Aesthetic Invasion: What to Do With an Abandoned Hospital

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An enormous art exhibit has taken over the historic Hospital Matarazzo, and the city’s been buzzing about it for the past month. Kicking off the São Paulo Biennale, Made By…Feito Por Brasileiros features works by nearly 100 Brazilian and international artists.

The hospital was founded in 1904 by São Paulo’s Italian community, but eventually closed in 1993 after a steady decline of funds. Three years ago a French hotel group bought the valuable property, right by Avenida Paulista, with plans to turn it into a luxury hotel and shopping center. But for a brief moment, it gets to be a center of art for the city.

The site is known as Cidade Matarazzo, which is fitting. It’s like its own little city, pretending that it’s miles away from the high rises and modern rush of Paulista. With the art installations, it feels like you’ve stepped into another world.

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I was reminded of one time when my parents let my sister and I draw on the walls before they painted them a new color. We went wild with our imaginations, and took over the house with anything from scribbling to murals. It felt like the artists received the same short-lived creative freedom.mata23

The buildings haven’t been remodeled or restored yet, so it was full of chipped paint, abandoned structures and holes in the foundation, and many artists’ names were scrawled on the wall in pencil. The old building seemed rather stunning yet macabre, like the hotel from The Shining. (Incidentally, one of the artists did a piece inspired by the movie.)mata22

Matarazzo is a labyrinth, with different corridors to wander, new works to discover, and distinct views from countless windows. In fact, I’m pretty sure I missed a number of rooms. But what I saw kept me curious and in wonder.

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The tiny scribbling on the right hand side says "Stereotype --> Product --> Globalization --> Continuation of Social Image of Nation

Tiny writing towards the right: “Stereotype –> Product –> Globalization –> Continuation of Social Image of Nation

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Yes, that's a real person.

Yes, that’s a real person.

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"There was more future in the past."

“There was more future in the past.”

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Even the chapel was taken over.

Even the chapel was taken over.

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"Accept your fragility."

“Accept your fragility.”

More photos (yes, more!) on my Tumblr.

Acceptance and Serenity

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“I won’t be here for the World Cup,” said a fellow classmate at our Portuguese class a few months back. “I’m leaving Brazil.”

I was immediately struck with a sense of dismay, exacerbated when another student announced their plans to leave soon. Then again last month, I discovered a fellow expat blogger was planning to leave, and I had the same reaction. I’m not particularly close to any of these people, but I always feel a bit of insecurity when an expat — of any country, not just the U.S. — decides to leave. In my head I plead, Wait, I thought we were in this together. Again, I’m not close to these people. Some I’ve barely even spoken to.

I’ve been asked many times how long I intend to stay in Brazil, and the truth is, I have no idea. “I’ll stay until I leave,” is my lame answer. But others’ departures trigger the tiniest doubts in the back of my mind about whether living here is doable. And I remember the moment when I told my friend I was planning to move and she responded with, “You know, usually people leave those countries to come here to the U.S.”

It’s not easy. It requires patience and an open mind. It requires talking to people to find out how the hell to get the government to work for you, learning which are the best routes by trial and error, researching the difference between alvejante and água sanitária before I go to the store, and being prepared for the occasional misunderstanding as people try to decipher your accent.

But it’s also a lesson in recognizing what can or cannot be changed, as well as appreciating things for what they are. I value the way people will invite you over after just meeting you or how in the face of chaos people will creatively find a way to get around. They’re skills I strive to have.

While others may have their reasons for staying or leaving, I can’t compare my journey to others. And if eventually I do leave, the time I’ve spent here isn’t any less worthwhile.

I May Be a Foreigner, But I’m No Longer a Stranger

December 2013

December 2013

I take pride in knowing my neighborhood and its details. I like knowing that at the Sunday feira, there’s a man with a thick northeastern accent who spends the morning shredding coconut with a knife and sells it by the cupful. I like knowing which house has the six cats and that the Siamese one will ignore you, but the tabby will come running and demand to be petted. I’ve even come to appreciate knowing what time the gas truck passes by, announcing its presence with dinky music.

I like recognizing what’s constant, but I feel especially good about recognizing what’s changed. After all, it takes a true resident to know that the large white wall used to have a Japanese-themed mural, but has been since painted over. Or that it didn’t used to be this noisy at night, but they changed the bus routes so now buses pass through this street until late. Even knowing the minor fact that the guava tree in the park was cleared away makes me feel proud.

I’ve come to realize that this knowledge and awareness are key in combatting my foreigner mentality, the belittling feeling that I don’t belong. Even though I still struggle saying the word Anhangabaú, I can tell people which buses pass through here. When I leave the house, I walk down the street with comfort, with familiarity, with perception. I have a growing sense of context and memory that give me a sense of place.

I can’t wait to see how much more I will learn about my neighborhood in a year.

August 2014

August 2014