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Letter from the editor | 138

Transitions: science, art and life

In mid July, while I was looking at the beautiful but sad  pictures of children taken by our photographer Miguel Boyayan for this  edition’s cover  – prepared by the assistant science editor, Maria Guimarães – the following verses came to my mind  in a relative jumble: “a womb however vacant / that involves only emptiness/ concave will become convex”. They are from a poem Alto do Trapuá by João Cabral de Melo Neto and made a deep impression on me when I was somewhere between my 14th and 17th year, when  I had a fantastic Portuguese teacher called Zuleica Barreto. Actually, I was lucky to have had great Portuguese teachers at the Colégio de Aplicação at  the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA) for seven years at secondary school, at that time comprising ginásio and colegial [roughly equivalent to junior high school and high school].The one who struck me the most, however, was Zuleika, with her vast knowledge of every text we studied, interspersed with a fantastic and ironic view, combined with a capacity to share this with us and spurred  in us as teenagers a burning passion for literature – to this day I still feel deeply and irremediably close to the Paulo Honório that we heatedly dissected in the dry and rough environment of São Bernardo. This was the Paulo Honório created by Graciliano Ramos, it is true, but, I suspect, transfigured and illuminated in a special way by Zuleica, so that our avid eyes could reach fearlessly into the characters – core.

Very well: at some point on our shared path through the classrooms, ready to embark upon the tough journey of a parched death and life, Zuleica wanted to introduce us to other less well known works by João Cabral, of whom she said “he is the poet”, to give us an idea of her immeasurable admiration for him. That was when Alto do Trapuá appeared, in whose images I promptly recognized an unparalleled poetic strictness, a penetrating precision, in his presentation of these men of “vegetable-like torpor” who peopled the misery of the northeastern scrub savannas.

And so many years later, when I had only barely started recalling the verses of the poem, Mayumi Okuyama, our art editor, with the prompt adhesion of Maria Guimarães, proposed that we should use it as an illustration for the cover feature on malnutrition (page 42). Or, better said, on the proven evidence that malnutrition during childhood leads to hypertension, obesity and diabetes during adolescence and adulthood. To my mind, this made sense, but due to space limitations we were unable to publish the full poem. We  have included some short excerpts for the reader, with a promise to post the entire poem on our website.

If science, by circuitous means, led us to poetry in this edition, it also proposed more direct links, let us say, with music. “The music of life – biology beyond the genome” (Oxford University Press), the most recent book by Professor Denis Noble, a cardiovascular physiology expert and currently one of the main adversaries of genetic determinism, is sufficient reason for our special editor Carlos Fioravanti’s report on the resumption of an integrated approach to the functioning of the body (page 56). Fioravanti has just returned from Oxford, where he completed a program of intense study from January to July at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

As for the afflictive hissing of asthma, it may disappear altogether in the not very distant future, thanks to a vaccine based on proteins from the schistosomosis worm. The article, on page 48, is by Ricardo Zorzeto, our new science editor.

In other pages of this edition it is technology that leads us to music or, more precisely, to recognizing the limits of  acoustics in  concert halls where we enjoy concerts  and other musical performances. The technology editor, Marcos de Oliveira, tells us starting on page 72 how a group of researchers from the University of São Paulo developed a software program to analyze the sound performance in halls, theatres and auditoriums. The software, which can be downloaded from the internet free of charge, indicated that the Municipal Theatre and the São Pedro Theatre in São Paulo were the two music venues with the best sound. For connoisseurs , it should be clear  that the Sala São Paulo concert hall has not been tested yet.

Where  humanities are concerned, editor Carlos Haag focuses on recent studies on luxury consumption, which is also seen as a major category and one that leads us to reflect on the correlations and conflicts among Brazil’s social classes, as he shows us how and why it does not stop growing in this country. On the other end, he examines some recent research that reveals the extreme complexity of the identity of low income transvestites and their difficulty in surviving without alarm in large  Brazilian cities.

To close, this month’s “ping-pong” interview, carried out by senior editor Neldson Marcolin, talks to Henrique Lins de Barros, a character whose scientific curiosity and restlessness led him to move from atomic physics to biology and to our investigation into the life of Santos-Dumont – which transformed him into a leading authority  on the brilliant “father of aviation”. Multiple transitions seems to be our secret theme,  a subtext of sorts in this edition.