Considering Orientation

Piece written on the theme Portrait vs. Landscape for Writers HQ Flash Face Off for week commencing 12th May. 

We had been two days taking in the city sights when I was persuaded to sit for my portrait. 

“Go on!” said Papa.  “Go on and get it done!” he was chuckling like I couldn’t remember seeing for some time.

So, I sat where I was shown and let the man with his pencils and his thin moustache size me up and get his perspective.  He held a pencil in the air and seemed to be taking some measurements by eye, all of which I assumed to be performance, part of the experience of getting drawn.

It was only after he had been sketching for a few minutes that I noticed the paper on his easel was arranged landscape.  This was not a portrait at all.

We took my rolled up ‘portrait’ and sat for lunch in the square.  Now that I looked around at the buildings I began to notice that there was something unusual about the city – the kinds of buildings that were typically tall and impressive tended to be low and broad, whilst the kinds of buildings that tended to be low and broad were tall and impressive. 

I pointed at the building opposite.  “Do windows usually go that way?”

“What do you mean?” asked Papa.  “What way?”

“I just can’t remember,” I said.  “Do they normally go…” I tilted my head to test the thought.  “It’s ok, never mind.”

That night, after saying good night to Papa, I snuck back out of the hotel with the intention of exploring that strangely proportioned city alone by night and ended up stumbling into a brief and breathless holiday romance – the kind of getting-up-to I would not have got-up-to at home.

“Which way up should I go?” I asked. My fling’s firm hands moved me into positions on the bed. “This way round. Ok. Like this? Ok.” Round and round until I neither knew nor cared which way up I was.

Back home, when friends asked about what that city was like I told them all of the above (except the romance) and I could see their eyes narrow with disbelief – my description of the buildings in the city did not match what they had read in books and seen on tv. But I had been there and I knew what I had seen.

They asked to see the ‘portrait’ and I handed it across for them to unroll.

“But,” they said, looking at it, then looking at me. “But this is portrait?”

It was? They held it up for me to see and I realised I had got confused again.

Even now, sitting and concentrating, I remain unable to remember which is which, and why it matters.  I sit in the dark on my own and turn shapes around in my minds’ eye.  Which is portrait?  What is horizontal again?  Which is tall and which is low? Which way round had I been and which way round was I now?