We were having coffee in Forest Hills, my friend Sylvia and I, when the news broke on Friday of this 1949 Salvador Dal√≠ painting, a watercolor called Cartel de Don Juan Tenirio, that had been stolen on Wednesday from a Manhattan gallery and just as suddenly and mysteriously returned — by mail, Jesus Christ — on Friday.
Not that Sylvia knows much about art. One time we were in a museum in Manhattan together and she said she thought the word “lithograph” was coined by those who hate people who lisp.
So Sylvia said to me, her voice in a emphysematic rasp, “What the hell did do they that for? What did they do, borrow it for a dinner party?”
Well, Sylvia was off, like a filly at the Kentucky Derby needing to piss. Usually my dear friend Sylvia blabbers on and on about the sales she used to luck into at Fortunoff (“Remember those Lauren Bacall commercials, ‘Fortunoff, the Source’?”) and about her unparalleled collection of cubic zirconium and also the guy who dyes her hair that curious shade of albino on Austin Street. But now she was in a full lather (and not for her hair).
“I want to borrow the Mona Lisa. You think the Loov-ra will let me have it?”
“No, there are guards for that.”
“The Loov-ra has guards?”
“Most definitely, Sylvia.”
“The French haven’t won a war in 200 years but they can guard the Mona Lisa at the Loov-ra. Jesus, what’s wrong with that gallery here in New York? Who stole the Dal√≠, al Qaeda?”
“And there was a guard, Sylvia. It happened very quickly. Maybe whoever stole it likes art. ”
“Maybe I’d like a Virginia Slim.”
This continued for some time. Sylvia wasn’t fazed by the idea that someone stealing the painting — that, she said, was the price we pay for living in a free society, although what living in a free society has to do with stealing a $150,000 painting eluded me then and now. What she couldn’t fathom was why, two days later, by mail to JFK Airport, the alleged thief chose to return it.
“I think this was the dumbest heist ever,” Sylvia proclaimed. “Whoever stole the Dal√≠ didn’t have, what, 48 hours with it? This is slam-bam-thank-you-for-the-watercolor. Strictly amateur, if you ask me.”
You’re right, Sylvia. (And then I paid the check.)