My wife and I have discovered a great, new vacation spot and something tells me a lot of folks over here might not be aware of it.
St. Petersburg, Florida.
I will always consider myself a Florida person. I grew up in Kissimmee, Fla. before Disney World came about. My mother worked as a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel in Osceola County and I remember when I was about 13 or 14 she began to mention the fact there was a big land grab going on west of Kissimmee in what was always known as cattle land. Then sure enough, the big announcement was made that Disney World would be coming to central Florida and needless to say, things changed dramatically in that area.
My grandparents used to live in St. Cloud, Fla., just seven or eight miles near Kissimmee before they moved to Venice, Fla., south of Tampa on the Gulf Coast. We went there for weekends all the time with my mother, father and two brothers, so I have a lot of memories about that area.
And then my father moved back to Orlando after he retired and my mother moved to Englewood, Fla. after Hurricane Katrina, so I’ve made dozens of trips back to central Florida in past years.
My wife and I are big music lovers and decided to take a trip to the area last week to see two young pop stars—yes, we like pop music as well as the old rock and roll from the 70s, and also current country music. It was kind of funny as we mentioned to a few people here or there about the upcoming trip and concert that was held in Tampa on July 25. Most folks who are even 30 or older never heard of the two young stars that we went to see—Charlie Puth and Shawn Mendes.
It was a great concert and especially fun to be in a crowd of 10,000 people, with about 90 percent of them screaming, young girls. Just like the old days when the Beatles first came out. But then that is a story for another day.
As we settled into our seats on the plane we sat next to a woman that lives near St. Petersburg so we asked what would be a great thing to do in the city since we had one full day that wasn’t scheduled. She mentioned a cool, downtown area on Tampa Bay with lots of stores, outside cafes and people walking their dogs. “Kind of like Rodeo Drive in Hollywood,” she said.
And then she added the clincher. “Oh yea, and there is the Dali Museum.”
My wife almost fell out of her seat. She is a big fan of “the Masters,” as she calls them—some of the great artists of our time. And it turns out she is quite familiar with renowned international artist Salvador Dali, who just happened to have his only museum in the United States right in St. Petersburg.
I have never been an art fan of any great note, but the times we have taken in a museum or art show I always enjoy it. But the full day we spent at the Dali Museum was one of the most interesting and fascinating things I have ever experienced.
Turns out that almost 10 years ago the city of St. Pete heard that a huge collection of Dali paintings was looking for a home, so the city officials got together and offered to build a museum to bring them there. And that’s just what they did, opening in 2011 to great fanfare and now drawing hundreds to the city every day. Sounds like a good lesson for other cities—small or large.
What I learned after the day of Dali information and incredible paintings is that I never realized the true genius of someone like this man. I never had an opportunity to truly experience what a great artist is all about. Every one of his paintings has incredible meaning and the museum did a great job of teaching us about them through a guided tour and with audio sets to match each painting, explaining the story and meaning of them all.
Some of his paintings are huge, as big as 10 feet wide and 14 feet tall. But then I did some homework and found out he has one painting that is 16 feet by 65 feet wide. These paintings take anywhere from 12 to 18 months to complete and as impressive as it is to see such beautiful work on a large canvas, I was most taken by the fabulous detail this man paints. On one piece of work he had a woman as the main subject and it appeared he painted every single strand of hair on her head, one at a time. How does he do it?
There is even more to Dali—his life in Hollywood, working with Walt Disney, Harpo Marx and other famous stars. He has written books, created sculptures and more. How so much genius talent could be in one person was awe inspiring.
And St. Pete is just a cool place to hang out for a week—every evening sees the area near the bay explode with activity. My wife and I definitely know we will be going back in the future. Maybe we’ll see you there.
Kevin Chiri can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.