Friday, March 1, 2013

Dali's weird and wonderful seaside home

After many days of windy and wet weather we finally braved the elements to visit Dali's home in Port Lligat. From the distance the house looks quite magical with its white walls and burnished terra cotta roofs. Giant white alabaster eggs adorn the roof, dark green cypresses stand sentinel, and on the shore are the gaily painted fishing boats still in use today.

This was Salvador Dali's home until 1982, when his wife Gala died. Since they were attracted by the landscape, light and isolation, they wanted to stay in Port Lligat so that Dali could paint. They bought their first tiny fishing shack in 1930. You could call it a 21-square-metre fixer upper, with no electricity and no running water. Everything had to be carried in by donkey.

Five years later they bought the next-door cottage, adding connecting stairs and passages, to create a labyrinth. The entrance is the Bear Lobby aptly named because of a lovely jewellery bedecked giant bear standing on its hind legs. The house is a feast for the eyes with stuffed swans, books, dried flowers, masks, fans, statues, skulls and found objects such as shells and rocks. Most of the rooms have windows of different proportions overlooking  postcard views Port Lligat Bay or even down below into a fireplace.

The Dalis left Spain when Civil War broke out in 1936, only returning in 1948, by which time they had become rich. Dalí embraced Franco’s fascist regime, alienating many of his  former colleagues.

In 1949 the house was further extended adding a library, with a wooden book case installed above a fireplace, surmounted by three stuffed swans bearing lights on their heads. There was also a new studio with big adjacent windows framing dramatic views of hills and sea. A specially constructed easel was installed, with an ingenious pulley system to enable large paintings to be hoisted to the required height for the painter. Rising from the studio is a beautifully curved staircase shaded by a vast Japanese parasol, and accommodating myriad objects of inspiration. Other people’s moustaches were a particular Dalí obsession, and include Velasquez, Stalin and the Mona Lisa.

The bedroom was quite magnificent, with grand Russian samovars, a cricket cage, heavy inlaid Spanish furniture, dominated by two vast beds with red and blue canopies, bronze embellishments and an imperial eagle at the top. The white Dutch clogs add an incongruous touch. The circular fireplace is another Dalí design, flanked by plasterwork divans covered in silken cushions. Dali positioned a mirror so that he could see the dawn from his bed and thus be the first person in Spain to see the sun rise, since the Cap is the easternmost point of Spain.

Leading from the bedroom are Dalí’s own bathroom and Gala’s dressing room, which has glass fronted closets completely filled with photos of all the famous people who ever visited them, from Walt Disney and Gregory Peck, to the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson.

Beyond is the domed oval room based on the shape of a scooped out sea urchin with its strange acoustics, Gala’s secret refuge. It was based on an idea Dalí had for a nightclub in Acapulco which was never commissioned. A velvet bench runs right round the room, strewn with miniature silk cushions and furry animals. It is very weird to hear yourself talk in the room with some very strange echoes. Niches display Gala’s family photos, Russian icons, perfume flacons, enamelled miniatures, busts and statuettes.

The patio became the centre of the Dalí's increasingly extravagant social life, and this is where they put the summer dining room, a narrow white room with a window framing a view of the sea, and a horseshoe-shaped slate table presided over by a rhino’s head, and a giant white teapot. Very Alice in Wonderland.

Above the house are terraces of olive trees, rosemary and pomegranate trees. The long, narrow swimming pool, surrounded by rocky terrain has swan fountains spraying jets of water over it. There are two thrones in a pavilion at one end. One sitting area has a red-lipped sofa flanked by Pirelli tires, the Michelin man and a lone telephone booth.

Visiting the house in Port Lligat was a lovely way to spend a windy afternoon immersing ourselves in Dali's whimsical world.

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