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With Hopper and Reznikoff in Thailand




In today's New York Times, Jori Finkel writes of Edward Hopper's enormous influence

on our culture and quotes the owner of a San Francisco gallery as saying, "Hopper is

huge,” Mr. Fraenkel said. “I think he’s had a pervasive impact on the way we see the

world, so pervasive as to be almost invisible." I'm not as sure as Finkel is, that Hopper

was the first artist or writer to capture the spirit that we find in Hopper's paintings, but I

agree that his impact is so large as to be invisible. Certainly, the spirit that moves through

Hopper, moves with a presence much larger than style, and is more accurately described

as a sensibility.


I won't attempt to describe Hopper's impact on others, but I know that his paintings have

given me an approach to the situations I find myself in all of the time as a travel writer in

strange lands. When you travel alone, and frequently, as I do, you often find yourself in

an interior zone that feels much like what comes out of one of Hopper's urban scenes.

You're in a cafe, a hotel lobby or buying a newspaper and you're somehow inside of but

not part of the social dance going on around you. Simultaneously isolating and

comforting, there is a tangible relief in not being attached to your own history.


It calls to mind the Objectivist poetry of Charles Reznikoff. His most famous line

describes how the ruins of a building can create that otherworldly feeling.


The house-wreckers have left the door and the staircase,

now leading to the empty room of night


When we rip ourselves out of our normal contexts, we are essentially leaving only the

door and the staircase of our lives. As in the poem above, that often frames the edge

between where our thoughts & observations border on the big mysterious night beyond.


A few years ago, drinking beers in a ramshackle roadside bar in Pattaya, Thailand, it

occurred to me that it was precisely this feeling, as in a Hopper painting, that I was

traveling to find. At that moment, the bar maid sat opposite me. She asked where I was

from and what had brought me to Pattaya. I answered and asked how things were going

for her.


It was a friendly, disanimated conversation between two disconnected lives, looking out from the tangle of their own stories, for a relief from those stories.



March 1, 2009



[Reprinted from Unacknowledged Legislations, unacknowledgedlegislations.blogsopt.com, by permission of the author. Originally published in NHS 2009, http://www.poetspath.com/napalm/nhs09/James_Ruggia.htm.]