174 Des Moines, IA: Not Qualified To Judge

[Redheaded Beauty by Victor Lysakov ]

I finally found two women from Des Moines in front of the painting. They were both about fifty. Lucia was a brash, gray-haired, former New Yorker. Vera, her cousin, had reddish hair and had moved to Des Moines from Russia to be a Russian Literature professor.

"This is an American painting," Vera shook her head, "so I don't feel qualified to judge. You're much friendlier and opener here," was all she would say about American isolation.

Lucia said, "I saw the [Hopper] retrospective at the Whitney. Coming from New York: there are many people who are isolated in New York. Like that song, 'Bridge Over Troubled Water.' There's millions of people walking around and nobody making contact. Hopper's people never make eye contact. In Des Moines, we're very friendly, content with our lives, happy.

"She doesn't look as perplexed as some of the other people in the Hopper paintings. It's alienation more than depression. But she's definitely having a solitary cup of coffee at night. Why did she stop? She didn't bother to take off the other glove. She's alone with a great pair of legs. Maybe she's there from a hot date that went bad.

"She should be home with her family. I go to the supermarket, pick up a couple of things, and I see people buying two items, and I always think, 'hmm, they don't have a family to go home to.' And there's nothing more wonderful than family. My cousin was lucky to move here. In Russia, people don't live in their own apartments. I know people who aren't married who share a bedroom.

"Those people," she admonished, "absolutely don't smile. We looked at a photograph we took before we left Russia, and nobody was smiling. I told Vera: we wouldn't take a photograph in America if you weren't smiling. And nobody smiles in Hopper's pictures. Never."

Lucia nodded and walked off with Vera, who had been waiting patiently, not smiling.

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