Salvador Dali lived from 1904 to 1989 and is best known for his surreal paintings, many of which have ended up at the Dali Museum in Saint Petersburg. Longtime friends of Salvador and Gala Dali, Reynolds and Eleanor Morse donated their collection to the original museum in Ohio in 1971. It was moved to Florida in 1982. The current building opened in 2011.
Artists often bring a degree of symbolism to their work, though some deny it. Others are mysterious about the meanings or insist that one must find their own meaning. Sometimes the meaning is obvious. Sometimes it is hidden. Dali’s work is overflowing with symbolism and fortunately for us he made much of its meaning known through various writings, such as his 1942 autobiography The Secret Life of Salvador Dali. The wealth of information available is staggering; I’m still trying to process it.
Wandering through the nooks of the museum hall, I was able to discern several patterns once they were pointed out to me. Many paintings have layers of detail to them, with foreground and background elements combining to make more subtle images. Many are faces. Images that arise in multiple paintings include grasshoppers, flies, overhead views of the crucifixion, partial images borrowed from other artists, and more than anything else his wife Gala. She ends up in everything. Some symbols are more subtle. It was recently discovered that the shadows in one painting line up reveal the light source not to be the sun, but his wife’s face. Was this intentional? What else might be waiting to be discovered that Dali has not told us? He did once say that when people start seriously studying his work they will realize what is currently known is just the tip of the iceberg.
Dali was influenced by Van Gogh, Picasso, Christianity, twentieth-century discoveries in physics, and especially Freud. His paintings are often adventures in psychoanalysis and his family life gave him plenty of material. His mother was a Catholic and his father was an atheist who thought he was throwing his life away by painting weird stuff. His older brother of the same name died before Salvador was born, making him feel as if he was a replacement and never really his own person. In A Portrait of my Dead Brother, a mixture of light cherries and dark cherries represent the contributions of both Salvadors as they merge to create a single face. I have no idea what that bird is about.
Some of his paintings remind me of dreams in the way that one thing connects to another, which connects to another in a way that doesn’t seem to remain consistent with the first or with the whole. For lack of a better term, they are illogical. The difference is that when I wake up, my conscious mind imposes an order on what little I remember in order to make sense of it, while with the paintings I see the whole all at once and I am not allowed to impose my order on them (it would require a lot of chopping). Overall, I didn’t see one that I can say I really liked, though A Portrait of my Dead Brother was my favorite. Now that I think of it, my second favorite is Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Face of Abraham Lincoln, but I didn’t think to get a picture while I was there. They all lacked a certain balance. If a few of the cherries are linked to show the two Salvadors are the same person, why aren’t they all linked? I find the transitions too abrupt. Still, the more I think about them, the more I see the enormous potential they have if slightly tweaked. I do love symbolic art.
The museum has audio device guide options or you can wait for the next docent. Both are available at no extra charge. There is also a gift shop and café. In addition to Dali, the museum often features other artists on a rotating basis. It also has some interesting architecture and views of the bay. Outside is a cactus garden and hedge maze where people leave their wristband tickets on one of two trees – one at the entrance and one at the center. It’s sort of a way to connect with others that have gone through the same mind-bending experience even if you have never met.
1 Dali Boulevard, Saint Petersburg, Florida
Once upon a time, Honeymoon Island in Dunedin, Florida was known as Hog Island and was owned by a pig farmer. Then a hurricane flooded the land and cut the channel known as Hurricane Pass. The former southern half of the island was renamed Caladesi and the former northern half was developed as a getaway for newlyweds. Honeymoon Island was born. It later became a state park. It is accessed by causeway.
The north of Honeymoon Island is split, forming Pelican Cove between the east and west arms. I first explored the eastern arm, which faces the mainland. I saw several nests in the trees. Ospreys and vultures were all over the place. There were even bald eagles. From October until May that section of the trail is closed so as not to disturb them. I also saw a moth sitting in a bush. It had an iridescent, hairy back that reminded me of a hummingbird.
Returning to the playground parking lot to eat, I saw a tortoise. So did the playground kids. They got enormous pleasure from watching it eat the grass, and I watched them watch it. When I finished, I headed for the west side of the island and walked north along the beach.
