Don's Diary

September 12, 1997


In the evening I fly to Sao Paulo where, in partnership with Martins Fontes, the Brazilian publisher and bookseller, Cambridge University Press is opening a bookshop. This will be the second such shop in the world - the only other one being in Cambridge itself. Brazil, with its huge population and rapidly growing economy, is already the largest export market for CUP's English-language textbooks and we seek to increase sales from the rest of our list. Having an exclusive bookshop seems an imaginative way of doing this.


I am met at the airport by Riitta da Costa, director of CUP's office in Brazil, who has arranged my programme. After lunch, we drive to the University of Sio Paulo to meet Sergio Miceli Pessoa de Barros, the president of their press. They publish Brazilian editions of a number of Cambridge books, including a translation of the Cambridge History of Latin America. I also meet Sergio Santos who handles the university's international links. He is a chemist and presses the need for Brazilian editions of up-to-date scientific textbooks. I have dinner with Riitta and Alexandre Martins Fontes and his wife. I unwind with caipirinha, a delicious drink made from lime, sugar, ice and the fiery cachaca distilled from sugar cane.


I stop by the British Council library in Sio Paulo, housed in one of the schools of the Cultura Inglesa. Irmtrud Miocque tells me that the Cultura has over 43,000 students on its books learning English at one level or another. She gives me a tour. The demand for English is strong, people fitting in classes before and after work.

Riitta takes me to a new bookshop, Atica. A magnificent display of books on four floors; music of all sorts in the basement, and the top floor given over to exhibition space. Today the National Geographic is on show: there is a new event planned nearly every day. Last Saturday 22,000 people came to the shop.

In the evening I gave a talk at Folha, one of the main newspapers of Brazil which organises two or three such talks a week. They want to know about Cambridge's new Microsoft laboratory. I talk about various forms of partnership between universities and industry, stressing the intrinsic importance of pure research.


Lunch with Donald Occhiuzzo, the director of the alumni association which promotes cultural links with the United States. The alumni are keen users of Interchange, CUP's American-English language course. Go from there to the opening of the CUP bookshop. More than 200 people attend. The shop, elegantly designed, has over 3,000 titles on display, including Bibles, monographs, reference books and illustrated histories as well as our Canto paperbacks and Spanish publications. Books by our 23 Brazilian authors are just inside the door; there is a case of books on Latin American subjects. In opening the shop, I say how good it is to find such a welcome for books, and I hope that more Brazilian scholars will publish with CUP. The event attracts wide media coverage; it is thrilling to experience the high regard accorded abroad to our university presses.

At dinner, hosted by John Coope of the British Council, Sergio Miceli asks what I know about his country. I reveal knowledge of Ayrton Senna and Brazilian footballers; that I like Elizabeth Bishop and find Peter Fleming's Brazilian Adventure a lot of fun. This sparks vigorous talk of sport, poetry, translation and travel.


In the morning I visit Pedro Herz whose bookshop has an impressive range of foreign publications in stock: history, literature, philosophy, art, science and sociology very strong. Not much by way of biography; no sport, medical self-help, or do-it-yourself.

Go to the Martins Fontes offices and see some of their books: a distinguished list with strengths in architecture and philosophy, a fine bi-lingual (Spanish/Portuguese) Complete Poems of Lorca, and particularly jolly David McKee books for children.

We depart for Maresias on the coast, arriving late at night. The stars are very different, but the sheer force of the ocean is just as awesome here as in the other hemisphere.


An opportunity to re-read Elizabeth Bishop. Her poems from Brazil have more meaning for me now. How exciting to be introduced by her to The Diary of Helena Morley: what a clear-eyed, witty and slightly wicked diary of Brazilian life the young Mrs Brant wrote 100 years ago.


Taking leave of new friends, I am struck again by the enthusiasm for books. This is what universities are about, and, when circumstances run against us, we should remember Francis Cornford's praise of that "silent, reasonable world, where the only action is thought, and thought is free from fear".

Gordon Johnson

President of Wolfson College, Cambridge and chairman of the Syndics of Cambridge University Press.

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