Today I was in the post office waiting for a package, and I thought the man standing next to me didn’t look like he was from around here. I could tell this by the way he tied his scarf. I saw he was addressing a package at the counter, and I could see by the shape of his handwriting that he was probably Dutch.
“Komt U uit Nederland, mijnheer?” I said.
He looked shocked, and said yes, do you also?
“No, no,” I answered in English. “I’m from here. And I don’t really speak Dutch.”
The man’s name is Toon Michiels, and he’s a photographer from the Netherlands. Toon is traveling throughout the US with his little dog Presley, who was tied up at the post office door, waiting for him. He and I made plans to meet tonight for a beer. Around dark, we met in the parlor of the St. Francisville Inn, and he told me his story — a sad, beautiful tale involving cancer and loss. He also showed me his work. I was most struck by a series of photos he made in 1972, when he was 22, for his graduate project. Here are some of them (my favorite is the photo above). Toon photographed an elderly Dutch farm couple, Sjo and Marinus. The photographs were marvelous, and reminded me of something out of Brueghel, even Rembrandt. They had such depth, sobriety, and integrity.
Toon had stopped in St. Francisville to rest on his meanderings with Presley across America. We had a good time together, and he decided to stay an extra day so I could take him out to the country to meet my folks and my friends there. Tonight my new Dutch friend gave me a Howard Finster print he’d bought in Georgia. Tomorrow I will give him Starhill. Crazy old world.