Picture Painter, Portrait Maker
The French Quarter stinks. Beer and vomit and urine and hurricanes gone sour, sticky on the slate, in the streets washed not quite clean, gleaming. Quiet in mid morning. Pillow-shaped pastries powdered white. Hot milk and coffee, sugar stirred in, cooling, covering with a dark film. Warm and sweet. Bitter underneath.
Houses rotting. Mansions restored. Store fronts boarded up. Homes above businesses behind balconies caged in iron, hung with limp curtains formed from potted plants. Churches, museums, statues, and squares. Children on bottle-cap shoes and singers. Palm reader, tarot. Picture painter. Portrait maker. Girl hanging from a door. Bed and breakfast. Voodoo. Art and antiques.
Back in the back, behind the walking sticks and the cat-of-nine-tails -- after ducking under antique chandeliers, squeezing past a line of fireplace surrounds, on a clean well-lit wall was a picture. Landscape painting, looked like to me. But, in the foreground, one small figure. One man walking, making his way up from a low spot.
One man saw me looking. Told me what he knew about what he saw me looking at.
Picture was painted soon after the Civil War. Notice how the colors move from dark to light. Notice how the land moves toward the distant hill. There, on the hill. See the homestead? See it catching light? See it far off in the distance, and the small figure of a man moving toward it? What about him? What is he wearing? Can't really tell. What's that he carries, weapon or walking stick? Soldier returning from war, or traveler? Farmer returning from a far field? Not clear. But he is moving. Going to a higher place shown in a distant light.
That's what the man said. That's what he saw.
I saw a landscape. One man trying to find his way home.