The elegant Conjunto Nacional (Av. Paulista 2073, Cerqueira César, tel. 11/3179-0000, 9 a.m.–10 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Sat., 2–8 p.m. Sun.) was Latin America’s first shopping center. Inaugurated in 1956, by the 1960s it had become Sampa’s most glamorous address. Those who lived in the coveted modernist apartments were treated to stunning views (the skyscrapers were yet to come) and could camp out at the swanky Restaurante Fasano, where the likes of Marlene Dietrich and Nat King Cole entertained other international luminaries such as Ginger Rogers, David Niven, and Fidel Castro. After falling into decay and suffering damage from a fire in the late 1970s, it wasn’t until the late 1990s that a restored Conjunto recaptured some of its former glory. Today, it is a great place to have a cafezinho, take in a movie, or browse through the fantastic range of books at the Livraria Cultura.
Back in the day when Avenida Paulista was the domain of the coffee aristocracy, Parque Trianon (Rua Peixoto Gomide 949, Cerqueira César, tel. 11/3289-2160, 6 a.m.–6 p.m. daily), less grandly known as Parque Tenente Siqueira Campos, was the place to go strolling. Originally designed in 1892 by French landscaper Paul Villon, the park received a more tropical makeover in 1968 by Roberto Burle Marx, who played up the exuberant textures and colors of the native Atlantic forest. Today, this small but surprisingly lush oasis, punctuated with benches, sculptures, and fountains, provides a welcome contrast to the congested avenue. By day, the park attracts a colorful mixture of visitors, including bookworms and lunching tycoons. Its more jungly depths are legendary as a gay cruising area.
Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP)
Paulistanos are justifiably proud of the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (Av. Paulista 1578, tel. 11/3251-5644, 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Tues.–Sun., 11 a.m.–8 p.m. Thurs., R$15, free Tues.), considered one of Latin America’s finest art museums. The top floor boasts Brazil’s most important collection of European art, including multiple works by Flemish, Italian Renaissance, and French impressionist painters along with some wonderful Degas sculptures in bronze. Foreign visitors, however, might be more captivated by artists who are less known outside of Brazil—paintings by leading Brazilian modernists as well as works by foreign artists and adventurers. Among the most interesting of these were Jean-Baptiste Debret, a French artist and engraver who specialized in vivid portraits of African slaves and Indians in early-19th-century Rio, and Frans Post, a Dutch baroque painter whose Edenic renderings of Brazil inspired tapestries made by the famed French Gobelins factory.
Unfortunately, of the 7,000 works in MASP’s collection, only around 500 are ever on display at a given time. In compensation, the temporary exhibitions are often of international caliber. As striking as the art on display is the MASP itself. The inspired creation of the vanguard architect Lina Bo Bardi (who was born in Italy and naturalized in Brazil), the building consists of a giant box suspended above the ground by four spindly bright red pillars. The effect is quite impressive, and it’s hardly surprising that since its completion in 1968, MASP has become one of São Paulo’s most beloved and recognizable landmarks.
Casa das Rosas
Near the end of Avenida Paulista, the Casa das Rosas (Av. Paulista 37, tel. 11/3285-6986, 10 a.m.–10 p.m. Tues.–Fri., 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Sat.–Sun., free) is one of the few remaining mansions that once lined the avenue. Designed by leading architect Ramos de Azevedo in the 1920s, the casa takes its name from a delightful rose garden, modeled after the one at the Palace of Versailles. Full of handsome wooden furnishings and stained-glass windows, the house itself is devoted to poetry—aside from frequent readings and events, the library boasts over 30,000 volumes of verse.
Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Brazil.