Saturday, October 29, 2011

Crazy paving: or the perils of paulistano perambulation

Brazil is home to some of the most stunning pavements I've seen outside Barcelona...and Pompeii. The famous calçadas of Rio de Janeiro's beach fronts are a wonder to behold, not only because they are so long and visually stunning, but because they are also well built and incredibly well maintained. I've used this photo before, but here it is again, just to illustrate what I mean.

São Paulo, on the other hand, is home to some of the worst pavements I've ever seen. Generally, they're not so pretty. Generally they're not so well maintained. But their biggest fault (speaking as someone who has to walk along a fair few of them every day) is that they're not so uniform.

Out here it seems to be the case that the pavement belongs to, and is the responsibility of, the property it runs along the front and/or side of and not the responsibility of some overarching body like, for example, a local authority. In theory this seems like a great idea. People won't want their beautiful house or shop to look a mess by being stuck behind a grotty stretch of pavement - especially if they're also liable for any injuries caused by tripping on loose stones - and so they'll make sure it's kept in good order, so saving large amounts of taxpayers' money from being swallowed up on endless repairs every time someone else has come along and dug the whole thing up to replace a pipe or cable that wasn't buried properly in the first place.

This is why big, expensive buildings like Shopping Iguatemi, our local upmarket shrine to over-indulgence, has a big, expensive and meticulously maintained pavement running right around its six square miles of mercantile floorspace. (Yes, I know it's not really that big, but I couldn't find the exact size when I needed it. But it's big, okay. And it has a lot of pavement.)

But turn the corner and go up Alameda Gabriel Monteiro da Silva - which is the street next to ours and which is little more than a one mile long opportunity to overpay for unnecessary things you never really wanted anyway - and the pavements become, literally in some cases, an artistic extension of the boutique or gallery to which they belong. And never mind that your neighbour has a beautifully detailed mosaic to entice in his customers, if you want a dirty great slab of dark concrete outside your place, then you go ahead and lay it.

 And as for the pedestrians? Stuff 'em! What the hell are they doing walking anyway? That's no way to do your shopping. They should be driving, preferably in a big car so they can fit in all the stuff they're going to buy that they don't really need. And that's why so many of the pavements aren't even flat, but are sloped, to allow cars to drive up and park on them. But not all. That would be far too convenient. Some of them still have a curb, or are slightly raised, because they have parking round the back so as not to spoil the view of the front of the shop.

So a gentle stroll down the road now involves frequent changes in texture, height and angle, sometimes as often as every five metres or so, and while I should probably just shut up, stop complaining and enjoy the rich variety and artistic merit of my underfoot surfaces, I find that doing so beside a road full of speeding vehicles, in the pouring rain and with two children, four bags of shopping and an umbrella is nothing like as easy as it sounds.

And that's assuming all those different pavements really are as well maintained as they're meant to be. Sadly, I have come across the odd one or two which could, perhaps, do with a little smoothing out at the edges.

But one thing that pavements certainly are out here is washed. And sadly I do mean washed, not cleaned, as the daily efforts of thousands of people and millions of gallons of water is completely pointless in a city of twenty million people and ten million polluting vehicles. This doesn't seem to stop them though. There they are, every morning, with their hoses and brushes and (on occasion) even scrubbing brushes and buckets of soapy water. Sometimes you can even see the difference afterwards - a slightly lighter patch of stone here and there - but usually not. They just make it wet and slippery.

And quite often I've see someone with a pressure hose, pumping water out at goodness knows how many psi, chasing individual leaves off their pavement and into the gutter where the flood of water they've been drowned in will carry them off somewhere until they can be someone else's problem. And as if that's not bad enough, five minutes after the pavement is dry once more, the wind will deposit another load of leaves all over the place and then a bit later on in the afternoon there'll be a torrential downpour which will soak everything anyway.

To be fair to the Brazilians for a moment, and as you know from my blog about gardening a few weeks ago, battling to keep nature in check is something of a full-time job out here. It only takes a few weeks of lazy maintenance before the Atlantic rainforest has overpowered your pretty little lawn or you have an entire food chain competing for first dibs on your rubbish. So it's no surprise people out here are so obsessed with cleanliness. They like their bodies to be clean. They like their houses to be clean. And clearly, they like their pavements to be clean as well. Speaking as a filthy foreigner, I say yeah, okay to the first, up to a point to the second and really, get a life to the third. Honestly, I don't need my pavements to be spotless and germ free.

But I would like them to be easier to walk on.

Come and join me for a stroll down my street

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