#OneTimeInNOLA I noticed hand-painted signs everywhere—in bars, restaurants, and gift shops, and, by total chance, I stumbled upon the artist who created them and hung out with him for a while.
The signs are hard to miss. They are bold, playful, alive with color, and clearly hand-done. Some of them are informative (“rentals available”), some are funny (“sorry, we’re open”), and some are the voice of New Orleans itself (“be nice or leave!”). From the moment that I arrived in New Orleans, I had been noticing these signs, signed by Simon, which I pronounced like the electronic memory game I played as a kid.
Near the end of an afternoon exploring the unique shops and restaurants of Magazine Street, I happened upon what looked like the birthplace of those signs. It was an outdoor maze of signs of all shapes and sizes, and I couldn’t help but to wander in. Near the back, I found a woman painting and asked her if she was the artist. “No,” she said, “I’m one of his helpers.” She gestured to the left. “The artist is over there, he’s the French guy in the bandana.” I weaved my way through more signs propped this way and that, before seeing the shaggy, older man quietly painting a few bright red slats of wood with his trademark bursts of color. I introduced myself, and he greeted me warmly as if I were an old friend paying him a much-awaited visit. His accent was thick and undeniably French. This was Simon, which I now realized was pronounced see-MOHN.
When I took a breath from showering Simon with well-deserved praise, he told me his story. Simon made his way to New Orleans some 30 years ago after meeting his wife, who was born there. He found work in restaurant, which included painting menu signs. He told me that people stopped coming to the place for the food (which was terrible), but they kept coming to buy his signs.
Now three decades later, you can’t walk more than a few dozen feet with without being greeted by something Simon has painted. He told me what he’s learned in all those years is simple: “If you do something that people like, keep doing it.” So, I will continue to treat my cups as my canvas, and raise this one to my new friend, Simon.