I could not find a high tide line and judging by the shells and seaweed strewn everywhere, I suspect that the entire western arm is submerged on a daily basis. The sand was moist and large gullies led into Pelican cove from among the mangroves. I planned on hiking to the northern tip and back, but I found much to distract me and eventually ran out of sunlight. There was a path part of the way between two groves of trees and numerous doorways cut into them leading to some stunningly beautiful places.
The water smelled like eggs. The mud came in hues of purple and green. The nearly bare trees, lack of undergrowth, and bright white sand reminded me very much of a snowy forest up north. It was exciting to find these secluded places that I had to share with no one but a few ibises.
Shells also distracted me. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such variety before. There were some that were quite large and most were unbroken. Many had barnacle shells stuck to them. Some were full of holes. I’m used to seeing holes in shells but usually it’s just one or two. The colors were mind-boggling. It doesn’t take much to boggle my mind, I guess. The photographs barely capture what my eyes saw in direct sunlight. There was a black pen shell with green and purple shine – like oil floating on water. There was a shell boring white on the outside and brilliant purple inside. I like to leave most shells behind for others to find, but this one was too good not to take home and show everybody I knew. Unfortunately, at home it became an ordinary shell. I am used to shells looking different when dry and under artificial light, but I have never seen this great of a difference!
There were also thousands of squishy, pea-sized objects everywhere. I thought at the time that they were seaweed floatation bladders that had broken off, since I sometimes found them among the seaweed, but now I’m not so sure. Do you know what they are?
Eventually the sun went down and I had to leave the beach before I had finished exploring. I was disappointed that I had encountered zero rattlesnakes, which the park signs had promised/warned me about. Passing through the playground back to my car I did see an armadillo digging up the lawn. Here are some other things I saw:
Located on the barrier island of Sand Key is Sand Key Park, which I visited in January. There is a playground, some trees, grassy areas, and a trail, but my visit started out as a bit boring. Finally, I took my chair out on the beach and just sat in the sun and wind. It wasn’t very crowded. I tried to read, but the book I had brought was also boring. I’m horrible at planning. That was when I started to walk around and noticed all the shells. There were a lot of shells both pretty and strange. Some were quite large. There were also numerous sponges and large bits of coral washed up all around me.
Inspiration struck and I started building sand castles. I made one with inner passages hidden by doors made from large shells. The other two castles somehow became sand volcanoes. I used sponges for the central fountains of lava in the craters, and red seaweed for the lava flowing down the sides. Broken red stalks of sea whips became the arcs of hot rocks thrown from the top. I lost all track of time.
While scrounging for more red seaweed to finish my lava flows, I came across the strange crab shown below. The head is at the pointed end. All the spines point this way. There was much animal life about. Sandpipers ran along the water’s edge, running back and forth to keep out of reach of the waves. Gulls flew by carrying tiny fish in their mouths, screeching the whole way.
When I finally left just before sunset, I walked along the beach to see what structures others had built. There were castles and even entire citadels. Somebody had even made a giant turtle covered in shells. All Florida beaches are treasures. How can one be bored at a beach?
1060 Gulf Boulevard, Clearwater, Florida
It showcases and sells art from all over Florida, but Florida Craft Art is headquartered right here in Tampa Bay – on Central Avenue in Saint Petersburg to be precise. This is quite possibly the most interesting gallery I have ever been in, which is really saying something considering how good some of the others are. The pieces are so unique, detailed, and brightly-colored. One can easily lose track of the time and spend two hours there, thinking you are in some emperor’s collection from all over the world.
The mission of the organization is to find great artists and introduce them to the community. All art must be three-dimensional (not paintings) and of very high quality. There are the textile abstracts of Leah Gillette, the furniture of David Calvin, the metal-ceramic pieces of Terry Andrews, and the clay sea life sculptures of William Kidd. It was difficult to find a piece I didn’t love.
It’s amazing how something so simple and ethereal can add so much to a place. This transparent silvery curtain is beset with circular patches of intricate design reminding me of bubbles riding a waterfall. It adds a subtle, calming energy to the exhibition room filled with smaller, harder, more colorful objects, rounding out the already incredible variety and making itself the cornerstone of the whole exhibit. It is very different from anything I have ever seen that would normally be called art, but that is what it is. It quickly became my favorite. I had to know who made it and what they called it, but could not find a label. The lady at the counter told me she and another employee had actually made it and they did not have a title for it, telling me to come up with one. After thinking it over a couple days, I have decided to call it The Ghost Planet 1966. If you think you know why, leave a comment below.
