The influence of the French and the English in Brazil began a long time ago and it is very present in our history.
The French were at one time the most serious threat to the Portuguese in Brazil. After being expelled in 1567 from Rio de Janeiro, they began paying attention to the North of the country. In 1612, a French expedition led by Ravardière began to colonize Maranhão. They were thrown out in 1615, it is true, but a man called Duguay-Trouin captured and sacked Rio de Janeiro in 1711.
France Said it owned Amapá until 1900. France has always been the model for the intellectual and cultural life in Brazil. French was the second language of the more educated and lively discussions took place in Brazil about the novels of Flaubert, Balzac and Zola. The elegant shops of the state capitals were full of French articles and women competed to see who wore the latest fashion dictated by Paris.
After them, the English culture began to exert a strong fascination over us, even though the English had had very arrogant manners: King James I, for example, generously gave the lands in the North of Brazil to noblemen in his court, but, fortunately or unfortunately, they did not colonize them. We could stretch things and say that Brazilian gold financed the commercial deficit between Portugal and England, and that they’ve had an important part in the political movements that resulted in the freeing of the slaves through the Lei Áurea.
But nowadays we can, in a stroll through the city streets and its memories, enjoy the rich inheritances left by these two cultures in our city.
In the old city center, close to Largo do Café, there are still many roofs and the beautiful dome, all made of stone, typical of the French architecture. We have Viaduto Santa Efigênia, a bridge inaugurated in 1913, that passed over the old Fruits and Vegetables Market; the Trianon Park on Avenida Paulista – originally Rua da Real Grandeza –,which was known by this name because of the copy of the French palace that was demolished to give place to MASP, and that the city officials insist in calling Park Tenente Siqueira Campos; the Campos Elísios and the Campo de Marte. Names and places inspired by France.
We can remember the railroad engineer Stevaux, who emigrated to Brazil and who left his mark here in São Paulo. There was the well known bookshop Livraria Gazeaux, a book importer, that used to be in the corner of Praça da Sé. There is also Capela de Santa Luzia, called the little French church, with the famous shrine of Our Lady Without Head on Rua Tabatinguera. And there was also the Liceu Franco-Brasileiro, later Lycée Pasteur, on Vila Clementino, where Monsieur Imbert taught for many years.
The English left us the railroad station Estação da Luz and the Light & Power building, which was built where the incredible building of Teatro São José used to be, on the corner of Rua Xavier de Toledo. The first Viaduto do Chá, that was built from 1886 to 1892 and demolished in 1938, was also inspired in English architecture. It had guards with booths on both ends, with register clocks that counted the people who passed by the turnstiles and paid three vinténs as toll. They have also left the Gasômetro and the many Workers Villages, like Vila Zelina, for example. This not mention the old São Paulo Railway. Between São Paulo and Santos, on the crest of the Serra do Mar, the railroad engineers built the town of Paranapiacaba, that can provide a marvelous day trip, especially on a Winter morning, very early, when a delicious fog covers the small town and one might expect to bump into Sherlock Holmes any second. We have until today St. Paul School, known in the past as Escola Britânica de São Paulo. We cannot forget our first department store, Mappin Stores, a first world institution, that had even a lending library with books in English and English employees like Mr. Wilson, in charge of the shoe section and who lived in the famous Pensão Brasileira on Rua Direita. Until the forties, anybody who was somebody wanted to be seen enjoying the five o’clock tea at the Mappin Stores.
Much of this is gone, and even though it is not possible to see the young women of the L’Auberge de Marianne on Rua Sete de Abril and sit on its sidewalk tables for a hot chocolate and a brioche, it is still a treat to have dinner at the Le Casserole or in Freddy, have a stout beer in Finnegan’s Pub or at the English Club on Rua Visconde de Ouro Preto and go to the Christmas bazaar of the Anglican Church on Rua Alziro Zarur, to buy second-hand books in English or take home the famed jams and the plum cake made by the English families who live in Alto da Boa Vista.
And there is always the consoling thought that we have also left our small mark in the history of these two peoples by sending Mr. Assis Chateubriand to the Court of St. James as ambassador and making General De Gaulle ride on a Volkswagen beetle in an official visit to Brazil.
Sources: 1. A History of Brazil, by E. Bradford Burns, Columbia University Press – New York. 2. Retalhos da Velha São Paulo, by Geraldo Sesso Jr., OESP - Maltese. 3. Long conversations with old inhabitants of São Paulo.