Pine trees, scorched earth

Image: Lars Englund


It is not new that Pinheiros suffers from the expulsion of its former residents

In a few days, another townhouse will collapse in the São Paulo neighborhood of Pinheiros. It is a large two-story townhouse, worn down by time, but which still shelters many lives. They are small businesses that have been there for decades. The tenants have already been warned, they have been given a deadline to leave with all their merchandise and work furniture. More small people expelled by big – or rather – huge businesses.

I follow from afar the suffering of these people of small social stature, so small that they can simply be excluded from their tiny spaces where they struggle for an honorable life. Personal feeling of impotence when faced with the sight of a small shopkeeper in a shop where they sell everything that “a housewife” (as they used to say…) looks for in order to take good care of her home. Brooms, squeegees, buckets, cleaning cloths, including the popular “dust cloth” (does anyone still know this expression?), aprons, mats, trash cans, soap dishes, plates, cups, in short, essential everyday items .

His look is resigned, of deep sadness, nothing to do but move to a distant neighborhood, across the bridge (over the Pinheiros River) and try to make a new parish. There goes 23 years of work, fixed in the same place, but what to do? He tells me desolately: “we managed to beat the pandemic, but…”, and I complete: but not the capitalists! Ah, I remember well this man interviewed by TV Globo in an article about the difficulties of small businesses in the pandemic. So much struggle...

I also suffer for the recent widow of the little shop next door. She lost her husband suddenly not long ago. But she and her son had decided to continue with the small business that her husband had built with her for decades, and whose success was attested not only by the residents of the neighborhood but also by those who came from far away to buy their LPs, CDs, DVDs, phonograph needles. increasingly rare on the market. And what about the suffering of the old barber standing on the sidewalk waiting for a customer? What will become of those customers that he has also served for many years and who will no longer be able to count on his barbershop? His desolate look is that of someone who has lost his way in life.

It is not new that Pinheiros suffers from the expulsion of its former residents. Or rather, those who suffer are these simple people who struggle for their daily bread. But the ones who win, without a doubt, are the speculators, the builders, the banks, all “heartless” people, as the old people used to say. As I have lived here for decades, I have been able to follow several waves of attacks against its residents.

A sad example was the demolition of Rua Martin Carrasco and its surroundings. There, on the street in front of the square by the church of Pinheiros, was the popular Fotolândia, founded more than 70 years ago by a photographer who emigrated from Japan. During the dictatorship of Getúlio Vargas, he and his family suffered from the ban on speaking Japanese. So at night, the lights were turned off and a teacher gave clandestine classes so the children wouldn't lose their parents' language. So much history lost in the memory of families! Anyway, the family managed to survive with their work in the photo shop. Later, his father's small business was inherited by his son, who is also a photographer. The store prospered – it's hard to find any old Pinheiros resident – ​​who didn't take a ¾ with him. And so some thirty years passed until the construction companies, always associated with the public authorities, succeeded in demolishing that entire area.

After expelling the old residents – many tenants among them – a large square was erected with precarious backless benches, very suitable for not providing comfort to the homeless. Thanks, however, to the struggle of people with an eye on society, the City Hall was forced to provide more comfortable and beautiful benches. Also thanks to these activists of social and environmental causes, trees were planted and even managed to build a small forest in a corner that escaped the greed of builders. The square was beautiful, however, at the expense of how much suffering…

I remember a man who kept in his jacket pocket, with immense affection, a small photograph of the old Martin Carrasco, where he had lived in his youth. Nor can I forget the countless street vendors who pitched their stalls on the bumpy sidewalks of Rua Butantã. Where did they go as soon as the Metro works started?

The progress signaled by the construction of the yellow line of the Metro was the great decoy of the public power to apologize for so many inconveniences, the biggest one being that huge hole that opened up near the bank of the Pinheiros river. The story of the inappropriate machinery was never really clarified, but the fact is that several people were simply swallowed by the sudden opening of the crater. It was said, life will improve for everyone, traffic will flow better, many people will prefer to leave their cars at home. It's progress for everyone, the politicians boasted.

Since then numerous buildings have been built in the surroundings. Glazed office buildings, luxury condominiums, parading a monotonous architecture, which stands out for its ugliness with its thick columns and sumptuous portals. Most of these buildings seem to want to scratch the sky (nothing to do with the old Gothic beauty…) and, even worse, pose a perennial threat to the old houses of Pinheiros. Detail: almost all these people from the buildings like to go out in the car, never to mix with the people in the subway stations. If not, then why were so many garages built underground?

Now the new Master Plan brings a new threat to the well-being of residents: the construction of buildings of unlimited height, which will give yet another great boost to the demolition of properties and the eviction of their residents. I still wonder: did these capitalists not read about the sinking of several cities around the world due to the weight of buildings? No, more likely they'll happily board a submersible without a second thought for future generations, including their own descendants.

In recent times, construction companies have developed a new invasion strategy with a view to demolishing the neighborhood. The old residents are in their sights in particular, better to say in plain language, their corpses. As soon as the deceased cools down, the suited representatives of these great enterprises descend on the heirs like a flock of vultures in search of carrion. They buy their properties and then close them up, walling up their doors and windows, due to the risk of “invasion” by the homeless, more and more of them sleeping in the open air under highly disputed marquees.

Then these zealous new owners disappear. In these closed houses garbage of all kinds accumulates while weeds grow inside their chained gates and on the bordering sidewalks. A resident complained to City Hall. The most that was done was to cut the bushes on the sidewalks... It was claimed that nothing could be done inside the gates because it was private property. After pronouncing this most sacred word, it now remains to wait for other residents to die or give in to the builders' appeals to buy their homes. With the abandonment of neighboring houses, the inhabited houses quickly devalue and thus it becomes increasingly difficult to resist those people full of curtseys, with their folders of contracts in legal letters that are difficult to understand.

Warning: this article, written based on a distant memory that comes to me since the 1980s, has only the sad intention of being a requiem for Pinheiros and its residents. Many, many years ago, someone declared, to the great scandal of an emerging bourgeoisie, that “property is theft”. Undoubtedly a steal. But as the Earth is fortunately round, I hope it moves in a more beneficial direction for humanity. As, for example, the message inscribed on an external wall of an “occupation”, in cheerful colored letters: “If living is a privilege, occupying is a duty”. With this reminder of a basic right – the right to life – I finally realize that a glimmer of hope may well sprout from the city walls.

* Celia Maria Marinho de Azevedo is a retired professor at the Department of History at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of Black wave, white fear: the black in the imagination of the elites (annablume).

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