The organization provides studios and classes upstairs from its roomy retail gallery and exhibition gallery. It has existed in its current location since 1995 and in Saint Petersburg since 1986, when it was known as Florida Craftsmen.
501 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, FL
I visited the Showmen’s Museum in Gibsonton, Florida in November 2016 and it was awesome. It isn’t quite as good as the real thing, but with the lights blinking and the music playing it has that fair atmosphere that I miss. It even has a working Ferris wheel indoors. By the time I left, I was almost skipping down the stairs. In the days before television, movies, and video games, traveling fairs and circuses were prime entertainment. People would wait all year or longer for them. Like trains and bookstores, they hold a special place in our cultural history that will likely persist in some form forever. They kept employed many in society that would likely have had a rough time otherwise, such as midgets, giants, and those with extra limbs. They worked, lived, and travelled together. They really understood what made true entertainment in the old days. Before there were internet cat videos, people put monkeys in tiny cars and rolled them down tracks. Now that’s real entertainment!
As chance would have it, I arrived the same time as a man who used to work in the industry back in the seventies. He had driven a long ways to check it out. He told me how he used to set up Ferris wheels without hydraulics and explained how many of the games of skill and chance worked. The place brought back many memories for him. I know how he feels. I can imagine I would feel the same way if someone were to open a fast food museum. When you learn every quirk of the equipment and how to work around the fry vat button that sticks or the freezer door that won’t close, it starts to mean something to you. This is the real good the place does, not just as a location to spend a fun afternoon, but a place that keeps alive the stories of those who worked hard to keep the show going, the dreams of every child visiting a fair for the first time, and the rich and interwoven history of an entire industry.
I visited Robinson Preserve in Bradenton, Florida in October 2016 and was rewarded with beautiful sights of a variety of plants. There are trails for bicycling or hiking across wide fields, marshes, and small wooded areas. There is a quite tall observation tower next to one of the lagoons, which is where I took the photos above from. If you have good eyes, you can see the Skyway Bridge in the distance.
The usual animals were around, including dragonflies, ospreys, ibises, fiddler crabs, and lizards. I also saw a rabbit. Something strange was going on that day with the bees. There were a lot of bees throughout the park everywhere that there were flowers. People say bees around the world are dying out, but I think they have just been hiding in Robinson Preserve. No matter where I went I could hear their distant roar. I did not know what I was hearing at first before I found them. I even saw a hive at the base of Tern Trail. I decided not to go that way.
Another mysterious sound was an occasional bark I would hear throughout the park. It sounded like a cross between a honking goose, a very confused seal, and a human child screaming in mortal terror. I finally discovered that the ibises were making this noise. Every so often they would look up from poking in the mud and bark. I had never heard ibises make noise before. I have not heard them make noise since. This is a strange place.
Along the northern edge of the park there are breaks in the vegetation separating the trail from the bay. These lead to small, secluded beaches. The water remains incredibly shallow far into the bay. I could see ibises and herons walking on the mirror-like surface of the sea as far as a hundred feet from shore. On the southern edge of the trail there is a narrow channel of water that connects the sea to the water bodies inside the park. This runs like a river when the tide comes in or goes out. I could see it branch as it cut through the trees into places where I wasn’t allowed to go. What goes on inside there?
Here are some more pictures from my adventure:
Deep in Lithia, Florida lie the 6312 acres of mostly forest that make up Alafia River State Park. This is a popular place for bicyclists. Off the sides of the mixed-use trail are countless bicycle trails. These trails are narrow, twisted, and very hilly due to the entire place having been used as a phosphate mine in the past. Mountains are a rarity in Florida and this is one place for mountain bikers to get their fix. They are rated as “epic” by the IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association).
I did not know any of this before I went and I don’t have a bike; I went for the extensive walking trails, which are shared by bicycles, horses, and also tortoises. Soon after leaving the trailhead, I rounded a corner and saw a tortoise coming from the other direction at a decent speed. Only when I got close did it take any notice of me and this was just to slow down a bit every time I moved. I also saw a navy-blue dragonfly.
