I had been traveling the western coastline of Ireland for nearly a day; I grew hungry and my body craved some time off the road, so I made for Connemara. It was then nearly eight in the evening, but the land was still swathed with the light from the day. The town was shrouded ethereally in the perpetual mist that gathered in the lowlands, indeed right off the water’s edge, and seemed to glow in its embrace.
I had fortuitously parked two doors from a bistro; the name escapes me at the moment, but the sign sitting outside its window welcomed me with promises of a warm interior, blessed with warmer coffee and company. As I stepped inside, I realized I had somehow been granted access through the normally unused side door. I suddenly found myself the subject of eight staring eyes. I am unused to this sort of attention, and my blundering around, looking for a menu and a shadowy table but finding none, only exacerbated my discomfiture.
A young man arrived from the kitchen and silently handed a menu to me. I remember looking for my favourite coffee and upon the discovery that it was not on the menu, exhaling a disappointed breath. Yet this was forgotten in my astonishment as I peered around me on the walls.
I do not mind saying that at first glance, I thought myself the subject of some prank, for upon the walls of that golden interior, three paintings hung, the contents of which appeared to be the very “lost” paintings by Monet!
To those unfamiliar with art history or the paintings of which I speak, this would come as perhaps less astonishment than I found myself in upon seeing the works. Monet, of course, was a famous French Impressionist in the mid to late 1800′s, and his work is quite well known throughout the world. One of his most famous, you may have seen, is the one entitled “Water Lily Pond”, and is the very zenith of Impressionist work.
Monet’s work became recognized while he was yet alive, but it wasn’t until his death that his paintings became quite valued. A large portion of his collection was bought and placed in the Lourve; the pieces I now gazed at were three of his earlier attempts at Impressionism. Yet within five years, a burglar had made off with some of the exhibits, among them, I knew well, were these.
Of course, I thought, these were only copies. But how extraordinary! These looked like no replicas; upon touching one of them I realized it was canvas, and appeared quite old.
By now I was one of three people left in the coffee shop. I felt safe enough from prying eyes and ears to beckon the waiter to my table.
“You don’t, by any chance, know about these paintings, do you?” I asked. In my first seventy-two hours in the country I had already acquired a slight brogue; unnoticed by most, I think, but I knew it was there.
“Those, yes sir. They are Monets. See here,” he said, and pointed to the signature at the bottom right corner of the canvas. The painted scrawl indicated it had been painted by Claude Monet, 1889. Excitedly, I bent closer to look. By this time the waiter looked inquisitively at me, and I, noticing his stare, straightened.
“I’m sorry, it’s nothing. It’s just that these look extraordinarily like genuine Monets,” I said. “Whoever did these did quite a job.”
“Job?” he said, scrunching his brow and tilting his head.
“Yes, I’ve some familiarity with these paintings, and these are, by far, the most accurate, impressive examples of recreations I’ve ever laid eyes on. If I didn’t think it was simply impossible, I would have guessed these were…”
He continued to look at me, and I stuttered, “–were, well, the originals.” At this I stared down at the floor. “I’m sorry, I think I’m ready to order.”
I sat down and asked him for a cappuccino and Irish whisky cake.
He took the menu and came back, handing me my cup and plate. I could tell by his demeanor that he thought I was crazy, and I kept quiet the remainder of my short stop there.
I asked for the check and when I offered him a tip he motioned “No thanks,” and took my dishes without waiting for me to leave. I took one last look at the paintings, the paintings that were surely, had to be, recreations, and walked out into the dusky evening. The town outside was now awash with the light of the streetlamps, and the sidewalks were damp from the slight misting they had received while I was inside.
I had no reason to leave that evening, so I booked a room in one of the many unknowable Bed-and-Breakfasts that seemed to be everywhere. The morning of my departure, I stopped by the little shop. It was closed, but I peered inside, to catch a magical glimpse once again of those marvelous works of imitation.
To my surprise, the walls were bare of their previous occupants. Where the light touched the wall, the inverted shadow of the paintings’ frames stood out, and the spaces where they once hung were now as empty as the morning streets. I breathed against the glass, rubbed it with my sleeve, turned and walked away.