de Kooning/America

We always celebrated the 4th of July when I was young because my mother was American.  At some point, I remember being shocked to find out it wasn’t a Canadian holiday but actually belonged to another country.

Here’s an American story.

Celebrated painter Willem de Kooning emigrated to the USA from Holland in 1926 by stowing away on a merchant vessel bound for Virginia.   He had been seduced by the myth of the America.  As the boat approached land, de Kooning was disappointed to see the Virginian landscape was exactly like the lowlands of Holland.  He cursed and wondered why he had made the effort to leave home.  

A few days later, De Kooning was with some other Dutch sailors catching a ferry to New Jersey.   The terminal was also a train station.  As commuters poured off an arriving train, de Kooning noticed a man behind a coffee counter.   The man had lined up a long row of cups and was pouring coffee into them from a pot.   De Kooning watched transfixed as the man poured rapidly down the line, splashing coffee and never raising the pot.  In Holland, the pot would be carefully raised after each cup to save every drop.  As de Kooning watched coffee spray over the rims of the cups, he thought. “Damn it! That’s America!”


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