I've been bugging my friend Ricardo Infernauta to take a couple pictures of the grey market electronics district called Santa Ifigênia in his native São Paulo, Brazil for about forever. When he came through, he wasn't joking about it being a madhouse—it's like a South American inversion of the cramped but orderly grey market shops we have here in New York.
These are the first half of the pictures—I hope to put up more before I leave.
This is the bridge that takes to the electronics inferno called Santa Ifigênia. Our last mayor, a envoy of the flaming pit herself, made a MATTER OF HONOR to keep it clean and free of street salesmen. If only her honor covered the whole São Paulo.
Enter Santa Ifigênia after the jump. (It's like VR if you're in traction!)
Santa Ifigênia Avenue starts back there, but the arches in the crossing of Ipiranga street mark the quintessential Ifigênia experience. We see a local doing the typical festive dance of the 'atropelamento', a live version of the Frogger game that rewards you with 3 minutes less of waiting or certain death, usually the latter.
The near-derelict buildings of the central area that became squats for the miserable are still booming with economic activity on the 1st floors with the system of "Standcenters". That is probably a good idea since the steam-age elevators of those buildings have become moving caskets with their rusty pantograph jaws so hungry for human fingers.
'Art-Deco' buildings contrasting with the cutting-edge smuggled O.E.M. merchs inside the shops and street-stands. Novelty and decay. It's hard to truly convey the feeling of time-displacement of the Ifigênia experience.
The "parallel" market of Brazil is roughly organized by a system of periodic bribes and 'special favors'. Still, there comes the time for the tax-paying shops to complain and the phenomena of "RAPA" - the sudden arrival of police trucks to confiscate the items - occurs.
DETAIL - If the RAPA police arrived, that car would promptly leave screeching tires and hurling shrapnel of smuggled items
over the passersby. A time of pain, a time of joy depending on the speed: "free" stuff, sometimes embedded forever on human flesh.
The "estandes" (stands) selling-booths of the Standcenters are a somewhat safer alternative to the street salesmen. While they won't give you a receipt or real warranty on the items, they are usually in the same locations for several months, sometimes years. Usually.
The changeable nature of the 'estandes'is what makes it a profitable business for the owners of the establishments. Even if a shop has most of its goods confiscated by the authorities and goes broke, almost instantly a new shop will take its place. You, the shopper, wouldn't be able to tell the difference, really.
Car accessories, speakers, car mp3 players - almost everything "used" can be found on the camelôs (street-salesmen). It is not uncommon for them to promise to fetch you the exact model of car stereo you want, returning triumphantly with the item: wires exposed, shards of glass and if you are lucky, blood.
Santa Ifigênia shops are a perverse version of the american Radio Shacks: while the North American counterpart appears somewhat innocuous and tame even the Brazilian plugs are mean and MACHO. The shops sell bulk quantities and single items. But chances are, if you happen to be a notorious geek customer, they'll just throw you some knobs for free.
Heaven for geeks/SM fetishists alike.