Savassi: the chic side of “Contorno”

Friday, August 8, 2014
10:00 am – 1:00 pm
Hot and sunny

We had agreed to meet at 10:00 am with Pedro, a Brazilian guy who works for JA.CA helping out artists in residence, and who will transcribe some of the conversations we have recorded along our walks. We got there a bit too early and had time to hang out with the guys who wash cars at the intersection of “Contorno” and Rua São Paulo. There was an old, drunk man, holding a cup of beer while singing and mumbling. He was standing next to his “carinho,” – cart, which was loaded with cardboard. I stayed there for a while, watching the scene. Most of the cars stopping for a wash are taxis, and there is a small taxi kiosk at the corner. I noticed that that is where they take electricity for the vacuum cleaner, which looked like a small R2D2 – one of the Star Wars robots – and had an enormously long cord in order to reach the kiosk outlet. Tamara was taking photos of the kiosk’s small window while a guy poked his head out to ask her to call his “colega” – coworker, and ask him to come unlock the kiosk; he had locked himself inside the tiny space and Tamara ended up rescuing him! Later, she was video-recording the hands of one of the guys while he was washing a car, very closely, and moving around the car. She told him next time she’ll bring the waterproof camera to get in the water. Sometimes I think she might be even crazier than me! To what she responds: “It’s not a competition, baby!”

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Pedro arrived and we said good-bye to the guys and started walking. There were no big events along the journey; definitely posh neighborhoods are a lot less exciting to explore. What was most striking was the beauty of numerous, huge trees, covered with pink flowers along the street, which are named “Ipe,” according to Pedro. We saw many tall, fancy buildings. Some of them are slick and covered with glass; others illustrate the worst examples of postmodern architecture, in their attempt to emulate columns, arches, and other symbols of wealth and power, relying on a pastiche of materials, such as marble and black glass. It’s almost painful to watch the spectacle of recycled forms and the indiscriminate combination of colors and finishes. Some of these buildings become appealing just because of their excessive ugliness. I wanted to photograph more of those jewels of the 80’s and 90’s, but they all seemed to be located in the interior side of the “Contorno,” and against the sun at that time of the day.

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There was one particular building that had large areas of water and grass decorating its exterior spaces. Pedro said this is the most expensive building in Belo Horizonte, where you pay the most per square meter. Inside, there are offices and commercial spaces. In the back, you could see a large glass building with a VIVO sign on top, one of the local cellphone companies. There were many palm trees, which, together with the suburban look of the building, reminded me of Miami. On the grass, there was a sign that read “CUIDADO: Jardim Tratado com Produto Tóxico” – “BEWARE: green area treated with toxic products.” I did not know what to make of this warning; it seemed pretty awkward. Why would you use toxic materials on a green lawn? Are they trying to scare undeserving people away so they do not lie down on or step on it? Why would you want to have a nice, green lawn that you can’t really enjoy? Wealthy people have strange ideas sometimes. After proceeding with our walk, I documented endless security cameras and sign warnings on electrified fences, as well as barbwire and tall buildings under construction.

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When we reached Savassi, we needed to stop at a bathroom and Pedro suggested we could stop at shopping mall, “Patio Savassi” – “Savassi Garden.” The sanitized space inside the shopping mall felt so strikingly different to other places we have been to along the “Contorno.” Tamara said: “it feels like being in an airport.” The shopping center was not so big, for US standards, but had the same kind of elements typical of any other fancy shopping mall; mechanized stairs, a Rolex store, a sneakers store, fancy boutiques, an open cafe, etc. Everything looked so chic, compared to the stores we have previously been to along our fieldwork. “Definitely, we won’t find any good deals here” – We commented. The layout of the space, its materials, signs, and aesthetics reminded me of Rem Koolhass’ article, Generic Architecture, which refers to the standardized character of spaces of flows and consumption in a globalized world.

After our shopping mall experience, we were done for the day. We debated what to do, since it was a bit too early to have lunch and we were not feeling hungry yet. Tamara suggested; “Why don’t we go for a beer?” – To what we all seemed to agree. I pointed out to a corner bar across the street. Pedro laughed at us – “Sure! But it’s just a shitty bar!” – “It doesn’t matter! We love shitty bars!” And we sat in a small corner under a shade, in between a wall and parked cars, and shared a Bohemia. “You see? It doesn’t take much to make us happy!”

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