A street market in London NW5 on a sunny Thursday morning in March. Spring has sprung, traders have swapped leather coats and sheepskins for lightweight rain jackets, fruit and veg stalls burst with fruit that actually looks succulent, while women sift through new-season strawberries with the intensity of prospectors panning for gold.
Hawkers pitch up, their white vans spewing chests of drawers, knock-off carpets and old sofas while bargain-basement shops colonize the pavements with second-hand cookers, plastic loo brushes, brooms, mops and every type of storage box known to man.
The backdrop is graffiti-sprayed walls and build-em-quick tower blocks festooned with clusters of satellite dishes and strings of washing trailed along balconies. If it wasn’t for the number plates, the red pillar boxes and the pound sign pricing, you could be in any big city in the world.
This is what Cariocas and Paulistas mean when they say London feels like home. There’s a buzz, an energy, and a level of human interaction that’s positively warm, relaxed and a little bit louche. At the market’s edges, cyclists, bags slung half-open over their shoulders, weave their way through shoppers, teenagers in sports gear congregate with their pit-bulls and OAPS in high-tech motorized wheelchairs zip along the curbs. No traffic jams, few pickpockets and no street kids; this is what Cariocas and Paulistas mean when they say London is as far from home as it’s possible to be (just over 5000 miles since you ask).
With its each-man-for-himself attitude, colour palette of almost-all-year-round grey in every possible shade and subdued foliage, it’s a miracle that London manages to spirit Cariocas away from their sandy beaches and Jurassic mountains, Paulistas from their sexy, mixed-up streets. Yet for creatives and students, London is still a great city in which to hard task at the drawing board, find sponsors, studio space and government grants. As the Brazilians would say - it’s the ultimate ’poderosa’- or ’Gucci Mama’- elegant, unshockable and old, but still capable of seducing the hot young things.