The beginning

Friday, July 18, 2014

I woke up at 7am with the city and the sun. Maybe there’s something to sleeping without blinds, at least when you can sleep and wake with the natural cycles of the day and night. The sun feels wonderfully warm. If this is winter, I wonder what it’s like here in the summer (our winter in nyc). I feel excited for the day.


There’s always a lot going on in Belo Horizonte.  A tiled roof is in the process of being replaced outside our window…


Wake up, shower, coffee, breakfast, stretch.



Beginnings: Our first excursion

Pilar and I set out to walk Av do Contorno, the perimeter of the original planned city of Belo Horizonte.

(* more on the history and planning of Belo Horizonte)

Leaving the apartment, we start off through Parque Municipal thinking it may be a more scenic route.  We are quickly joined by a rather disgruntled and very insistent man who especially gravitates to Pilar, apparently asking us to buy him lunch.  We detour to a small pond lined with boats, make a b-line for the park exit and head on our way.  It seems we exited the park onto Av. Dos Andradas in the direction opposite of what we intended and so our first adventure begins…

Av. dos Andradas is a large street separated by a long slatted grate divider.  We pass a military police center and a bus stop where a man percussively taps his rings against the pole of the bus stop sign.  Pilar and I are excited and entranced by the music this man is making.  We turn back to ask if we can record the sound and while the he kindly obliges our request, the rhythm isn’t as fluid once he’s conscious of it, and it turns out the phone isn’t recording anyway.

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We pass a number of factories, construction sites, and lots of graffiti that seems to be painted with rollers. There are a number of distinct buildings in the skyline facing away from downtown.  We walk underneath an overpass and reach a triangular dead end of sorts. 


Crossing one side of traffic, we find it’s a river running in between both directions of traffic.  We reach another large unmarked street, could this be Av do Contorno?  There are a couple of police officers standing in the middle of the traffic divider, but they look quite intimidating and I’m hesitant to ask them so we keep walking.


One of the buildings we notice is circular, rather old and grey with window air conditioners hanging out of it.  As we walk around the building, there is a new modern red structure superimposed on the other half of it.  Another nearby structure has a series of bright colored triangles built into the facade (and looks very 80’s style).

We reach a construction site, where I notice a female construction worker who walks past us and continues across the street.  We decide to check out a pedestrian overpass that looks interesting and I start filming with the gopro on a chest mount as we wait to cross the street.


There is another building covered in graffiti evenly spread out across the whole wall.  The overpass leads to a network of catwalks that connect to a metro station and then continue on to another neighborhood built into the side of a hill.  The buildings are simple and crumbling a bit but brightly colored and have satellite dishes attached outside of the windows.  I am very aware of the gopro attached to my body and feel this influence the way I walk as well as my body direction and orientation.  I also feel compelled to take photos at various points, but am conflicted as to whether I should or not and if this will interfere with the gopro shooting and already feel like a walking robot with the camera attached and don’t want to attract any more attention to myself.  Pilar seems completely free and at ease taking photos, and I feel conflicted in my role with the gopro.  I eventually give in to my desires to photograph. At a certain point once I realize how far we’ve veered from our original course and plan, I turn off the gopro and then feel more at ease in the surroundings and taking photographs as well.


I am especially intrigued by two rather tall twin buildings that seem vacant. I’m sure there’s a story here that I would be very curious to hear.  There’s a remarkable contrast of old and new buildings in the skyline as well as a great difference in scale between the empty towers and the much smaller informal constructions.

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We check the map and find we’re not far from Sta Tereza, an “Área Gastronômica – Gastronomic District” on the map, so we decide to proceed. Pilar sticks her head in a small alley and an older man walks by and starts talking to us for quite a long time. I imagine he’s telling us that they filmed a movie about favelas there many years ago. I notice Pilar check to see if I am still filming and then pull out her iPhone to record some of the audio. He’s a very striking looking man with a thin mustache and longish hair, both dyed jet black. I have a moment of hesitation and confusion about whether to film or not, and if so how with the gopro or my small point and shoot camera? He obviously wants to communicate his story to us, and would probably consent to being filmed but I don’t have the words to ask him, not speaking Portuguese. Putting a camera in someone’s face also changes the dynamic inevitably. So I stand there trying to absorb the story he’s telling us, piecing together familiar roots of words from Spanish. Another older man carrying a baby walks down the alley and stands near us for a while, even after the storyteller departs. The second man seems a bit more skeptical and reserved but we head on our way soon after anyway and continue up a very steep hill.


