São Paulo: “Sex-Death Hotelier Makes the Cover of the Rolling Stone!”

Sex and Air Safety Get All Mixed Up In Brazil’s Politics: the strange saga of São Paulo nightclub owner Oscar Maroni makes the front page of today’s Wall Street Journal — a complimentary copy of which is waiting for me in the lobby of our hotel here near Union Square in Baghdad by the Bay.

Which except for the headline plays the story straight.

I mean, yes, I have been covering the story myself under the rubric of “the sex-death hotelier.”

But my tongue was always firmly in cheek. The facts in dispute are weird — and in their own way, indicative — enough without our having to succumb to the hysterical virginity pumped out by some of the local press.

I also think it is something of a mistake to conflate São Paulo politics with Brazilian politics in general.

People elsewhere in Brazil do tend to look at things like this, shrug, and say “coisa de paulista.” “It’s a São Paulo thing.”

Think of that TV ad where the cowboys are outraged to learn that that other brand of taco sauce is “made in New York City.” “New York City?!” they cry, rising to their feet in hot anger.

On the other hand, São Paulo politics do tend to dominate the lower house in Congress — even as the Senate is dominated by places like Piauí and Alagoas. The contrast can be stark and startling — even more so than in our own bicameral federalism, where Montana enjoys a level playing field with New York, California and Ohio in the upper house. And the federal president is a veteran of São Paulo labor politics, of course, though ethnographically a Northeasterner.

It is hard for an outsider to grok how meaningful that is, culturally — stumpy, lisping, gravelly-voiced Squid is identifiably a downtrodden wetback-equivalent of the sertões, and his campaign jingles are forró rather than bossa nova.

You look at the guy and just see a stumpy, gravelly-voiced generic Brazilian of some sort. But some people look at the guy and see the apocalyptic triumph of the barbarian mud-people hordes. This latent “bomb flat the Bantustans” mentality takes some getting used to. Especially when it comes from people who also say they enjoy the Grateful Dead, dude (although actually I have always been a quietly pointed non-Deadhead myself).

Still, there are a lot of people who would really like to see a federal president not closely associated with the Rio-Sampa corridor (or the Southeast generally) one of these days. A Brazilian Ike or Harry Truman, from the heartland. Demographic trends suggest it will happen sooner or later, and it is already shaping up as a factor in 2010, I think.

Part of Mr. Maroni’s problems at the Bahamas Club stem from a recent TV interview in which he seemed to brag about his business. “Yes, it’s high-class prostitution,” Mr. Maroni said. “We’re not going to be hypocrites.” Mr. Maroni’s son, Aruã, says his father’s words were distorted by bad editing.

Local press sources cited by the W$J’s reporter on the story — by name, thank you very much; none of this sleazy Larry Rohter-style “press sources say” — include the Estadão and IstoÉ Dinheiro.

The newspaper O Estado de Saõ Paulo editorialized that it was high time authorities moved against “figures involved in marginal activities [who] remain far away or above the law.”

Which may include a lot of people currently occupying posts in the city government.

Taking payoffs from bicheiros. Living next door to Colombian drug lords, with more plastic surgery behind them than Carol Channing in her sad declining years, in the hermetically sealed edge developments of Alphaville and its pseudopods. See, for example

After opening with a source from the city government stating the indictment, the W$J spends most of the article reality-testing some of the engineering and urban planning issues. Which I appreciated.

It might also have mentioned what a lot of local commentators have chuckled bitterly over: that instead of a buffer zone at the end of the runway in event of overshoots — if that is the right term for it — somebody installed a freaking fueling station.

When an aircraft overshot the runway at a Colombian airport recently, for example, the shaken passengers wound up with bruises, shaky nerves, and an unscheduled trip to the beach.

In this incident, they wound up running smack into a freaking fueling station. They wound up, tragically and grotesquely, and totally unnecessarily, as human churrasco.

Which is why pilots reportedly refer to the Congonhas aiport as “the aircraft carrier.”

And which is why there are cynical voices here and there suggesting that the reputed whoremaster Maroni may even be right in some sense — that he is being scapegoated for the astonishing lack of planning by the responsible authorities, going back a decade or two.

But Mr. Maroni has plenty of fans, too. Fabio Alves, passing by the shuttered club on a motorcycle, paused long enough to predict that Mr. Maroni would soon be free and running his hotel. “Powerful people go to his club and that gives him power,” he said, as an airliner roared overhead. “He knows things that could embarrass people.”

On one hand, the Estadão (which, for what it’s worth, is my preferred source of straight, civic-minded reporting and responsible-adult conservative opinion — with occasional exceptions. See also

On the other, some guy on a motorcyle. A motoboy? A member of the Abutres motorcyle club, a local Hell’s Angels-equivalent (whose president, Pateta (“weirdo”), we met a few years ago when he was running for city council on the Green ticket)? Not all guys on motorcyles are created equal.

Still: The promise to name names and embarrass people in high places is part of the sex-death hotelier’s spiel, it seems to me:

That, and melodramatic attempts to seek political asylum that strongly recall the Maluf defense: “I am a victim of political persecution.” See

In any event, it is good to see the W$J’s Latin American desk reporting the story straight. It has tended to gabble viciously in the past.

The first time I ever set foot in São Paulo, the first detail that struck me was that, in many neighborhoods, every property owner is responsible for constructing their own sidewalks. No public easement where private property meets the public street. A gnarly, fractal lack of uniformity of sidewalks is notable in many parts of the city.

Which makes being a skatepunk in São Paulo a very, very punk-rock proposition, of course. And speaks volumes about the state of urban planning in the world’s fourth largest city.

It is a city perpetually in search of its Robert Moses, in a way, but oh, the perils and pitfalls of exercising eminent domain in a manner allegedly consistent with stakeholder democracy.

The annexation of the Sudetenland has nothing on the “shock and awe” redevelopment of Cracolândia-Santa Ifigênia, for example. Or so some locals will tell you.

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