Dali and Me
We had been toying with the idea of picking up a guide book for the trip to ensure we didn’t miss anything unmissable along the way. Finally, while staying in Palm Harbor, I bought a copy of “Rough Guide USA”. One of the things in it was the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg (the city was named by its founder after its Russian namesake). It turned out that this one museum is the home to a large collection of Dali’s works, from his first attempts at painting in his youth (which are perhaps unsurprisingly very good) through to his later works (which more surprisingly aren’t so good). Dali moved away from his own interior language made famous in his surrealist pieces of the 30s and 40s to what he felt was more universal imagery showing his renewed interest in Catholicism and how the findings of modern science and the atomic world could go hand in hand with the old-world view of God. Not sure if it really worked.
The building is amazing. It was purpose-built to house the Dali collection, designed by Yann Weymouth, who helped create the Louvre's famous glass pyramid. The central staircase echoes the fanciful motifs in Dali’s paintings while bringing in the sparkling Floridian light and the St. Pete harbor (the natives shorten the name of the city to this more familial version) just in front of the gallery.
I was never very interested in Dali. I couldn’t see beyond the contrived feel of his paintings. When I was in college, I started reading a lot of JG Ballard. Ballard considered Dali a major influence and many of the themes that come up time after time in Ballard’s writings can often be found in Dali paintings: deserted beaches where time becomes soupy and figures merge into the landscape, often quite literally, with mind, bone and flesh deforming and forming and interior and exterior no longer delineated. Looking more closely at Dali’s paintings, I can now see them through the lens of Ballard’s writing, or at least with an appreciation of the imagery I love in Ballard’s work. During Dali’s surrealist period, some of the images he created are truly astonishing. I’m not so taken with things like the lobster phone, and the Dali Mona Lisa, but the paintings with the long shadows and ruined landscapes and questionable flesh fascinate me.
After St. Petersburg, we dropped down to Sarasota, specifically to Siesta Beach, voted the #1 beach in the USA at some point in time. The beaches in Florida are often of the white sand and clear water type, and Siesta Beach seemed to be the archetype of this type of beach. The water is warm and shallow—you have to go a long way out to be fully submerged. The waves are light and you can see fish swimming in the shallows. The sand could not be whiter or purer. It really is quite a beach! It made me think of Ballard and Dali as we floated around in the water, seeing the vast stretch of sand glowing in the heat. A beach is a perfect vision of the persistence of time. Every grain of sand having once been a shell or rock or whatever else sand is made of. Over time, with the waxing and waning of the moon, the tides come and go with a regular rhythm and erode the stones and shells, gently rubbing them up against each other. There’s not rush. It just happens. Over countless years, the sandy beaches are testament to this process. It gives me the same sense of awe as looking at the stars does: my life feels both tiny and vast. Beaches feel both temporal and infinite with the uncountable grains of sand and the unfathomable mystery of the sea.
We spent the evening with Rick and Gabrielle, who moved from Idyllwild to Sarasota a few years back with their young family. They had a fantastic jungly yard with a huge oak in the middle of it. It seems everything grows quickly in Florida—so different from the California dry heat we’re used to. Although, for me, I still choose the dry heat. I’m getting kinda sick of the humidity and bug bites at this point, which is the downside of the climate in this area. We hung out with Rick, Gabrielle and their kids, Alayah and Hana and had an enjoyable evening before setting out for the Everglades the next day.