Figueres and the Dalí Museum
Dali Museum in Figueres
I arrived in Figueres 21 years ago on the slow train from Barcelona, with a suitcase, a smattering of Spanish and excrutiating lumbago. Andy, a friend of a friend who I had never met before, was waiting for me at Figueres station that cold dark January night and I was grateful that he had arranged my lodging and took care of my luggage. My plane ticket was open for three months and I had come to see if there were any jobs teaching English. Although January was not exactly the best time being halfway through the school year, in fact that three-month stay stretched into 21 years... Amazingly, just three weeks after my arrival, I was standing in front of a classroom full of noisy Catalan kids explaining the mysteries of English prepositions and modal verbs to them. Not only that, I also met my future husband. You never know what surprises are lurking around the corner.
Most people who come to Figueres are not looking for teaching jobs. They come to see Salvador Dalí, the surrealist painter with his twirled moustache pointing comically upwards, defying gravity. Not the man himself since he died in 1989 but his work, his paintings, his museum, and to find out about this eccentric artist and genius. I have to confess that my trip to Figueres hadn't been meticulously planned as I'd only just returned to England from abroad and since the Internet was an unknown entity in those days, I hadn't had time to learn much about the town before arriving. Quite frankly, my knowledge of Dali was limited to his surrealistic melting clocks and his moustache and I had no idea that he had been born in Figueres in 1904 or that he was such an attraction for the town.
Dalí and his moustache
The first day I saw the Dalí Museum in Figueres, I was taken by surprise, or maybe it would be more truthful to say I was flabbergasted. Dominating the town was a bizarre red building with a tower and distinctive glass dome, covered with what at first I thought were hundreds of cowpats but which turned out to be imitations of bread rolls. Giant eggs loomed up on the top of the roof, looking as if they might crash down on top of me and crack all over the pavement if the strong Tramontana wind were to whip up into a frenzy. Taking a look at the other side of the building, I discovered a whole bunch of strange gold-coloured figures with baguettes on their heads, a teetering pile of TVs stacked one on top of the other, a huge head with plastic dolls' heads for eyes and other decidedly weird things. Who on earth was responsible for this odd, perplexing sight, I wondered? That is when I discovered Salvador Dali and his eccentric legacy.
Entrance to the museum
Bread rolls on walls
The Teatre-Museu de Dalí, built on the ruins of the town's theatre which was destroyed during the Spanish civil war, is the "largest surrealistic object in the world", and the second most-visited museum in Spain after the Prado in Madrid. Hence the long queues most year round, especially on Thursdays when the local market also swings into action. Hundreds of thousands of people come from all over the world to visit and they have plenty of time to imagine what the museum must be like inside as they patiently wait in the long line. The outside of the building definitely rivals the inside in terms of bizarreness.
Queues outside the Dali Museum
One cold, windy February day, a week or two after my arrival in Figueres, I bought a ticket and ventured into the museum. It must have been the quietest day they'd ever had and I tagged along behind a cultured French lady giving a guided tour to an older man. Her extravagant waffly explanations en français of Dalí's paintings in the purest unintelligible art-speak and the clear expression on his face that he didn't have a clue as to what she was talking about, added a slightly delerious touch to my entertaining tour. When I left a couple of hours later, I felt physically drained and was mentally and emotionally reeling from the combination of Dalí's incredible artistic talent and crazy ideas. The museum literally bulged and exploded with his creative imagination. Clocks dripped like melting ice-cream in a barren landscape, elephants wobbled on thin spidery legs, the odd juxtaposition of unlikely objects created optical illusions... At one point, I climbed up a stuffed camel and looked through a hole in its hump to "see" the face of Mae West in room-size 3D, her sensual lips represented by a bright red life-size sofa. Looking around sheepishly, I wondered if anyone else felt somewhat ridiculous like I did. To tell the truth, I felt as if I'd accidentally strayed into a cross between an art gallery and a "Believe it or Not" Ripley Museum. It was certainly more than just an ordinary museum with many Dalí touches in unsuspecting places and could have been called the Dalí Experience. In fact, Salvador Dali remains here, buried in a crypt in the basement, surrounded by his work. Since he was not only eccentric but egocentric, I'm sure he must be chuckling to himself, overjoyed at still being the centre of so much attention and receiving so many gobsmacked visitors.
Shop display near the Museum
Dalí's signature on shop window
Soft clocks and other souvenirs
Since those early days, I haven't returned to the Teatre-Museu de Dalí partly because of the crowds. Yet over the years, the surrealist painter's influence has seeped far beyond the museum and it's hard to wander around Figueres without seeing him crop up everywhere. Postcards, books, Dalicatessens, souvenir shops with miniature soft clocks and spindly-legged elephants, monuments, signs.... you can hardly get away from Figueres' most famous son. The museum's glass dome has become the symbol of Figueres and he is obviously the main reason so many tourists stop off here, unlike me.
Monument dedicated to Salvador Dali
Biscuits from Figueres
Miniature model of the Museum tower
The giants of Dalí and Gala which take part in the town's fiestas