Sunday, November 6, 2011

Figueres, birthplace of Salvador Dali

The Dali-Gala Triangle -the main Dali sites in Catalunya - consist of the theatre-museum in Figueres, his seaside home in Cadaques, and the castle-house of Pubol.  On November 1st, All Saints' Day, we had off from school,  so I ventured north by train to Figueres to check out one of these sites. 

Figueres is home to the famous Teatre-Museu Dali, and is where Dali was born and spent the first part of his life.  It is a small town; much of it was shut down when I was there as it was a national holiday.  But I enjoyed a good wander through town, a visit of the museum, and an amazing meal before heading back to Barcelona.   

Here's the rambla (main avenue) of Figueres:

 These vendors are selling roasted chestnuts and roasted sweet potatoes, seasonal delights which just popped up on the streets this month,
Ah, Autumn.
 In the 1970s, Dali asked that the old Municpal Theatre of Figueres, which was destroyed during the Spanish-Civil War, be renovated into a museum for his art.  Dali, the megalomaniac that he was, justified his request in the following way: 

"Where, if not in my own city, should the most extravagant and solid examples of my art remain, where else? The Municipal Theatre, or what was left of it, seemed to me to be very appropriate for three reasons: first, because I am an eminently theatrical painter: second, because the Theatre is in front of the church where I was baptized, and third, because it was precisely in the lobby of the Thetare that I had my first exhibition of paintings [in 1918]." 

He was granted his wish, and so conceived and designed the museum so that it was an experience of his art. It was inaugurated in 1974.  

When you first come across the museum, it instantly stands out as bizarre against the backdrop of a traditional Catalan small town.  Imitation bread rolls line the outside of the building, and giant eggs sit atop it.

This is the Plaza of Gala and Salvador Dali, which is in front of the museum entrance. Everywhere you look, there is Dali-created eye candy.

His signature along the external wall of the museum:

In the museum, you walk through a numbered route, but receive a warning in the brochure first: "If we take into account the idiosyncrasy of Salvador Dali, the origin of the Dali Theatre-Museum, then perhaps we ought to recommend you not to follow a preconceived route." The route covers 22 rooms tracing his work from the early days of impressionism, futurism, cubism, and finally the surrealistic creations of his later years. 

His surrealism was inspired by Breton's publication of the First Surrealist Manifesto in 1924 in France, advocating the unchecked expression of the unconscious mind, with an emphasis on the world of dreams, which was based on Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis.  Early on, Dali became well-versed in Freud's "The Interpretation of Dreams." 

After wandering the museum, I noted the following motifs in his paintings (images that must have appeared repeatedly in his dreams): eggs, reptiles, the desert, melting clocks, wishbone-shaped sticks, ants, Gala (his wife and muse), crucifixion, the sea, breasts, and spheres. And I began to wonder what were the motifs of my dreams?

This is the courtyard of the museum, complete with Cadillac.

These boys are sketching vine-infested mannequins.

Here, a mannequin gazes at a totem pole of tires supporting a rowboat, from which hang blue blobs of resin, made using condoms as moulds. Naturally. What else do mannequins look at?

This the famous Mae West room, where if you climb the stairs behind the spot where I took this picture (and wait in a long line to do so, which I didn't), braids of blonde hair frame your view of Mae.

Dali described his method of surrealism as "a way of spontaneously knowing the irrational basis of paranoiac interpretation of delirious phenomena in order to make triumphant the obsessive idea- immortality."  

And then for you and I, he put it this way: "A dream fades out and, when one wakens, produces nothing; with my method I solidify dreams."

Dali painted his "own tragedy" below.  Whenever I am teaching Hamlet, as I am right now, I always run into allusions to it everywhere. At the bottom of the painting you can see the famous skull symbol from Shakespeare's tragedy.

Dali died in the adjacent Torre Galatea in 1989, and against his wishes, his body was buried behind a simple granite slab in the basement of this museum.

After the museum, I had lunch (in Spain, this is during siesta between 2 and 4pm) at the Hotel Duran Restaurant, a regular Dali haunt. 

There, I ate the best meal I've had in Spain: calamari sauteed in butter and herbs, and rice in black squid-ink.

Then, one last wander through the town. This is the Church of Saint Peter, originally built in the 9th century but also burnt down during the Spanish Civil War. This is the church where Dali was baptized.

Dali said the following of his home, Catalunya:
"This privileged place is where there is the least space between the real and the sublime. My mystical paradise begins at the plains of the Emporda, is surrounded by the foothills of the Mont Alberes, and comes to meaning in the Golf of Cadaques.  This country is my permanent inspiration. The only place in the world where I feel loved."

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