You can't live in São Paulo without knowing about the Minhocão, the 'Elevado Costa e Silva', to give it its proper name. 'Minhocão' basically means giant earthworm. The flyover is built above another thoroughfare at about a second-storey height. It snakes between apartment blocks through a couple of neighbourhoods.
The Minhocão was pretty much a white elephant with each political figure wanting to make his name through it - one would want to construct it and the other would want to demolish it. For better or for worse, the Minhocão still stands, a whole culture now built up around it.
That culture is the interesting part of the Minhocão. The road below is peppered with vendors selling everything from pirated dvd's to fresh cut fruit. It's the kind of place where a mix of humanity moves through or just hangs around... the kind of place you want to stand and just watch. For those with people watching as a hobby, it's perfect.
I had my introduction to the Minhocão way back when I first ventured out from my home in Perdizes. The bus I took into town went under the minhocão. What an education! I would take the bus really early, around 6am. Every few metres was a prostitute, more often than not with more skin than fabric showing. These weren't your high class escorts either. The sight of bright lipstick and fishnet stockings became familiar to me. Some of the prostitutes looked stranger than others...
Some time later, after I'd stopped taking that particular route to my students, I learned that many now stood there almost completely naked. Why? To prove they were female. The area became well known for cross-dressers and those who'd gone the whole surgical route. Frankly, I'm glad I don't take that bus any more. I think the sight would be a bit much to stomach after my early breakfast.
The minhocão is also known for its graffiti. It's a haven for graffiti artists from all over, its vast pillars offering the perfect canvas and no one particularly caring what is put on them. This particular pillar sports a charming portrait of Saci Pererê, the one legged mythical creature all Brazilian children get tormented with, Brazil's version of the South African Tokoloshe.
A bone of contention with people over the Minhocão is its height above ground and location. It's constructed just high enough to give passing motorists a birds-eye view straight into the apartments lining the route. For this reason, the flyover is actually closed off at night or over the weekend. It then opens to only pedestrian traffic, as though people are more likely to gaze into other people's lives while driving. If that isn't bad enough, the apartments below the road level are in permanent darkness. The street below becomes a den of drug use, prostitution, crime and the kind of activities that usually flourish in the dark.
I found this photo on a news site, Globo. If you look to the left, you'll see a bus in the street below. No buses go overhead. As you know by now, it rains a lot here. Oddly enough, the top of the Minhocão floods. Before it becomes impassable, cars fly through the dammed up water, creating a filthy fountain onto the road, cars and people below. A nasty place to be when it's raining. Trust me on that one! You're sitting in the bus, window open, as you're supposedly sheltered from the rain by the overhead road and a sluice of grunge-water showers down and in through your window. That is a lesson you only need to learn once.
The Minhocão is a mixed blessing for some. It's home for many, a place to sleep where, as long as you don't mind traffic on both ends of your bed, you're dry and can spread out. The space between the pillars is home. The graffiti over their heads reads, "Be happy". I wonder if they can read it and if they take it to heart - can they?
The final oddity about the Minhocão, the part that fascinates me the most. Tatiana and I used to pass it by and wonder every time what its story was. I believe there are plans to renovate it. I certainly hope so! In among the squalid and often derelict shop fronts stands the 'castle'. It's been empty for as long as I've known it and in various states of disrepair. A real live 'folly' planted in the heart of São Paulo?
It's a standing joke in our family whenever anyone wants to do something or buy something particularly extravagant, the other would say, "What do you want me to do... pawn my body under the Minhocão?" Jurgis has just pointed out that the title of his Firefox tab for this blog post reads: "I am... Tint - Under the Minhocão". The wretch thought that was highly amusing.