Rita Sobral, São Paulo

on Feb 1, 2020 in Departure | No Comments

A lawyer who likes to live at the same frenetic speed as Brazil’s largest city. Both have a lot to say.

When she was 17, Rita spoke at the UN. As part of the initiative to rethink the United Nations’ political or party life from young people’s perspective, she represented her cohort and Portugal as a member of the European Union. On that occasion, she was also invited to participate in an intervention programme with UNICEF, where the ideas discussed with adults culminated in her “very incisive and eye-opening” speech. What she took from this “very interesting” experience was “the perception, at a relatively young age, that to achieve objectives, we have to think about the way they’re expressed”. Until then, Rita had thought that her future would be in international relations, but this opportunity had “a major impact on how we think about impact itself”. It helped her see a whole other approach and an “autonomous course, of freedom”. Now a lawyer, the 29-year-old Lisboner realised that, in this age of information and digital platforms, it’s possible to have a real voice.

Resident in São Paulo for the last eight months, after six years in New York, she says that the city is “part of the vanguard of liberal thinking in Latin America”: “Here it’s very common to have a coworking space with a bar and a shop where there are conversations about rethinking what’s happening in this part of the world and understanding politics”. The catalyst for these debates is a cutting-edge artistic movement that has a very specific importance in Brazilian society. In addition to ways of thinking, Rita feels that the creative part is essential to her life in the metropolis. “With all these different dynamics, the city is intense at all levels”, she explains. “In Brazil, you feel the world is happening around you.”

Although she works in the corporate world, Rita sees herself in the plurality of what the American continent’s biggest city has to offer. Having already lived in Beijing and London, she always ends up choosing complex and multifaceted places – “I’m like that too”. The international outlook she’s had from an early age (she met people from all over the world at Harvard Law School, in the USA, where she studied) was key to her integrating quickly, in a “very organic way”. She usually goes out after work and meets friends in a pub for a chat and a beer. Other escapes from her routine involve yoga (she’s an instructor) and spirituality.

At weekends, she can be found at Avenida Paulista, a place that’s “a reflection of much of the city”, visiting the Museu de Arte de São Paulo or the Instituto Moreira Sales. She also does the rounds at Galeria Crua, in the city centre, and Cartel 011, in Pinheiros, as well as previously derelict places that have risen from the ashes, such as Bar do Cofre, in the basement of the Farol Santander building.

After arriving in Brazil, Rita says that falling in love with bossa nova was inevitable: “Here, the lyrics start to make sense, which led me to Chico Buarque as a writer”. Bit by bit, she moved on to the work of Drummond, Amado, Quintana and Vinicius. She’s also discovered contemporary and alternative Brazilian music, like Liniker, “a black transsexual who’s probably one of the best singers of Brazil’s new generation, which is unbelievable because it only shows that there’s a major cultural vanguard here”.

Rita’s empathy for all this ground-breaking art that strains to forge links between communities could only come from Portuguese culture: “It’s the inherent reality of me feeling that the world has to be explored”.


by Manuel Simões /// photo Anna Carolina Negri


Zel Café

A stone’s throw from Avenida Paulista, there’s a garden and cultural area in this large restored 1930s house. And, according to Rita, “it serves great coffee!” “I love going there to read and spend some time alone, feeling that I’m in São Paulo. For me, it’s the epitome of the city.”


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