Before moving to a new place, you have to establish your priorities; what exactly do you want from the city you’ll be calling home? Beyond the adrenaline rush of changing trains at peak hour or grabbing a cab with friends from the club to the after-hours, you’ve got to factor in cost-of-living, employment possibilities and earning potential, cultural offerings and entertainment, and transportation costs to other places. Unexpectedly, Fraulein Berlin plead her case for becoming my next home base while I visited last weekend.
For a few years now, I’ve been dedicated to marrying São Paulo, that raucous, gaudy Brazilian gal who pussy-whipped me good-fashioned when we first met back in ’05. I’ve been there four times already, the longest for two months. I’ve made friends, researched the job and housing markets, and have a pretty good notion of how much it would cost to see my Fly Mother at Christmas. In the face of Berlin’s possibilities, however, Sampa’s starting to seem slightly like an overpriced, if exciting, fling.
First, there’s employment and cost-of living. In São Paulo, a full-time English teaching position (40 hours a week with very little time for writing) at a language institute would pay about $1000 a month. Rent in a large studio or small one-bedroom apartment in a centrally-located, working class neighborhood would run minimum $400 and easily $500 a month. Working part-time at a language institute in Berlin can net about 1000 to 1500 Euro a month (that’s part-time, I said), with studio apartments near subway stations clocking in at 350-400 Euro. Teaching Spanish would earn me even more in both places, but $10 per hour versus 25 Euro for classes…you figure it out.
Secondly, and very important for a Fly Brother like myself, is ease of travel. São Paulo has the busiest airport in Latin America, but it’s a three hour, typically $200 flight away from the next largest cultural capital, Buenos Aires, and often domestic flights to places like Salvador da Bahia can run into the $300 range (on the plus side, hops to Rio are usually quick and easy, either by air or land). A round-trip ticket to Miami for mid-October: $718. Sampa-Tokyo: $1700.
Berlin, capital of smack-dab-in-the-middle-of-Europe Germany, is a little over an hour by air to London, two to Istanbul. Lufthansa‘s offering flights to Orlando for 499 Euro, Cairo for 279, Joburg for 589, São Paulo for 669, and Tokyo for 649 (I’d be getting paid in Euro, remember). Travel within Europe and even out of Europe—unparallelled. And if I need to pop up to Stockholm to film a toothpaste ad, down to Lisbon for a conference on Portuguese-English literary translation, or over to Londinium for a weekend of debauchery at one of these off-the-hook places my Londophile (“Anglophile” seemed a bit off-kilter and wrong) readers keep trying to sell me on, I can do it for stupid cheap.
Lastly, there’s the feeling of Europe giving me a much larger platform from which to launch a sustainable career as a writer, photographer, bon vivant, or whatever the hell else I choose than South America. While SP has an established and burgeoning artistic milieu, the exposure is much more limited and the pay for creative jobs is atrocious.
I’m still going to Sampa for a few months after my trip to complete the first draft of a novel set there, and maybe the opportunities that present themselves during those months will trump Berlin’s argument. I’m very sure that the exhiliration of my social life there will make it exceedingly hard to pull away. And I hate cold weather, so even sometimes-chilly SP has that going for it. In the end, though, I’m thinking a move to Europe would be sacrificing one great thing for many good things that could potentially become great. As they say in Spanish: unos por otros; not quite literally, one thing for another.
But then, I may decide to move to Hong Kong after a week there in October.