Three cedar booths occupy the length of the western wall. The middle booth connects the others, making one large, sturdy contraption, and the whole section is elevated on an eight-inch wooden platform of a much darker hue, the same color as the floor. In the middle of each booth stands a basic white table with a black base. Only the middle booth is empty.
A large print hangs right above the booths. Seven feet wide and five feet tall, it appears to depict a Napoleonic battle scene. In a rare display of hand-to-hand combat, the French Emperor tramples a group of enemy soldiers on horseback. He fearlessly charges toward a knight in full armor, the latter weaponless and on one knee, hoisting a gaudy gold mirror. Napoleon’s portrait is not reflected in the mirror, only blackness. A row of four obscure, evenly-spaced paintings within the print itself create a smoky horizon in the top quartile. A second glance reveals that the third isn’t a painting at all, but rather a window to the outside world. It’s unclear where the mysterious portal ends. To the soldiers it must feel inviting, even magnetic. A fluorescent turquoise butterfly ascends from the bottom right-hand corner. To the less inspired observer it may be a rare flower, trapped in battle by its roots, its fate – to be extinguished at any moment by boot or hoof – quickly unfolding despite its will to live.
The surrounding desperation and unpleasantly false smile painted on Napoleon’s face indicate that this is the Battle of Waterloo. Forced to stare at what he’s become, his small, plump hand grips a raised sword and, right before he shatters the mirror in an attempt to escape his future, the frame is frozen. Napoleon didn’t die at Waterloo, though it would have been a more glorious exit. He was exiled to St. Helena, an island in the Southern Atlantic Ocean, and it was there, on one of the most isolated islands in the world, that he contracted a rare case of gastric cancer and died a lonely death.
There is nothing special about the print. It appears to be the rushed work of a commercial artist, a haphazard mishmash the creator himself is liable to forget about entirely by Christmas. The same print must hang in hundreds of tacky bars and cafés from here to Barcelona.
A cool breeze that sneaks in through the open window is healing on a Saturday morning, but the accompanying light throws a distracting glare over most of the battle scene. A familiar waitress arrives with water. She derails my train of thought, like an inflating soap bubble popped by a wandering finger moments before bursting naturally.
I ask what she thinks of the print.
“Well, for starters, it’s off-center.”