It was foggy and cool Saturday, so I wandered into what looks like a second-hand store at the corner of Jackson and Magazine - Miss Lilly's Jackson Flea Market. Simon Hardeveld was attending to customers while rearranging artwork, assorted antiques and wrought iron yard furniture.
Simon left France when Mitterand was elected, and he had an opportunity to work as a chef in New York. But American waitresses turned him against cooking, he said. They could not describe his food.
When he moved to New Orleans, he couldn't get a job. They didn't want a French guy, he said. So, he rented his own kitchen and tried to run his own brasserie, but nobody would buy his sandwiches. They wanted to buy the sign behind the counter instead. So, he gave up cooking and turned to painting full time.
"People think it's Haitian," Hardeveld said of his brightly colored, primitive-style artwork. He said his father was Dutch, so it's half Van Gogh and half Gaughin.
His subjects are blue ladies, snakes, alligators, crawfish and other wildly exotic creatures.
Many signs are simply hand-lettered sayings like "Be Nice Or Leave" and "Oh No! Not You Again!" decorated with stars, flowers and other motifs. Post-Katrina, these blunt greetings take on a whole new meaning.
The day I visited, Simon had just mounted a new sign in the vacant lot next to the store to memorialize the new Recovery Chief's remark about local leaders. Simon had named the lot "Buffoon Square."
Answering my question about missing Cannes, Simon said...
"You never have to worry about inspiration in New Orleans -- it's with you every day," he said. "There's no stop."
You can reach him at 504-524-8201