Let’s zoom in from Google Earth. The scene is Latin America. What an immense continent, what an economic melting-pot. Her domain.
Over 500 million people in an area of around 20 million square kilometers – from the Río Grande in the north down to the ice-covered needlepoint of the Cerro Torre peak in the south. Let’s take an imaginary flight around to get an overview. Up the Pacific coast and back down the Atlantic.
We start our trip at the naval base of Valparaíso in Chile. Then we continue along the Andes. We pass by Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, lined up like a string of pearls. Central America: The Panama Canal, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala. Elegant Acapulco and the industrial city of Monterrey. And then back down again: along the Gulf of Mexico with its oil rigs towards Venezuela. Maracaibo, Caracas. Paramaribo in Suriname, Kourou and the Ariane space station in French Guyana, finally Belém on the Amazon delta in Brazil. After Brazil there is still Paraguay, Uruguay and Buenos Aires, the diva of Argentina. But for now we have reached the places that all football fans (and not only them) yearn to be in this World Cup™ year of 2014: Fortaleza and Recife, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro with its Sugar Loaf Mountain and Maracanã Stadium, and then finally the mega metropolis to beat all others: »SP«, or São Paulo. A vast city that is both beautiful and terrible at the same time.
Coming to this city of 12 million for the first time is a bit like being punched in the stomach. Where are the suburbs, where is the center? Every day, millions of cars stick together like leeches on ten-lane highways and creep bumper to bumper along the Rio Pinheiros and Rio Tietê. Motorbike riders – known locally as motoboys – dart between them, staging kamikaze races at 100 kilometers per hour. There are more helicopters in the air than in any other city in the world. Poor Marcia Rios, you would think before you first meet her, what sort of a life is this?
But there is not just this one São Paulo. Instead there are a whole series of them. Poor quarters, favelas, people washed up by life. But also the gleaming, nouveau riche Morumbi and the discreet old money villas in the Jardins district. There are the mirror glass skyscraper facades in the new business district on Faria Lima. The picturesque old Centro with Niemeyer’s Edificio Copan on Avenida Ipiranga. An area that has come down in the world, yet still retains a certain grandeur.
There is the old station, converted into the Sala São Paulo, one of the most important concert halls in South America. The business, shopping and public demonstration street of Avenida Paulista, including the famous Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP) right opposite the Parque Trianon. Not far away is the covered Mercado Municipal with its myriad delicacies, the huge Catedral Metropolitana, and last but not least the Parque do Ibirapuera, a last, giant haven of nature, sport and leisure in the urban jungle. Early each morning at around 5.30 am, Marcia Rios puts on her running shoes here and runs for all she’s worth. »Running is a form of meditation for me«, says the veteran of eight marathons. »I solve my problems while I’m out there.«