The Dali Triangle

Story and photos by Morgan Smith

Spiritually I am the greatest genius of our age, the authentic genius of modern times. Salvador Dali, 1964.Its noon on Friday and my wife, Julie, and I are driving north from Barcelona to the Costa Brava to see the three most important sites in the life of this greatest genius, the Catalan artist Salvador Dali (1904-1989). This year is the 100th anniversary of his birth and there will be celebrations in Venice, Philadelphia, Rotterdam, Madrid, New York, St. Petersburg, Fla., and Barcelona.The key to Dali, however, is this triangle north of Barcelona Figueres, where he was born, and where his museum is located; Port Lligat, where he worked for many years, and Pbol, where his wife, Gala, lived in a castle he renovated for her in 1970.PbolOur first stop is Pbol, about 90 minutes north of Barcelona. Gala would spend summers here, often entertaining her many male friends. (Dali wasnt permitted to visit without a written invitation from her.) It is a charming location on a slight hill, with breezes blowing through a peaceful garden and a pool with 11 busts of composer Richard Wagner. Dont miss the eerie glass case upstairs with all of Galas dresses.We spend the night in the Hotel Bonaigua in a wooded area near Begur on the lovely Costa Brava. This is Spains most beautiful coast, rugged, full of wooded coves and semihidden beaches, the water deep and blue. Not so many years ago, smugglers hid out from tax collectors along this coast. Barcelona to the south is teeming with tourists, but here in late September its amazingly peaceful. Just a few hundred meters away is the more upscale Parador de Aiguablava (Blue Waters) hotel, which I would also recommend.FigueresOn Saturday morning we leave early for Figueres (pop. 35,000), 25 miles away, where Dali was born. More importantly, its the location of his museum, the second most visited museum in Spain after the Prado in Madrid.Winding through Catalan farm country, we realize that this area is rich in history apart from Dali. The hilltop town of Pals has a newly renovated medieval sector and beautiful Gothic church; La Bisbal is a ceramics center; Empuries was a Mediterranean trading center as long ago as 550 B.C. and has Roman ruins that date back to 300 B.C. For lovers of anchovies, LEscala has the best in Catalonia. Torroella de Montgri offers a unique summer classical music festival. There are the remains of an Iberian settlement in Ullastret, beautiful ruins in Peratallada and all sorts of summer recreation around Begur and other coastal towns.The Dali Museum itself is a staggering array of Dalis great talent and versatility, as well as his determination to shock. It was originally the municipal theater, but in the 1970s Dali took the lead in converting it to a museum, a process that took more than a decade and was a source of enormous pride to him.As Dali said, The museum should not be considered as a museum, it is a gigantic surrealist object.Much of his art is designed for shock value the Mae West portrait, the totem pole of car tires with the boat on top or the Cadillac that greets entering visitors and doesnt appeal much to me. The more interesting, but less well known, treasures include his elaborate and highly detailed Christmas cards and his jewelry.The jewels are located in an adjoining building that is easy to miss because there is so much to see in the main building. Again, they demonstrate that, beyond his incessant self-promotion, Dali was an artist of extraordinary technical skill who worked in a wide range of media.He was known as the great surrealist, but he also painted in many styles. In addition, he made this beautiful jewelry, prepared a pavilion for the 1939 New York Worlds Fair called Dream of Venus, worked with Alfred Hitchcock on the movie Spellbound, wrote poems and several books, collaborated with Walt Disney, helped publicize skin oils for Elsa Schiaparelli, hosiery for Bryan Hosiery and neckties for a company on Fifth Avenue, designed Surrealist windows for Bonwit Tellers, and partnered with Luis Buuel on the surrealist film Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog). On December 14, 1936, Dali appeared on the cover of Time magazine and, during the 1940s when he lived in the United States, was much more famous there than in Spain.Port LligatIn the afternoon, we head 25 miles north, up over the rugged hills and then down a winding road to the little port of Cadaqus and the adjoining village of Port Lligat, where Dali lived and worked from the late 1940s on. This wild country with its unique light was a great source of inspiration to him. In fact, it is worth driving some 15 minutes past Cadaqus to the Cap de Creus, (the Cape of Creus), an enormous headland with bizarre, twisted reefs of mica-schist rock that inspired the forms in many of his paintings.Of Port Lligat, Dali said, It was there that I learned to become poor, to limit and file down my thoughts so that they would acquire the sharpness of an axe, where blood tasted of blood