249 Wilmington, DE: Summertime

Wilmington, Delaware: Summertime

I was in a hurry in Wilmington, on a tight schedule to make my twentieth high school reunion at St. Andrew's School (SAS) in downstate Middletown. The woman at the museum's front desk was white-haired and stooped but solid, wearing a heavy woven skirt and a choker of pearls across her white button-down shirt. She seemed about to launch into the usual spiel for visitors to the museum, so I pre-empted her, "Where can I check my backpack?"

"Well, sir. We're closed. We've been without power since this morning." I only then noticed the lack of patrons and the darkness in the upstairs galleries. "The shop has an emergency generator that is keeping its lights running. Maybe that is why you didn’t notice." She smiled and nodded, "You can come back some other day."

I began babbling like an American caught in a foreign civil war, "I've come all the way from Chicago to study your Edward Hopper painting, and I'm only here today. Can I talk to the curator who I have been e-mailing?"

"She's not in today."

I slumped onto a lobby bench.

"Oh, dear," she frowned. "Let me think of something."

She pressed into service a security guard to take us up to the gallery with the painting, where they showed me the painting by flashlight. Wilmington was the thirty-ninth city I visited for the book, and I thought I had seen pretty much everything. But I'd never seen a Hopper by flashlight.

Only about two square inches of the painting could be illuminated at a time. The docent instinctively trained the beam on the woman's face at the painting's center then followed the contours of the woman as if the light beam were the eyes of an appreciative suitor. After all, the main character is a full-bodied, red-lipped strawberry blond in a tan hat and a gauzy white summer dress beneath which you can see her thighs. Hopper finished Summertime on May 8, just in time for his summertime move to Cape Cod.

The docent commented, "That is gorgeous. You see much more in it actually in the dark, shining a flashlight over several areas. The impression that you get when this is lit is a blue-and-white floor behind her; now it looks green and yellow. You can feel the heat off of the sidewalk and off of the building. You can see that there's some wind drawing the window in and her dress clinging to her, and you just know it's summertime on a hot day. You just wonder what she's thinking. Is she waiting for somebody or something? It's very dramatic. This is supposed to be his wife. I understand that even when she got older, he painted her as a youthful figure."

I said, "There's a lot of old architecture in Wilmington. I might see a thing like this: a young woman who buys retro clothes, vintage clothes."

"Or just coming out in her nightgown." she harrumphed.

To my question of Hopperesque isolation in Wilmington, she merely shrugged, "I think there are people that are isolated here as in everywhere, but I think basically they're not isolated here."

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