The bride floated down the aisle gracefully navigating the rose petal strewn aisle. Swathed in layers of white silk and chiffon, she and the groom radiated happiness like beacons of hope. Their families were equally pleased and all the wedding participants felt bathed in a sea of well-being and delight. This wedding with this bride and groom felt absolutely, positively right.
A long-time friend of the bride, I was delighted to witness such unbridled joy. As it happened, this wedding occurred just at a time that I was wondering about the nature of romantic love. I’ve been mulling over what attracts people to each other ever since I visited the Gala Dalí Castle in Púbol in the Costa Brava last month. The Gala Dalí Castle belonged to Salvador Dalí’s wife with whom he had an intense and unusual relationship.
Salvador and Gala Dalí – The Relationship
Salvador Dalí and his Russian wife, Gala, met in somewhat scandalous circumstances. She and her artist husband were visiting Dalí when they started having an affair. As the story goes, her husband returned to their family home and Gala stayed put with Dalí.
The couple had a tumultuous love affair. By all accounts, both people were difficult personalities. Dalí lived with a fear of dying and being another forgotten artist. Gala hated the idea of growing old. You can see why she hated being a mother and had a non-existent relationship with her daughter from her first marriage. Children, after all, remind you of the passage of time and that your first flush of youth is gone.
As Dalí’s muse, Gala was worshipped and her likeness recreated in art and sculpture. It must be the ultimate ego trip to be the muse of a tortured, artistic genius. I can’t think of any other reason why Kate Moss would have stayed with Pete Docherty (genius being in the eye of the beholder).
Through his art, Gala would be beautiful forever. For a woman who was so afraid of growing old, her beauty would be captured through the ages. Very egocentric, Gala had no friends and a deep sense of entitlement. For example, the story goes that she drove into town one day and parked her Datsun illegally. A policeman approached her to move her car but instead she ordered him to keep watch over her car while she ran into a store.
Gala also loved living the good life. Dalí did not quibble over money and gave her everything she wanted. Other anecdotes recount that when she wanted to go shopping, he would just pull out a wad of bills and give it to her without question.
The Princess in the Castle
Salvador Dalí bought and refurbished an 11th century castle in the village of Púbol in Catalonia for Gala. He had searched extensively in the South of France and in Catalonia until he found this particular castle. When he showed it to her, Gala pronounced that the castle and its gardens, even in ruins, reminded her of her childhood summers in the Crimea.
Gala lived at Púbol Castle from 1971 to 1980. She insisted that Salvador get written permission from her in order to visit her at the castle. The castle became a refuge for Gala which isn’t surprising considering the intensity of Dalí’s devotion to her.
Dalí, the romantic, put a bright spin on her condition that she give him express written permission to visit her.
“This condition especially gratified my masochistic feelings and thrilled me; Gala became the impregnable Castle that she had never ceased to be. Intimacy, and above all, familiarities diminish every passion. Rigor of feeling and distance, as demonstrated by the neurotic ceremony of courtly love, increase passion.”
– Salvador Dali
Clearly, Dalí put Gala not so much on a pedestal as a throne. (He built a throne for her which she never liked). In fact, the throne room also has an altar-like table tableau as well. So many mixed messages in this room.
The castle was furnished by Dali in a mixture of his own designs as well as purchased pieces. For example, he designed the pillow cushions in the living room. Even when he was trying to let her have her own space, there are visible reminders of him everywhere.
Dalí’s vision of the princess in the tower and courtly love shows up us a repeated motif in the castle. The castle is very picturesque with climbing roses adorning the stone walls.
Every princess needs a white charger and so there is even a stuffed white horse which was a housewarming gift from a friend. Dalí created a love song written for Gala which he had illustrated into a coat of arms for her.
Dalí designed and had the Castle garden and a pool created for Gala as well. His fear of insects is shown in the somewhat scary elephant fountains he created for the garden. The pool had a sea demon as well as a collage of Richard Wagner’s head. Some people would say having to sit through a Wagnerian opera is a horror in itself. In any event, Dalí’s princess was safe in her castle away from the monsters inhabiting the outside world.
During the refurbishment, Dalí removed the castle kitchen to create an ensuite bathroom for Gala. He designed the taps and covered the old stove to make a dressing table. Gala just ordered food from a restaurant in town. I don’t think fairy tale princesses spent much time eating.
And, where would an artist be without some mother issues? Dalí lost his mother when he was a teenager and Gala in some ways fulfilled a motherly role as well for him. In one blatant example, she drove him around in town in one of her cars because he never learned to drive.
Dalí liked to have input on Gala’s outfits as well. He would create the designs for the fabric and then get the leading French fashion houses to produce the dresses. A display of some of Gala’s outfits show a who’s who of designers of the era, among them Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaperelli, Jeanne Lanvin and Pierre Cardin.
I could’t help but think of the Kanye West-Kim Kardashian dynamic we have today. Kanye is another artistic genius with his mother issues and his wife who he likes to dress like a living doll. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Although Gala had no friends, she did have lots of lovers. These men would be at the castle when Dalí wasn’t around. The artist accepted this fact of life because he would do anything to please Gala.
Was this love or just obsessive narcissism? I don’t know. In the concept of courtly love, the object of the knight’s affection is worshipped from afar because usually the lady in question is married. Dalí and Gala, however, enjoyed earthly pleasures far too much to stick strictly to the tenets of courtly love. It wouldn’t be the first time that people in love did exactly what they wanted and stuck a justifying framework on it after the fact.
I fear I am too bourgeoise to understand the Dali/Gala relationship which is perhaps why it stayed with me long after I left the castle in Pùbol.
The End of the Affair
After Gala’s death, Dalí’s health declined rapidly. He lived in the castle for three years after Gala died in order to be closer to his muse.
Unfortunately, his temperament had not gotten any easier with old age and his nurses disliked him. He would repeatedly press the bell to call his nurse to the bedroom until one day it short-circuited. The bedroom caught on fire but Dalí was rescued. For a man afraid of death though, the fire was too close a call. He returned to his town house in Figueres never to return again to the castle in Púbol.
Gala is buried in a crypt at the castle. Dalí was supposed to be buried beside her and there is a tomb next to hers prepared for his body. Supposedly there is a hole between the tombs so that they could hold hands in death. Instead, however, Dalí is buried in Figueres. The story goes that the Mayor of Figueres announced that Dalí had told him privately on his deathbed of his wish to be buried in Figueres.
Even in death, Dalí and Gala had a complicated love story.
Visiting the Gala Dalí Castle:
The Gala Dalí Castle is open for visitors all year round. It is closed on Mondays. Tickets cost 8 Euros for adults and concessions are available. It is located in the picture perfect little town of Pubol on the Costa Brava in Spain.