Art and Culture Costa Brava Museums Spain

10 life lessons from Dali Museum

Is it art or is it life? At the Dali museum Figueres
Written by Kirstie Pelling

10 life lessons from Dali Museum. No really, not surreally.

Kirstie Profile SmallI fell in love in the Costa Brava. But believe me this was no normal holiday romance. My new fella and I don’t speak the same language and I have to squint to see his viewpoint about anything. He sports the world’s most famous moustache while I live in fear of whiskers. He sees cheese and tastes mortality while I see cheese and get fat. He is long dead and lives on in a colour saturated interpretation of dreams, but a girl can learn a lot of life lessons from a brief flirtation with a creative genius. Here’s how a visit to Dali’s museum in Figueres and his home near Cadaques are making me rethink the way I live…

1 Life is surreal. Accept it

Dali did surreal. In a big way. Just look at any of his paintings where fierce tigers emerging from pomegranates fly over reclining women and an outline in the distance can be a dog, a face or a Bedouin tent.

Like most mothers with children of varying ages, I do surreal on a daily basis. But I fight it. Let me give you a recent example. I step over the front door after a few days away and wonder if burglars have been in? No, more likely the crew of the Tour de France. Bike parts are strewn everywhere and rows of bikes leaning against every surface. Stuart is clearly getting ready for our big trip. In the middle of it all someone has delivered a bright yellow hoover that I haven’t ordered. Is it a comment on my level of hygiene?

I leave the house in search of a sympathetic ear and in the 100 yard walk to the village shop, I find posters of my naked body on every lamp post. And most alarmingly in the butcher’s window. My part in the local production of Calendar Girls is literally all over the village. I have an urge to rip down the posters but tell myself to embrace the surreal. I ask what Dali would have done and the answer comes to me in a flash. I Instagram the picture and send it out to 400 people. Some people even ‘Like’ it. That’s surreal.

Is it art or is it life? At the Dali museum Figueres

Is it art or is it life? It’s hard to separate realism from surrealism after a visit to the Dali museum in Figueres

2 Surreal has layers. Embrace them

The thing about surreal is that it can have a habit of getting more surreal. The following week I pass the same lamp post to find the poster is covered with a note that the play has been postponed ‘due to surgery.’ Now the whole of the village thinks one of the six Calendar Girls is getting a boob job. I watch two pensioners take out their glasses to have a look. Are they measuring up which one of us needs to go under the knife? What would Dali do? He’d put daisies on his nipple, paint a picture of it and hang it with pride. Should I Instagram the boob job posters to my 400 followers? I have no dignity left to lose.

Dali Museum Figueres

The unmistakeable Dali Museum in Figueres

3 Think big

Dali’s museum in Figueres is larger than life and a gazillion times more colourful. In the courtyard, it rains inside the car. In a dark room, Mae West’s lips are a sofa plumped for sitting on. Above Dali’s grave, the ceiling is a giant fly’s eye. Dali thought big. He thought outside the box. He created the box to show it all off. And then he covered the box in hard boiled eggs and buns.

Mind you, Dali isn’t the only one I could learn lessons from about thinking big. Cameron’s birthday dawns and my present of a Tetris alarm clock is overshadowed by £100 yellow watch. Where did that come from? “Oh it’s just a loan from Swatch. I’m reviewing it for my website” he says. So get this, while I’ve been dithering over retro twenty quid alarm clocks on Amazon, he has contacted a watch company, signed a contract with them, and is using their new touchscreen technology to extend his friendship circle at school and impress his teachers with how rich his parents appear to be. It’s Dali-esque when your delusions of adequacy are shattered by your own 11 year old.

4 Get up early to get ahead

Dali’s home is perched on the edge of a bay in Port Lligat near Cadaques. Almost every window has a sea view, and where there was no natural porthole, he created one. Dali chose his home, a converted row of fishermen’s cottages so he would be the first person in Spain to see the sun each day.

My bedroom faces the sun. It has a view. I never see the early morning sun because I am asleep. To be as productive as Dali I have to get out of bed. I will have to do this in future. Fortunately I have a Tetris alarm clock with a really annoying tune just down the corridor to help. And for the next two weeks, access to a bright yellow touch screen Swatch.

View of Port Lligat from Dali's house window

View of Port Lligat from Dali’s window

5 Wear your moustache with pride

Dali was involved with Disney films. And Hitchcock films. He made jewellery. He painted. He sculpted. He was quite literally everywhere. Yet he’s known for his moustache.

But it’s some moustache. According to a Daily Telegraph survey, Dali’s facial hair was and is the most famous moustache in history. It’s quite an accolade when you consider some other famous ‘taches. (Step forward Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Charlie Chaplin!) Is the artist turning in his grave because he’s remembered not for his prolific work, but his appearance? I doubt it. Not if he can see from the grave how many tourists are walking over it.

What do I take from this? It doesn’t matter how you are remembered. It’s enough to be remembered. Find your moustache, work at it, groom it, shape it into handlebars and wear it with pride.

