Elena Dmitrievna Diakonova a.k.a. Gala Dali

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Artists are fickle, except when they’re not, and then their lovers are. Elena Dmitrievna Diakonova was born in Tatarstan, Russia to a family of intellectuals — as a kid she hung out with future poet Marina Tsvetaeva. (Tsvetaeva would write in 1938 “I have no need of holes / for ears, nor prophetic eyes: / to your mad world there is / one answer: to refuse!” and three years later hang herself).

Diakonova was a schoolteacher and she married painter Paul Eluard in 1917. In 1929, Eluard, who hung out with Max Ernst and Andre Breton, took Diakonova — who was by then calling herself Gala — to meet a surrealist painter named Salvador Dali.

Gala and Salvador fell hotly in love and Gala broke it off with Eluard, though they remained friends. Salvador Dali painted his new bride over and over, and she doted on him and managed his career.

Salvador had a phobia for vaginas (he was a virgin, in all likelihood, when he met Gala) and so, though they stayed glued together all their lives, Gala satisfied her boisterous sexual appetitie elsewhere. She had affairs with anyone she wanted, and she wanted mostly young male artists. Salvador, who proclaimed Gala the source of his sanity and inspiration, encouraged her extramarital frolicking. When Gala Dali died in 1982, her husband buried her on the grounds of the castle he’d bought for her. Salvador said Gala would never die, and maybe he’s right: her myspace page says she’s 101 and living in Girona, Barcelona.


Jesse Nathan is an editor at McSweeney’s and the managing editor of the Best American Nonrequired Reading. His poetry and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in jubilat, the American Poetry Review, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Nation. He was born in Berkeley, grew up in Kansas, and lives now in San Francisco. More from this author →