I am in the hushed Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg on a weekday morning, feeling like I'm skipping school. In a good way.
The doors only just opened but already the place is pulsing with tourists, daytrippers, silver-haired couples and packs of roving kids who just spilled from buses in the parking lot.
Upstairs I cruise the famously mustachioed surrealist's strange and interesting paintings. I come upon a couple who has stopped to consider an exhibit worth considering. It's an old-fashioned telephone, except the part you pick up, hold to your ear and speak into is, absurdly, a lobster, with tail, claws and all.
Maybe those cell-phone-raised kids downstairs will stare at it and think this must be what phones looked like in pre-Apple olden times. But up here, the man looks puzzled, the woman amused. There's Dali for you.
Do we forget some of the gems we have around here? I hadn't been to the Dali in years and their own stats back me up: Of the hundreds of thousands of people who annually traipse through that striking-looking building by the water and who wander its outdoor gardens with the melting-clock bench, 75 percent are not us locals.
Which, if you think about it, is good news for places like ours that depend on tourists and the wallets they bring with them.
Speaking of news, the Dali has plans to grow in a big, ambitious way. They want to add space for new digital exhibits — Digital Dali — plus a new parking garage and event space.
The museum is asking for $17.5 million in bed tax money from Pinellas County for an expansion estimated to cost more than $38 million all told. The rest of the money is expected to come via what will have to be some enthusiastic fundraising.
That bed tax money — 6 percent collected from overnight stays here — is, understandably, in demand.
Some others who would like a bite: Clearwater, looking to renovate the Philadelphia Phillies' spring training stadium. Tampa Bay Watch. The American Craftsman Museum. The St. Petersburg History Museum.
And really, isn't that good news?
Doesn't it say that we have a lot of interesting things going on around here that we'd like to improve?
Maybe it's akin to all your kids getting into high-end colleges. (Without bribes, I mean.) Great, now you just have to figure out the wisest way to pay for it.
Sounding appropriately cautious and concerned that there won't be enough for everyone, the Pinellas County Commission this week took the first step for the Dali.
Commissioners voted to send the application to the Tourist Development Council, which acts as an advisory board regarding the spending of that bed tax loot.
The county commission will have the ultimate say, but for the record, their initial vote to move it forward was unanimous. Good. I'm all for judicious use of those dollars.
And also for plans to make the Dali even more interesting.
In the museum's ladies room, the mirror over the sink has that trademark long, skinny Dali mustache imprinted on it so hand-washers can amuse themselves by appearing similarly adorned. Out in the gift shop, amongst the mustached mugs and surreal socks, hang T-shirts that say:
Paris, London, Tokyo, St. Pete.
Surreal being, I guess, in the eye of the beholder.
Contact Sue Carlton at [email protected] .