We used to see him occasionally at the Carlyle Hotel. It would be an exaggeration to call him a friend, but F. was a good acquaintance, and my wife and I always looked forward to his arrival when he called to say that he was coming to town. A daring and prolific French poet, F. was also one of the world’s leading authorities on Henri Matisse. So great was his reputation, in fact, that an important French museum asked him to organize a large exhibition of Matisse’s work. F. wasn’t a professional curator, but he threw himself into the job with enormous energy and skill. The idea was to gather together all of Matisse’s paintings from a particular five-year period in the middle of his career. Dozens of canvases were involved, and since they were scattered around in private collections and museums all over the world, it took F. several years to prepare the show. In the end, there was only one work that could not be found – but it was a crucial one, the centerpiece of the entire collection. F. had not been able to track down the owner, had no idea where it was, and without that canvas years of travel and meticulous labor would go for naught. For the next six months, he devoted himself exclusively to the search for that one painting, and when he found it, he realized that it had been no more than a few feet away from him the whole time. The owner was a woman who lived in an apartment at the Carlyle Hotel. The Carlyle was F.’s hotel of choice, and he stayed there whenever he was in New York. More than that, the woman’s apartment was located directly above the room that F. always reserved for himself – just one floor up. Which meant that every time F. had gone to sleep at the Carlyle Hotel, wondering where the missing painting could have been, it had been hanging on a wall directly above his head. Like an image from a dream.
From the section True Stories in Paul Auster’s Collected Prose.