Category Archives: Shopping

I found Hackney!

It was only a matter of time, after all. But when wandering around the Saturday market in Praça Benedito Calixto, admiring the variety and quantity of crap on offer – vintage telephones, ’80s toys, comedy kids’ bibs, fourth-hand handbags, artesanial bread, antique teasets, records upon records upon records, hippy-dippy clothing – surrounded by hungover hipsters in rainbow Raybans, I suddenly realised where I was: the Brazilian version of Broadway Market, Brick Lane, or any other of East London’s much-loved (by me) markets.

As I write, I’m sitting outside São Paulo’s Cafe 1001, beset by pungent, er, tobacco fumes on every side, as said hipsters around me move on from the restorative coffee and seco de guaraná to the first beers of the day. This place is jumping, tunes blaring, standing room only (I’m sitting on a wall, as my samba-tired legs have demanded time out) as the city gears up for Saturday night. I think my first beers are a while away yet, as I couldn’t persuade myself out of bed until midday thanks to the loopyjuice that is caipiroska: packed full of enough booze and sugar to keep you dancing until the larger of the small hours, it is only the next day that you realise that the energy was an utter illusion, and in fact that the end of my third decade is looming near enough to ensure I’m a little, um, vague today.

It was not too far away from here that we stopped in an equally-familiar bar for a (definitively wise) nightcap on the way home: an unmarked door in a graffitied wall led to a semi-rescued, semi-condemned house with a distinctly temporary bar and even less permanent toilets. I was immediately transported to any number of Hackney’s less salubrious nightspots, not to mention one hilariously illegal nightclub in NYC’s Brooklyn – and the hipsters were of course out in force. Having added beer to the mix and realised that bed in fact was a sensible option – and that we were the oldest people in this bar by a country mile – I headed home as the first glimmer of sunrise touched what I could see of the horizon (which of course in São Paulo is just the tops of distant tower blocks, as the city reaches further than the eye can see in every direction). Brilliant.

Of course, there are differences between the two Hackneys: at the centre of the market here is a samba band, which means dancing of course, and the design shops have a distinctly Brazilian edge – hard to describe but the furniture and interiors here are world-class and individual. I spent a very happy half an hour earlier watching a troupe practise the world’s best-humoured martial art, capoeira. The weather is not great but to me perfectly fine, but the stallholders are huddling under blankets in protest at the rigours of a temperature of 17 degrees. Honestly…(Yesterday I had lunch with a Brazilian who pointed at the hazy but sunny sky amid a 26 degree warmth and harrumphed, “This is the problem with this city – how can anyone live under this cloud?” I assume he’s never been to England.)

I don’t know if the familiarity of all this is a shrinking-world phenomenon – the Raybans must be, I suppose – or if the young and free naturally like to colonise neighbourhoods with bars, markets and coffee shops and then spend their lives there, with each other, being cool. Whichever, I like it – might start flathunting.

(But – and hat tip to my good friend Ron Knox here – nothing beats London humour.)


Hard fun

The friend of a friend who introduced me to the concept of hard fun may have had other flaws, not least a patchy acquaintanceship with the truth and far too wide a hippy streak, but her easy acknowledgement of the fact that some fun things are bloody hard work was at the time cathartically pertinent and has since formed part of my somewhat amorphous set of mores and rationalisations for life. We were then in the queue for opening night at Space in Ibiza, a moment of really quite horrific stress, but with the prospect of a really very good night once we got inside. We stuck it out and am pleased we did, but the difficulty at one point seemed critical, with the fun very far away.

This morning was hard fun: we went to the Mercado Municipal and the streets around to explore and to shop. The market was a foodie’s paradise – every kind of cheese, meat, fruit, vegetable, fish, nuts, seeds, booze, spices, dessert, snacks and everything else you can imagine, piled on top of one another and really cheap. Highlights included the stall with five chocolate machines constantly churning white, milk and dark melted chocolate to pour on their amazing selection of fruit and significantly less healthy things; the live crabs strung together and waving at us in mute pleas for freedom; pieces of animal insides I didn’t even know existed, although I preferred life when I didn’t; cured sausage so spicy it made me cough like a back-street curry house vindaloo; fruit which I’m still very much learning to identify but which bears as little relationship to the anaemic and watery Tesco’s offerings as Sunny D does to anything not invented to outlast nuclear winter; and piles and piles of salted cod, bacalhau, which they just adore here and I tried in a bolinho (‘little fishcake’) which was delicious, if, as is the norm here, deep-fried.

Outside the market the streets were thronged in way which makes Oxford Street at Christmas look positively laid-back. Shops selling everything you could ever need but nothing you would ever want spilled out onto the street, with hawkers shoving the latest back-of-a-lorry wares in your face, shouts of ever more miraculous discounts competing for your overworked attention, people shoving and jostling for the inch of pavement you were under the impression you were occupying, and relentless, relentless sun beating down.  There was a street of shops selling nothing but thousands of beads, a ‘Feather Palace’ with suitably impressive plumage, plastic watches in every colour under the sun, a whole range of luggage, ranging from small coin purse to massive suitcase, in pink fake fur with ‘SEXY’ embroidered on it, a pile of fake dog shits, some of the most amazing fancy dress shops I have ever seen, and all the clothes you would ever require, as long as you’re happy in head-to-toe lycra. Everyone I know is getting Christmas presents from here, and there’s going to be quite the competition for the electronic, multi-coloured ‘WC’ sign, with the little boy’s wee in never-ending moving LCD glory. Que elegante, não?

Three hours in and my US army buddy pointed out that ‘Nos aparacemos zombies’, and indeed the resemblance was remarkable, down to the witless groan and a seeming sole ability to follow each other around blindly. I have had to come home to lie down for an hour before cracking on with the rest of the day before the sun goes down, which I’m determined to do as this week has been out-and-out cold, which is not why I moved to bloody Brazil. Tonight, a second attempt to get tickets to one of São Paulo’s legendary football matches, or much more staidly the theatre. I need to be keeping my energy levels up for this kind of fun.