At the top of the hill, there’s a school bus letting children out at an intersection. This area feels different and more affluent.  There’s quite striking graffiti of a woman’s torso next to a poem on the adjoining wall.  We continue until we reach a busier commercial street.


See Women in the Street

Adventures with Pilar – after walking 2 hours and not finding the street we’re looking for – we stop for a beer in a nice little place that looks like a hangout spot for older local gentlemen. We order a large beer to share between the two of us: “Antarctica” with two penguins in the logo, which we joke are just like the two of us. There are a couple of men seated at the bar and one man who works there. I get the feeling we are a rare sight here in this town, and certainly pique the curiosity of the other local patrons. We’re just happy to find a place to sit and enjoy a refreshing beverage after all of that walking.

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The man who works there is very sweet and gives us a book about his hometown, Diamantina. Pilar records some of the music playing and some of the percussive accompaniment. Before leaving, we visit the bathroom which is decorated with a collection of images of Andy Warhol etc… We check out another restaurant across the street that’s richly decorated with festines made from magazine cutouts. One of the guys who works there tells us his mom made them.

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Many of the buildings in Sta. Tereza are very ornate and beautiful, with lots of decorative iron work. We walk to the central square, where there’s an old church and a park with brightly colored exercise equipment and an elementary school that involves some kind of military police training, with lots of kids dressed in military style uniforms. We head left from the square seemingly to return in the direction we came. We pass a corner store that was festively decorated and kept walking straight on this street talking and taking lots of pictures. I especially notice the graffiti and the patterns of the various grates in the windows and doorways as well as lots of wires in the street. We have some difficulty locating ourselves on the map and many of the streets are not clearly marked.

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Eventually we find Av. Contorno which we’d been looking for, but at that point we are exhausted and hungry so we decide to head back home. We stop into a hat store and also notice the various patterns and textures of the sidewalks.

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We eventually find ourselves back near the restaurant we ate at with Chica the first night and then backtrack near the train station etc…finally approaching our building via the back steps, which we realize are also covered in giant graffiti of the female torso, that lead up to the courtyard of Bem Natural.

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And finally we make it back home!

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Speaking with Joana about an upcoming JA.CA proposal to do project about the areas on the outskirts of the Cartesian planned cities (which is essentially the exploration that Pilar and I did today unwittingly) she explains more about the layout of Belo Horizonte. The streets in one direction of the grid are named after the provinces of Brazil, and in the other direction after Indigenous tribes. She says there are also always exceptions, for example they ran out of provinces, so they added others names such as Oro Preto, the previous capital of Minas Gerais. Joana also points out the way in which the structure of the city reflects the power dynamic, with the Praca de Liberdade being the central seat of government, and the direct line of vision to the Praca de Assembleia as well as Praca Raul Soares (other smaller seats of government), as well as Parque Municipal a place of the people.

I’m watching some of the gopro footage we shot with Pilar today. The moment when I’m torn as to whether I should take out another camera to take a still photo resulted in rather interesting imagery of reaching into my bag to find the camera and framing and taking the photograph. I adjusted the settings of the camera to shut off both the beeping signal signifying power on & off as well as the light indicator when filming. These are little details, that actually make me feel more at ease with the camera tools, on all cameras actually. I started to feel a little down earlier today looking at some of the footage I shot with my other little point and shoot camera, a number of the photos and videos seem to be out of focus. It’d be good to process the material we or I gather each day. I’m still not sure what to do with the stills, but this is part of what I’m here to do is work up a system.

(Notes: Pick up more tourist maps to play around with filming drawings and stop motion. How to build a rig for filming overhead shots on a table?) There are a number of things I have going on simultaneously 1. writing 2. still photos, perhaps the best way to synthesize all of them is in fact in the blog (oh, how I hate that word. How about calling it an “online process diary”?).

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