The trails were a bit confusing. Even though they are marked, they are not always marked at every intersection, and there are many side trails not on the map. Most of these are bicycle-only trails, but it is not always easy to tell. After getting lost several times over I found myself near where I started. Since I was more tired than I expected that day, I decided to leave early without seeing most of the park. On the way back to the parking lot, I saw two tortoises where before there had been one. Very cute.
My favorite thing about Hammock Park in Dunedin, Florida is the covered platform I can watch the boardwalk from. There are also several trails, a small playground, a butterfly garden, restrooms, and disk golf available. The day I went to the park the butterfly garden was still flooded from the recent storm so I can’t say much about that, though I did see a couple butterflies elsewhere in the park. From the boardwalk itself one can look down and see fiddler crabs and turtles. The playground features a pyramid of ropes that shifts around as you climb it. You haven’t lived until you’ve climbed something that moves as much as you do. The gravel fill below it I discovered was strangely bouncy. Upon closer examination I determined it was made of little bits of rubber tires. I suppose it makes for a softer landing when you inevitably fall off the ropes.
It seemed boring at first. When I first arrived, I took the trails around the eastern perimeter of the park. There were benches named after various people. There were numerous puddles and muddy spots that slowed me down. These puddles had tiny tadpoles! The larger puddles had larger tadpoles! This redeemed what was otherwise a boring area. A drier trail was completely blocked by fallen trees. I climbed around and over the first two only to be utterly defeated by the third. The only redeeming feature there was the patch of plants I found with touch-sensitive leaves. The sun was hot and there was less shade than I like. I was starting to think the park might be a dud. I was very wrong.
Returning the way I came I saw an egret guarding the dam. While I walked along the brook, two jays shrieked and chased each other at high speed. They did the same when I returned that way later and the same again when I passed a third time. Then I discovered the boardwalk and the platform overlooking it. A short ways along a bridge spans a waterway. A very loud duck-like bird flew over the short bridge just as I passed, clearing the railing by inches. I was very thirsty by this time and thought of returning to the car for my water, crackers, and sunscreen so I could sit there and read (I had a book, too). Unfortunately, there was a trail heading the other way and I had to know where it went. I stood there for almost a minute trying to decide which way to go. The struggle is real!
When I did finally make it back to the platform I ended up talking with a pretty lady who had the same exact idea I did. She soon left and I decided to finish exploring. Beyond the boardwalk were some paved trails and beyond those another boardwalk nestled among tall mangroves. There I saw six mangrove crabs on a trunk facing each other in a circle. Were they having a conference? Was it about me? I’m probably just being paranoid, but they scattered when they saw me coming. I’ve never seen such behavior before. I also saw a dark beetle and later observed a woodpecker from only twelve feet away. It eventually figured out I was behind it and kept turning its head sideways to look at me. I saw so many things I can’t fit them all in one post. Below are only the highlights:
Five Galleries: The Dunedin Fine Art Center boasts five galleries, a gift shop, the Palm Café, and a lounge area in the central lobby complete with art books, couches, and a piano. It is located on Michigan Avenue in Dunedin, Florida. There is good parking. By one entrance is the alien machinery pictured above. By the other entrance is a long tile mural built over the course of several years by many children of different ages from different schools in the area. The center is open seven days a week and paid for by donations.
Thought-Provoking Exhibits: Of course, it’s what’s inside that counts. I caught them on a transition day when only two of the five galleries were open. The Entel Family Gallery hosted an exhibit called Dignity: Tribes In Transition. It was a collection of photographs of indigenous people from around the world, often in a mixture of traditional and modern dress. Pictures of people are interesting because unlike landscapes or abstract sculptures, people have dreams, thoughts, goals, aspirations, and can interact in their environments in complex ways. What were they thinking? I could not tell. There were several plaques on the walls explaining what the project was about. They referenced a UN declaration in the seventies to protect the rights of indigenous people, though I question what else the declaration might have had in it since the four nations to vote against it (New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the United States) are not exactly known for human-rights abuses (relatively speaking). Another plaque stressed the importance of learning the culture of our ancestors. It suggested that in order to know where we are going, we must know where we come from. I’m not sure I buy that argument. Since the past can only influence the future through the present, why isn’t it good enough to just know where we are now? Another plaque suggested that trees feel pain and that Africans have somehow known this all along. Hmmm. The jury is still out on that. The exhibit certainly got me thinking, which I’m guessing was the point.
