marta who then lost her temper, wagged her finger in the woman's face, turned her back on her and then stormed off in a huff.

All this was witnessed on television and given great coverage in the print media. By acting as arrogantly as she did Marta has done herself no good and may be looking for another job after the October elections. Let's hope so.

Walk—Don't Drive

Since the car is king in São Paulo and there is a certain kind of Paulistano who has never walked further than the distance between his television and fridge, it is not surprising that pedestrians have no rights. Motorists will drive through red lights, ignoring pedestrians, park their cars on pavements or zebra crossings, sound their horns at 3 a.m. if they feel like and seethe with anger if they are held up for the slightest moment.

A result of this is that there is almost no such thing as a zone for pedestrians. A part of the old center near the Praça do Patriarca has a number of streets where there are no cars although, at times, they are jammed with street vendors. However, in the "smarter" parts of town the car rules.

I have never understood why streets like Oscar Freire or Alameda Lorena, which some Paulistanos laughingly try to compare to Fifth Avenue or the Champs Elysées, do not ban cars on Sundays and become pedestrian precincts. The answer, I think, lies in the power of the car lobby, particularly those who have made a fortune out of running parking sites.

It was, therefore, refreshing to read that a part of Avenida Paulista, in front of the ghastly MASP museum, may be closed to traffic on Sundays. The aim would be to create a "cultural corridor" where people could walk in safety. Let's hope something comes of this initiative but don't make any bets that it will happen within the next 450 years. Also don't mention that a part of Rio de Janeiro's Avenida Atlântica has been closed to traffic on Sundays for years. After all, we know that São Paulo has nothing to learn from Rio.

Murder at the Zoo

We all know that São Paulo is not a safe place for people but now the poor dumb animals at the city zoo are coming under attack. Over a three-day period three chimpanzees, two camels, two tapirs and an elephant have died of poisoning. The zoo authorities believe someone threw poisoned foods into the areas where the animals were penned. Police believe the animal killer knows about chemistry and biology as well as the way the zoo is run.

Naked Anger

The hassle involved in going to a bank here would make a saint explode with rage at times. You face long queues, queue-jumpers, grumpy staff and a bureaucratic system that means you often have to go and queue up at another counter to do something simple. All this frustration awaits you if you even get into the bank since to do so requires going through a revolving door with a metal detector.

If the detector goes off you have to empty your bag or pockets of keys, coins, cellulars, pens etc until you get the go-head. It is common for someone to get jammed inside the door and for long queues to form up outside and inside the bank while the entry is blocked.

A delivery boy reached the end of his tether this week when the security people would not let him in after all his efforts at proving he was not a robber failed. He ended up stripping to his underpants to show he was not carrying a weapon. Even then the security men would not let him in but called the police who arrested him for obscene behavior.

You Don't Have to Be Mad to Live Here, But...

Some of the above might explain why the proportion of people in São Paulo who visit psychiatrists is amongst the highest in the world, even higher than neurotic New York with its Woody Allens and Jerry Seinfelds. You might think that no-one needs to visit a psychiatrist in a Catholic country like Brazil when all you have to do when you're feeling low is to go to confession. The poor priest has no choice but to listen to your outpourings.

Nor can he tell you your time is up or charge you an outrageous fee. The only "cost" is the penance of saying a few Hail Marys. Despite this, most of São Paulo's psychiatric patients are not nervy Jews but Catholics who obviously need to talk to a stranger about their problems. There are even psychiatrists for children.

John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish journalist who first visited Brazil in 1987 and has lived in São Paulo since 1995. He writes on politics and finance and runs his own company, Celtic Comunicações - www.celt.com.br - which specializes in editorial and translation services for Brazilian and foreign clients. You can reach him at jf@celt.com.br
© John Fitzpatrick 2004

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