Her moustache

A strange encounter at Dali’s exhibit

Dali’s Santiago El Grande

Alyssa Arnold

I met Salvador Dali at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. I think. 

I first see her cross-legged on a tapestry style rug staring up at Dali’s Santiago El Grande. I take her photo without her knowing and then wait for her to stand up. When she does, I show her the photo and she insists on a retake so she can do a surrealist pose. What happens next feels like I’m trying to remember a dream.

I explain to her that viewers are encouraged to lie down for this one. So, together we sprawl out on the floor of the WAG. She doesn’t have to tell me she isn’t from Winnipeg. Maybe it’s the vintage Chanel purse wrapped around her body or maybe it’s her candidness.

“I don’t talk to just anyone like this,” she confides.      

Her parents are holocaust survivors and somehow that makes seeing Dali in Winnipeg very sentimental to her. She values the opportunity more than most, I suspect. She grew up in this city and met Santa at the annual parade when she was a young girl. He told her it didn’t matter that she was Jewish, she could still ask him for a present.

We stay here taking turns taking pictures of each other from different angles. She tells me that my blouse matches the rug and that it is beautiful. There are witnesses to this; the security guards are holding back laughter. I like to think they’re just happy to be part of what is going on.

We continue through to the next gallery to the other works, equally as impressive. When we get to Dali’s Madonna of Portlligat, she stops and asks me about one of the shadows in the painting. She wants to know why it is there, she wants to know all the reasons why it could be there. I don’t have the answers, because she is distracting me.

“Every one of us is a Dali or a Beaverbrook, you know,” she offers. “Most of us don’t wake up to it.” This time she is staring right at me, not the painting.

“Who are you? I mean who do you want to be?” she asks. I tell her I want to be a writer, but I think she already knows, or maybe that isn’t the answer she’s looking for.

“I’m a writer, a healer and I’m a singer too,” she says before she tells me a story of how she sang “Santa Baby” at a Christmas Showcase. 

“I’m like a gypsy artist. Who knows where the caravan is going to stop?”

The gallery is closing and our guard friends are growing impatient. She isn’t ready to leave.

“I like being here at the end, it’s like a new beginning.”

It is a new beginning. I stand in the grand lobby of the gallery trying to remember why I came here to begin with. She starts talking again about our connection; she says we have a  relationship she would expect from a daughter but hasn’t experienced from her own kin.

I’ve never listened so well. I only notice her true age as we depart. To me she is this young, fiery spirit. Her age remains a mystery. I watch her walk away into a flurry of snow and light. I am still looking for her moustache.

Michaela Senkiw studied English and Art History. She has always wanted to be Lois Lane.

Dali Up Close is on now until January 25, 2015.

Published in Volume 69, Number 12 of The Uniter (November 19, 2014)

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