It’s relatively short distance from Avenida Paolista down to Ibirapruera Park, but it’s a long journey, both in terms of the country it covers, and in terms of the land that lies at the end of it. Between the noisy, fast-paced, crowded, densely built-up avenue to the quiet green spaces of Ibirapruera lie the fenced wilds of Trianon Park, smart blocks of luxury hotels, mean streets lined with the cardboard shelters of the homeless, a perilous roundabout and a massive stone monument to the building of Brazil.
Ibirapuera Park is to Sao Paolo as Central Park is to New York – an escape to nature in the middle of the city. I visited it at dusk and its paths and tracks were still teeming with joggers, skaters and cyclists. Kids played on its vast lawns. Couples strolled by its lakes. Its car parks were still filled with tour buses and tourists’ cameras flashed desperately in the fading light.
Ibirapuera is one of many Brazilian parks and gardens designed by the prolific and multi-talented Ernesto Burle Marx, whose career as a sculptor, painter, designer and landscape architect spanned almost the entire 20th century. It is for his gardens, however, that he is best known. Featuring indigenous plants and trees, Burle Marx created landscapes that were truly Brazilian. He often collaborated with the patriarch of modern Brazilian architecture Oscar Niemeyer, creating a lush, green setting for his somewhat stark buildings, like the Museu Afro Brasil which sits against a tiny slice of rainforest in Ibirapruera Park.