Pretty Pictures: The second exhibit (Harmonic Divergence) featured works inspired by music. There are two paintings that stand out to me now. At first glance, it looked like a swirl of color probably representing music was escaping from a trumpet or horn of some kind. A drum and harp floated nearby. Upon closer examination, I decided it looked more like the horn was escaping from the swirl. Do instruments make music or does the potential for music encourage the invention of instruments? I’m probably thinking too much. The other painting I liked was a borderline impressionistic scene of a man with a guitar-like object and four women in hats. There were large flowers in the background and fruit on the table. The women appeared to have their eyes closed, probably enjoying the music. It was all very colorful. The instrument itself had several regions of different colors on it. There was just enough consistency in the highlighting to discern the direction of illumination. I liked it.
Just off the Skyway Bridge across Tampa Bay are two fishing piers and a park that I had been meaning to check out for a while. First, I stopped at the rest area on the southern side of the bridge. I walked along the water where there was a tiny forest of seaweed just a few feet out. Strange flashes of light beamed out from this mysterious landscape. They turned out to be small fish that were very nearly invisible until they turned at just the right angle to reflect the sun into my face.
Second, I drove along the strip of land that connects the southern pier to the mainland. There were a few vehicles parked in the grass and a few palms, but mostly it was empty, leaving plenty of space to sit and watch the clouds. Of course, being me, the clouds did not satisfy for long. I walked along the cracked concrete at the edge of the water, looking for life among the weathered, hole-riddled rocks on either side. The nearby pavement had large holes in it, too. There were numerous scurrying isopods that were incredibly camera-shy. Finally I managed to photograph one of them. I also saw a pretty snail. It was an incredibly hot day, but there was a strong breeze from the south that kept things tolerable. It was much better than the rest stop side.
Reaching the pier, I walked to the end and back. There were many people fishing and there were many birds fishing. They were of all ages, races, and sexes and mostly friendly. One guy from New York explained how easy it was to get into the hobby. Apparently one only needs a cheap pole from Walmart and some bait and they can have dinner in minutes. I’ve never really had the opportunity to go fishing before. Perhaps I’ll look into it. There is more than enough space for everybody if they don’t want to be too close, and there is also plenty of space if they do want to be close. This also means plenty of space for parking. There are also restrooms and a bait shop. The clerk told me that I’d be surprised how many people show up unprepared without bait, ice, poles, or snacks. As for myself, I forgot to bring water when I left the house and so I bought a coke. God bless capitalism!
Driving to the north end of the bridge, I explored both sides. On the southwestern edge there are numerous shady spots to park and sit by the water. Unfortunately, the ground is rather bumpy here and there are deep puddles. On the northeastern edge there is a large sandy beach. Further down is a walkway leading along the bridge to the city. While I’ve never seen a path that I haven’t wanted to take to see what’s on it, I’ve also never seen a path that I haven’t wanted to leave to see what isn’t on it, so I took a minor detour under the bridge to cross over to the southwestern edge again. The wind on that side was incredibly refreshing as I sat in the shade of the bridge, getting out of the sun for a while. I never did make it to the northern fishing pier. By this time I was tired and thirsty and wanted to head home.
Instead, I made a spontaneous adventure decision (S.A.D.). I stopped at a gas station for water and snacks and returned to the southern park to place my chair on the grass and watch the sunset. I sat and waited and read a little and doodled in the sand with my toes. There was something burning on the horizon sending up a plume of smoke that wrapped around the bay. I thought when the sun went through this that I might get some interesting pictures. Instead, the best pictures were behind me. First there was a rainbow as a cloud went overhead lightly sprinkling on me. Then at sunset there was a cloud whose very top was still in sunlight, reminding me of a stack of pancakes with butter on top. Just before I left, a thunderstorm started in the north, creating a light show better than any fireworks display. This is Tampa Bay.
Have you ever made a spontaneous adventure decision?
My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.