Belo Horizonte

BH: Megalopolis of the province of mines

Marcio Borges, composer

Whoever comes here will be well received by our proverbial hospitality and lack of ceremony. Although you do not need to do as the Bahia axé singer who, in his first evening here, shouted at Mineirão[1] to a crowd of Belorizontinos[2] who like these things: Good evening, Beó! B.O[3]!!! If I did not remember that critic stripling of the relentless transformation of the urban landscape, that was me, this holy “inguinorânssia” (ignorance) would have scared me more than my first big shock of citizenship, which was the overthrow of the ficus trees from Afonso Pena Avenue to give way to cars and trolleybuses, huge trees that filled the childhood of Belorizontinos in the 50’s and 60’s with orchard dreams and true forest ecosystems, right in the heart of the city of Belo Horizonte. Nowadays, the trees that have grown afterwards are not as monumental as in those times, but they are there again and this was very good for the Avenue, as we call Afonso Pena in our intimacy. For many years it has got not only these trees, but also a varied Crafts Fair, which shakes the city center every Sunday.

For many years it has got not only these trees, but also a varied Crafts Fair, which shakes the city center every Sunday”

A swarm of people marching among Minas Gerais delicacies stalls, bumping into character dressed Bahianas[4] selling their acarajés[5], living statues asking for a penny, sculptures for sale in all media, soapstone, wood, wire, toys, painting canvas, clothes, furniture, silverware, fabric and lace, medicinal herbs, musical instruments, batteries and electronics.

Feira de Artesanato da Avenida Afonso PenaThe movement spreads into the Municipal Park. The pond crossed over by curved little bridges, the art nouveau bandstand, the rowing boats, the amusement park and the secular trees furnish visual pleasure, fun and shade to those seeking this very democratic and accessible refuge, two steps away from a festivity that is hard to imagine beyond that thick palisade of green and water.

The Palácio das Artes (Palace of Arts), the park’s Jewel, is one of the most pleasant places of the city center. The daily presence of young art students, the elegant opera season, the most crowded concerts, the exhibition galleries, the café, the green, everything at PA honors the name of its most illustrious mentor, Alberto da Veiga Guignard, our Matisse who was a teacher there and perpetrated masterpieces in nearby Ouro Preto, a city that no visitor to Belo Horizonte should miss, so beautiful and close it is.

Outro Preto (MG)And while wandering through the narrow streets and sidewalks of stone, the dozens of baroque churches and sights of this Vila Rica (rich villa), going to Mariana is inevitable, less than twenty minutes far from Tiradentes square. And then, the neo-mineiro[6] will have been to two of our greatest historical treasures. If they want three more, all they have to do is to take BR-040 again, and an hour drive away, go past Congonhas, city of the famous prophets of Aleijadinho, and soon they will already be in São João del Rei and Tiradentes, cities made twins by the Baroque genius of mineiros.

Back to Beagá[7], a coffee at Sete square, facing its humble though honorable obelisk, known by the unflattering nickname Sete square’s Lollipop. It is true that it is still there, stuck in the middle of the Avenue, a perennial landmark of the city, but it is there because it returned after having been uprooted and replanted at Savassi square, where, nobody really knows why, it stayed for some strange time. Savassi saw, with quite a relief, the wandering lollipop go back to its place at Sete square, but time managed to bring to that little neighborhood square, whose main attraction was the delicious smell of new bread from the extinct Savassi Bakery, the shops, the brands, the women, models, and the trendiest and most sophisticated restaurants in Belo Horizonte. The most expensive square meter in the capital, or one of the most. In one of its corners, Savassi’s great chronicler, the Atlético football team fan, Roberto Drummond, has been standing there for years, as if willing to cross the street, immortalized in bronze.

Beagá still keeps, in several places, hidden among skyscrapers, crowded streets and highways, certain air of a provincial Paris. The metal works, the monumental staircases and the crystals of Palácio da Liberdade (Palace of Liberty) echo, even today, that Parisian feel in the memory of the visitor. Even Praça da Liberdade (Liberty Square), with the symmetry of theTuileries and its neoclassical buildings, gives a wink to that relationship. Whoever walks through the city center with watchful eyes sees a few more European marks that still remain in old houses, historical street corners and other almost anonymous monuments that defy time.

Not much had the same luck. The America soccer team field, for example, the famous Estádio da Alameda (Alameda Stadium), has long turned into a supermarket. Younger people do not even know it. In return, the old Campo do Sete – Estádio da Independência (Independence Stadium) – is becoming more and more beautiful and well maintained, at Horto neighborhood. Mineirão, stage of memorable duels between Galo X Cruzeiro[8], arena where star soccer players like Reinaldo and Tostão, Cerezo and Dirceu Lopes had been, also undergoes an extensive renovation which will get it ready for the emotions of a World Cup.

Igreja São Francisco de Assis PampulhaBut Pampulha is still there, steady and strong, beautiful, with its huge lake, the famous works of Niemeyer, the church, Casa do Baile, the Yacht Club, the old Casino (now Pampulha Museum of Art), a most enjoyable ride and a must even for us, locals. The ones who live here know that going up to the Zoo is also guaranteed fun at Pampulha. It is so nice a zoo. Just as it is guaranteed fun visiting the night in Santa Teresa and its tens of bars, where there is live music and partying until the early hours and good conversations in mineirês[9]: “ce sá sês ônbus pas na savás?”, which translated into Brazilian (Portuguese) would mean: “você sabe se este ônibus passa na Savassi?” (“do you know if this bus goes to Savassi?”) Or as overheard at a gas station: “qué qui ói o ói?” In Brazilian: “quer que eu olhe o óleo?” And the answer of the belorizontino behind the wheel: “Ói o ói aí, uai.” Santa Teresa has musical tradition, is the birthplace of Clube da Esquina[10] and a cultural heritage of the city, like bar do Bolão, open 24 hours a day for all who enjoy a cold beer and a hearty pasta dish. Better than that, just bread with egg. Or even better: liver with jiló (Scarlet Eggplant) at Mercado Central (Central Market), the epicenter of mineiros’ way of living, that shakes and agitates the streets of our paradoxical Beagá. Megalopolis with an air of province, two million inhabitants who refer to each other as “cê”. A place that is just an hour away in any direction from the most fantastic and folkloric rural region. Whoever wants to see how far this beautiful horizon goes, climb to the top floor of the panoramic tower of Alta Vila. You will then see how we are lost as walnut shells in a sea of mountains. Wicked good.

Footnotes

[1] Officially, Estádio Governador Magalhães Pinto, Belo Horizonte’s Stadium.
[2] Inhabitant of Belo Horizonte.
[3] B.O. are the initials for Police Report.
[4] Women from the State of Bahia.
[5] A typical Bahia cake made of peeled black-eyed peas deep-fried in dendê (palm oil).
[6] From Minas Gerais State.
[7] A nickname of Belo Horizonte.
[8] The two main soccer teams in Minas Gerais.
[9] The very peculiar way of speaking people from Minas Gerais have, in which the unstressed syllables are omitted.
[10] Brazilian music artists collective that started in Minas Gerais.

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