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Brazil: São Paulo Needs a Shrink

 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.
by: 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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