POSTCARDS FROM FLORIDA

Dali Museum, mullet flavors St. Petersburg

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Dali Museum in St. Petersburg

The helical staircase at the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg is a centerpiece of the building's design. (Dana Hoff / December 8, 2010)

At last, my notoriously poor eyesight has yielded something useful.

I'm at the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, standing across the room from Salvador Dali's "Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln," trying to make my uncooperative brain recognize the presidential profile hidden in the more obvious image.

No luck.

Then, a helpful museum volunteer suggests that I look again, without the help of my glasses, and there it is. "Wow!" I tell her, "That's amazing."

That word would describe everything about the Dali Museum (thedali.org), the gleaming $36 million home for the artist's work that opened in January 2011. Dali's work often combines the rational and the surreal, a trait that's reflected in the building.

Sitting across a plaza from the Mahaffey Theater, next to scenic Tampa Bay, the museum's exterior combines a utilitarian rectangular design and a distinctive geodesic glass bubble known as the "enigma." Made of 1,062 triangular pieces of glass, the "enigma" rises 75 feet and offers a lovely picture-window view of the bay from the museum's third-floor.

Inside, visitors reach that level by an eye-catching helical staircase that reflects Dali's infatuation with the spirals of DNA molecules. The third floor is home to the museum's main collection, grouped into rooms devoted to the artist's early work, surrealism, mature works and anti-art. Tours of the collection are offered every hour on the half-hour and I'd highly recommend one.

My guide was incredibly enthusiastic and well-informed, illuminating the tales behind the art and meaningful symbolism in the pieces. There's an impressive gift store in the lobby, where there's no shortage of melting clock merchandise. Better is the outdoor "Avant-Garden," with a spot for meditation and a "Wish Tree" where messages on slips of paper have become community art.

After the museum? There's a trolley that runs to the nearby gallery district and there's always the beach option. I made the 20-minute drive to Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish (tedpetersfish.com) for my first taste of smoked mullet.

With its old-school outdoor porch, Ted's vibe offers good taste of a different kind.

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