The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
You grab the Métro at Jacques Bonsergent – line 5
then surface at the terminus, strike out
across the eerie bus station, hop on a slim blue tram for Seine-Saint-Denis.
Tower blocks crowd a cloudless August sky,
relieved by just one tree, and you are squashed
with people from all parts, their weighty bags, are told: ‘Alight one stop past Libération.’
It rises like a crest in wavy concrete
from the flagstones, half-submerged, a ship of state.
Above, two men survey a sea of pavement, spread their cardboard beds, bask in the sun.
The entrance is a secret down a slipway –
you step through wide glass doors, are welcome here.
Curved walls invite you along sinuous corridors that have no edges, seem to have no end,
open on meeting-rooms starry with lights,
low-ceilinged, confidential, where a lie
would wash up naked and a pose be punctured by guffaws. Here talk is comradely, forthright.
A scalloped theatre greets you, unsuspected,
flowing blue and yellow walls, ocean and beach,
plush proletarian seats – Niemeyer’s swirling claim the poor outskirts of Paris could be Copacabana.
Peter Godfrey is a freelance journalist and aspiring author, and is currently studying for an MPhil in writing at the University of Glamorgan. Three years ago he interviewed the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer and found him an inspiring mix of humility, political militancy and imagination. As the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano put it, Niemeyer, who died in December 2012 aged 104, 'hates equally capitalism and the right angle'.