Anyone can have a Dali moustache

A Dali moustache can be worn for fun, as art or as personal inspiration. Not sure what Cameron is up to.

6 Celebrate your muse

Dali’s partner was the driving force behind his success but have you ever heard the name of Gala? “Dali without Gala is no one,” explains Jaume Marin, Costa Brava’s Marketing Director as we view her picture on the wall of Dali’s home. Right next to the artists’s stock cupboard. She was so influential that when she died, he fell into decline and never regained his mojo.

What do I take from this? Well more than you might imagine. The Family Adventure Project is a partnership. But, because I do the networking and the talking, I get the kudos and Stuart is perceived as the backroom boy. From now on, he will have half the limelight. I’m not sure how you carve a limelight into equal halves, but I’ll have a go. At our WI talks he will no longer stand behind me in the shadows. He will eat cake up front and wipe crumbs nonchalantly from his moustache. When he grows one.

7 Understand the universe through the kitchen sink

Dali tackled the mysteries of the universe in his work. But he often interpreted them through the everyday. A sink became his angel. An egg was hope. Sometimes in the mad march of time and household chores, the small stuff gets ignored while we fret about the big stuff that we can’t possibly get our heads around. I am guilty of this; especially with the children, who often get ignored when I come home from school. So could I do something about it? Hannah has been saying her tooth is dizzy. I’d normally brush this off as not making sense. A tooth can’t be dizzy. But does it mean she’s worried about something? Or that her tooth is growing in? A long chat with her reveals that she’s feeling a bit left out at school. I’m glad we talked. Her tooth is still dizzy but I feel like a better mother and we have connected. Now maybe, I should book her a dental appointment. And maybe a play date.

Dali's Angel at Dali Museum, Figueres

Dali’s Angel at Dali Museum. I know, I know. What is it? Well isn’t life like that?

8 Change your perspective to solve a problem

Dali broke the world into chunks by taking a fly’s eye view. We could all learn from the fly’s eye approach. Big problems become more solvable when they are a series of little problems. We are biking the Balkans this summer and I have been panicking because we have no proper plan in place. Perhaps if I took it day by day I might get to Albania instead of shouting at Stuart? So I break the trip down into countries and it is instantly more manageable. Although it hasn’t stopped me shouting at Stuart.

Fly's eye in Dali Museum Figueres

See the world like a fly.  in Dali Museum Figueres

Dali had other lessons to be learnt about perspective. Sometimes you only see the whole picture when the constituent parts are pulled together. Mae West’s nose is just a lightshade until it’s united with her mouth. I put the map on the wall and we take an overview of the whole trip. It is doable, but it’s clearly a rush, with no rest time built in. We schedule two days off in each country. And decide not to finish in Albania, but Kosovo. And then we find out that Kosovo is not actually a country and that there may still be landmines at the border. That’s a bit too surreal for me so it’s back to Albania. For now.

Sometimes you have to squint or use a magnifying glass to see the detail and work out exactly what is going on. A more detailed look at Montenegro reveals some of the best rafting in the world is at the top of a valley. How did we not notice that before? A closer look at Albania shows we have access to the second best valley river ride in the world. I resolve to look more closely, especially now I know about the landmines.

Examining Dali's work close up

Through the looking glass all kinds of details emerge

9 Be inspired by your dreams

Dali didn’t just have dreams. He worked them. He woke up and painted them. He interpreted the world through them. He made them live forever. If you write down your dreams and follow them, even for just an experiment, who knows where it may lead?

Dali also had big dreams about where he wanted to be in life. He mixed in circles that could help him get there. “At the age of six I wanted to be a chef. At the age of seven I wanted to be Napoleon and my ambition has been growing ever since,” he said.

The Family Adventure Project’s dream is to live an adventurous life as a family. To experience the world beyond our doorstep with our kids. Only we can make that happen. An invitation comes through for a celebration of the work of an environmental project I’ve been involved in. They give me little notice and I’d normally say no. But I pause for thought. A few hours after school where we’d normally lock ourselves away working could become important family time. In the end the kids have a ‘creative moment’ so we won’t go. I want dreams not nightmares.

The Palace of the Air, Dali Ceiling painting in Dali Museum Figueres

Is it man or bedside cabinet? Dali’s Palace of The Air ceiling painting in the museum at Figueres.

10 Be Dali. Or your own version of Dali

Now I’ve returned from Spain I have a new dream.To be the Dali of my village. I am going to dabble in everything creative. I am going to hone my craft. I am going see hope in an egg and the world in a bathroom sink.

And I suspect that with my moustache, the yellow hoover sculpture in the middle of the room and my public proclamation of plastic surgery, I am already on my way. And I am investigating a giant egg sculpture for my grade II listed building. Or some melted cheese. I’m not a fussy eater. Know what I mean???

Roof of Dali's house

This may look like a painting but it’s real life. A roof tile on Dali’s house. Get that!

Disclosure Note: Thanks to the Costa Brava tourist board for hosting me to enable me to bring you this story. All the experience, views and opinions are, as ever, entirely my own.

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.


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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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