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  • One of those nights in São Paulo, a Brazilian friend is telling me about his country. It is Thursday and we are having typically Brazilian super-ice-cold beers at a bar just off of Paulista Avenue. The buzzing of after-work discussions all around us overpower the voice of a famous Brazilian singer coming from the TV above our heads. Joel J. leans over the table, so I can hear him better.

    “Latin America was always like the garden of the U.S.,” he says slowly, choosing his words. “The U.S. only took care of it when it felt like it,” he adds and takes a sip of his beer. Then he leans closer again. “So, in Brazil,” he continues, “we decided to become economically independent.”

    Indeed, it seems that Brazil has learned to take care of itself: Its poverty rate has halved in the past twenty years and the economy is booming (it recently overtook the UK as the world’s sixth largest economy). Whether everyone is better off remains questionable given the number and ever-expanding favelas or slums found in every major city. But without a doubt, prices are on the rise in the host country of FIFA World Cup 2014 and the Olympic Games 2016. According to a Cost of Living survey 2011, prepared by business consulting firm Mercer, São Paulo (Cidade da Garoa, the City of Drizzle) and Rio (Cidade Maravilhosa, the Marvellous City) were the most expensive cities in the Americas, before New York and Los Angeles.

    Brazil’s higher incomes, lower unemployment and declining interest rates led to a bubbly real estate situation with certain properties increasing in value by 80% — every year. Some can afford it, especially the “state-less and super-rich,” but, like most Brazilians, I struggled as I moved from one place to the next trying to pay the rent. The result: my little saga of 6 apartments in 59 days.

    Tucuruvi: Clueless Arrival
    Date Moved In: 22. January 2012. Price: $45/night. Nights spent: 8.

    Tucuruvi is an interesting area. High up in the North of São Paulo, this residential lower middle-class to lower class neighborhood peacefully stretches over hills and little else. Quiet and relatively safe during the day, it shuts down early and thus becomes unpredictable at night. Good for families, not so great for young and desperately connection-less researcher/journalists/freelance types. The highlight of this apartment was without a doubt our landlady, Rachel Q. On the one weekend she spent at the apartment with us, she managed to introduce us to her entire family, pamper us with Mediterranean cuisine and chocolates and take us to a pre-Carnival Parade practice.

    Getting Used to It: Bela Vista.
    Day Moved In: 30. January 2012. Price: Free. Nights Spent: 6.

    An Austrian photographer/producer, Kate R., rescued us by inviting us to stay at her stylish loft in one of the better neighborhoods of São Paulo–for free.
    With a huge Italian population and located by Sao Paulo’s, arguably, most important street, Paulista Avenue, Bela Vista is full of museums, cafés and numerous beer hubs. In the restless mania of São Paulo, Kate R. taught us how to find some peace within yourself (through the law of attraction), live the Brazilian life as an ex-pat and explore Sao Paulo’s “Japantown,” Liberdade, despite the rain.
    For one week, we were blessed to awake to São Paulo’s sunny cityscape and talk until late at night over wine with the lit-up skyscrape-jungle as a backdrop.

    Living It: Vila Madalena.
    Date Moved In: 5. February 2012. Price: $30/Night. Nights Spent: 11.

    Will A., a fashion/style/wisdom/foodie/chillness-guru and one of the best friends we have had the pleasure to make in Brazil, convinced us to move in with him by serving us a delicious brunch on a Saturday morning (involving artichokes, fresh fish, salad, rice and beans–his trade mark meal). We soon discovered that living with Will, in Vila Madalena, had many more advantages.
    The neighborhood first became popular in the 1970s as more and more students from the nearby University of São Paulo moved in. Today, it is a good place (if not the place) for artists, writers, journalists and other people active in the cultural scene of the city.
    Vila Madalena is home to countless galleries, bars and graffitis as well as an infamous alleyway completely plastered with graffiti.
    Many evenings in Vila Madalena are spent chatting about movies, travels and other life-matters, and we gladly joined the crowd.

    Carnival Madness: Leme.
    Date Moved In: 16. February 2012. Price: $90/Night. Nights Spent: 6.

    When Carnival came around, it seemed natural to experience the craziness first-hand: in Rio de Janeiro! So we hustled around a bit and ended up at the place of a friend-of-a-friend’s. The location was unbeatable: Leme, just North of the infamous Copacabana Beach. For a week, we enjoyed the sun, beach, Carnival alcohol excesses and street blocos with fellow Brazilian and foreign partiers. Highlights included: sipping caipirinhas at a street corner in Lapa prepared by a Tupac fan, singing Beatles songs at a street bloco, trying to climb a bridge to watch the Sambadrome competition for free and observing a man suggestively touching himself while he watched a naked couple kissing several meters away, at 4am on Copacabana Beach.

    Struggling: Botafogo.
    Date Moved In: 22. February 2012. Price: $55/Night. Nights Spent: 2.

    When we sort of ran out of money but did not want to leave before visiting Rio’s biggest favela, Rocinha, we moved into a closet. Literally. Somehow, we found out that Nadine B., a translator working at the German school in Rio, was renting out a room in her two-room apartment. Well, it turned out it was what used to be the maid’s room and what nowadays is usually used as a boxroom. Squished into this windowless sauna-closet together with our suitcases, single-person mattress, computers and cameras, we made it for exactly two nights. Highlights here: Nadine B. bugging us about “water stains” on her precious, size-stacked, polished pots and her roommate, a strict, abstinent Catholic who always locked his door and refused to lend us his double-bed mattress because we were boy and girl. We never saw him.

    Coming Home: Vila Madalena II.
    Date Moved In: 25. February 2012. Price: $23/Night. Nights Spent: 10.

    After fleeing from Nadine B.’s overpriced closet in Rio, we happily returned to Vila Madalena in São Paulo; it was like coming home and it was comfortable. So comfortable, in fact, that we got a bit domesticated. On Wednesday and Saturday morning, we’d shop for fresh vegetables and fish at the local farmers’ market; we bonded with the old neighbor-lady who always sat on the terrace in front of the house (she is even on GoogleMap!); and we organized barbecues with friends. This is also when we met Amanda and Alexandre, a down-to-earth couple who taught us how to prepare excellent, salt-infused meat and drink and samba until the early morning.
    Amanda and Alexandre took us to the Heliópolis community (a former favela) and their parents’ house by the beach in Santos; we took them to one of our favorite places in the city: the Minhocão, an elevated highway in the city center, on a Sunday.

    Finishing It Up: Lapa.
    Date Moved In: 6. March 2012. Price: Free. Nights Spent: 14.

    When Will A. returned from his Carnival vacation, we were once again homeless, but luckily, the mother and father of a highschool friend, Helvio and Monica M. offered us to stay at their house as we finished off work in the city. The house was located in Lapa, a safe, residential neighborhood in the Southeast.

    We took a lot of buses those days. Mobility in São Paulo is a huge issue; the city has recently been named the city with the worst traffic jams in the world. Getting anywhere was difficult, but we managed to visit our favorite places and people once again. More samba, more cairipinhas, more Heliópolis and Paraisópolis, more late-night conversations and strolls in the park.

    “We still have our problems here,” Joel J. continues the discussion over super-ice-cold beers at the after-work bar off of Paulista Avenue. “Racism lurks under the surface and inequality is huge. But we are doing better. The big sporting events are happening here and our export market is growing: We are the second largest exporter to Africa after China!”

    He sips on his beer and smiles. “But don’t listen to me,” he says. “I love this country.”
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