A Painting

Ali Noorani
2 min readJan 14, 2022


Route 29 stretches from Pensacola, Florida, to the suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland.

In Virginia, where parts of it are named the Lee Highway (for General Robert E. Lee), it travels alongside rolling hayfields, farmhouses, and vineyards; the Blue Ridge Mountains of the Shenandoah National Park looming in the background. Namesakes aside, it is a beautiful stretch of road.

For me, the region is also an opportunity to escape the Washington D.C. bubble and get a quick sense of rural America. Less than a hundred miles away, with its share of confederate flags and Trump signs.

In the sticky hot summer of 2020, my wife and I drove down Route 29 to stay at an AirBnB in Shelby, an unincorporated community in Madison County where Trump received over 65% of the 8,100 votes cast that November.

On these kinds of trips, in addition to a few hikes, we enjoy popping into random antique shops. Which, in rural Virginia, typically include old wooden furniture, Americana kitsch, white folks farming, war memorabilia and, occasionally, local arts and crafts.

Rarely do you find anything depicting communities of color. Much less immigrant communities.

On an afternoon of booming thunderstorms, we arrived at an antique store just south of Shelby, but right on the highway. Two floors, a handful of rooms. A collection a bit more contemporary than elsewhere.

On the second floor, among a collection of furniture and dusty clothes, high on the wall and in a far corner, the colors jumped off a canvas in a beat-up wooden frame.

In a bright yellow dress, a Black woman stood above two Black men, crouching. All the figures looked to be swaying or dancing. In the foreground were a pole, candle, small fire pit and a drum. A green serpent rose just in front of the drum.

Deciding not to ask if I could take the painting off the wall, I carried it downstairs and asked for a price. The woman at the front desk, amused by my enthusiasm, called the owner.

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Ali Noorani

Author of “Crossing Borders” (April 2022, Rowman & Littlefield), host of the podcast, Only in America.