and honey of honey.Cadaqus is where Dali met Gala in August 1929, when she was married to the French poet and leader of the Surrealists, Paul luard. Born in Russia as Helena Diakanoff Devulina Russia in 1894, she was 10 years older than Dali, but he was immediately smitten with her and eventually they married.From 1940 to 1948 they lived in the United States. In 1942, he met Reynolds Morse, the Denver businessman who later founded the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla. By 1948, however, Dali had decided to return to Port Lligat to live and work. At that time, there were only about a dozen fishing shacks there, linked to Cadaqus by a small path. Dalis father, a prosperous and portly notary, was initially scandalized by Gala and opposed their return. However, when he saw how skillfully Gala was marketing Dalis work, he relented.Over a short period of time, Dali bought a series of fishing shacks and put them together to form the beautiful house that has now been made a museum. This, for us, was the highlight of our three stops.The tours themselves require some preparation. Groups of eight depart every 10 minutes. The house itself is divided into four sections, each with a guide to provide a brief explanation (in English, if necessary). Then guests receive a few minutes to look around. Photography is allowed throughout, although they dont allow flash photography in Dalis studio. Because so few people can visit per hour, it is essential to call (97-225-1015) several days in advance to make a reservation.Although the views across the bay give it a sense of space, the house itself seems tiny. Thats fitting because this was a place for work, not entertainment. In fact, when I asked the guide if the bizarre domed room Dali designed for Gala was where she met with her lovers, the guide sternly reminded me that nothing like that happened at Port Lligat.What struck me were little touches like the bear in the entryway, a little cup full of American flags, and a strategically placed mirror in the room beyond Dalis bed. He could lie in bed, look in the mirror and watch the sun rise. There was also a little wooden cage where he kept his crickets (or were they songbirds?). And the starkly whitewashed porches.Above all, however, Port Lligat illustrates how hard Dali worked and how strongly he was influenced by the extraordinary light and the bizarre rock formations.As we walk back to Cadaqus, the wind is rising and little waves wash up against the line of rowboats. Despite the fame that Dali brought to this area, fishing, farming and basic hard work are still its main characteristics.For all his eccentricities, Dali himself was a prodigious worker. Yet somehow perhaps because of this natural setting he turned hard work into genius. That evening, as we stroll along Cadaqus curving seawall, we feel a new respect for the great artist and an understanding of the environment that produced him.IF YOU GOSpecial attention will be paid to Dali in 2004 because it is the 100th anniversary of his birth. Crowd management will, therefore, will a major issue for visitors. First, try to avoid the very busy months of July and August.Second, consider renting a car and making this a one- or two-night excursion. Having a car will allow you to see unique places like Pals, which is mentioned above. Also, by staying overnight in the general area of Figueres, you can beat the morning crowds coming up from Barcelona.HOTELS:Hotel BonaiguaAiguablava Fornells17255 BegurSpainTel. 97-262-2050Fax$80 to $100 per night for a double room with breakfast.Parador de Turismo de AiguablavaPlaya de Aiguablava17255 Begur ( Girona)SpainTel. 34-97-262-2162Fax 34-97-262-2166E-mail aiguablava@parador.esPrices for a double room range from $90 per night from November to March, $130 per night from April to June, and $145 during Holy Week and July and August. Hotel Llane PetitCalle Dr. Bartomeus, 3717488 Cadaqus (Girona)SpainTel. 97-225-1020Fax. 97-225-8778E-mail$90 per night for a double room with breakfast.FOOD:The Parador de Aiguablava has an excellent restaurant. In Cadaqus, there are numerous restaurants along the waterfront.READING MATERIALS AND INFORMATION.Ian Gibsons The Shameful Life of Salvador Dali is the most complete of the many Dali books.Dali The Empord Triangle has just been released by the Fundaci Gala-Salvador Dali and will be in is a new Web site for the events of 2004. It appears in English, Catalan, Spanish and French, and has information about exhibits in St. Petersburg, Fla., Madrid, Venice, Rotterdam, Philadelphia and Barcelona, as well as the principal sites in Figueres, Port Lligat and is the Web site for the Fundaci Gala-Salvador Dali in Figueres which will be spearheading most of the activities.Other Web sites are (the Dali Museum in Florida); photos of Dali); (photos also); and 10 (This is about Room 10 in the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid which has nine major Dali paintings.)Morgan Smith is a former Aspenite and part-time Barcelona resident. He can he reached at