At the beginning there was Science-Fiction
In 1972 I was Invited by the Hungarian Government to coordinate the attendance of the science fiction communities active in the eastern countries to the first Eurocon in Trieste.
When I arrived in Budapest I was met by a young lady who was supposed to be my interpreter. She was but at the same time she was not. The official one assigned to me had fallen sick and therefore the young lady, whose name was Ágnes, had been asked to take over. She spoke an excellent Italian (Russian and French). I learned shortly after that she was an artist well versed in all the facets that the name implied.
It didn't take long for me to be enthralled by her joviality, friendliness and a genuine curiosity in the field of science fiction and the purport of my task. The next few days were a hectic roller coaster of meetings with the representatives of Hungary and the other eastern countries and the need to decide who among the many I had been introduced to could come to the First Eurocon as guests of the convention. Without Agnes I would have been really lost. She was my compass. Always contributing with the right suggestion in the face of the many proposals I had been exposed to in all possible venues connected with science fiction: painters, illustrators, TV and movie productions, potential speeches on various subjects, what could be physically brought to Trieste; books, magazines, paintings and anything else pertaining.
I had also the possibility of seeing some of Ágnes' work: the paintings, the illustrations, some beautiful images painstakingly worked out in the form of tapestry, cathedral glass and more. Now science fiction was no longer the main subject of our conversations. An affinity was gradually building between us. A meeting of minds, notwithstanding the fact that we came from two worlds apart. The west and the east had somehow become blurred, their tenets no longer mattered. And so it happened that before going back to Venice, my city, I proposed. And she accepted.
We got married in November 1972 in Pest. Bureaucracy had the better hand and it took her several months before she was officially allowed to leave Hungary with her new status. Venice welcomed her in February. She had visited Italy years before and her works had been praised in some exhibitions but now her life had undergone a radical change and was in need of a different perspective. She became enamored of Venice. And how could it have been otherwise? She found herself surrounded by stones and water intermingling to shape one of the most enchanting cityscapes ever. The many treasures offered by its ancient buildings further appealed to her sensibility.
Now more than ever she needed a place allowing her to express once again the artistry that was at the core of her personality. Easel, frames, canvasses, a large drawing table and all the other necessary devices were assembled to seamlessly become her natural extensions.
At first there were some obstacles but once the two bureaucracies, the Hungarian and the Italian, had managed to find a common ground by smoothing over the difficulties, she was allowed to bring to Venice part of the works left in Budapest and show them to a number of people, friends of mine who were also artists.
She was invited to various exhibitions in and outside Venice and her paintings were not only appreciated but also gained numerous prizes.
In 1973, not long after her arrival, she was offered a position as a teacher at the "Ettore Tito Academy" in Venice, by Professor Mariano Missaglia, an artist in his own right. There she taught drawing and painting for a couple of years.
Her works were also appreciated by Ferruccio Mestrovich, an art expert of international renown whose personal collection has been offered and permanently exhibited in the Ca' Rezzonico Museum in Venice. And in 1974 during an exhibition she attended with other artists on the island of Venice Lido at the Galleria d'Arte Maleti, one of her drawings depicting a scene of horses in the Puszta caught the attention of a visitor who had been captivated by the fluidity of their movements. He was Giulio Argan. He asked the person responsible for the exhibition if he could meet the artist. Unfortunately Ágnes was not reachable at the time and nothing came of it.
But there was a subject even nearer to her heart into which she was eager to delve and convey her feelings:children's books which, in the didactic field, she had already illustrated while in Hungary.
An Italian publisher, AMZ, was looking for an artist capable of working out a pleasant way of teaching the art of drawing specifically to kids or even toddlers. And they found in Ágnes the right person for the endeavor.
A book titled "Ogni bambino un artista" (Every kid an artist) was produced and was reprinted several times, later with a different title "Il mio primo libro di disegno" (My First Drawing Book). These were accompanied by a series of albums conceived in such a way that a child could fill the drawings with the color of his own choice. The same albums found later and outlet in France where they were published by Natham.
She also did some work in the field of publicity. And she always did it unsparingly, paying the utmost attention to the details relying also on my opinion when incertitude was creeping in.
Even if science fiction was not the subject of her choice in term of art she did some amusing fantasy drawings inspired by the many SF books and magazines she had found herself surrounded by in what was now our house in Venice. And during a Science Fiction Convention in Ferrara she had a lively conversation with Karel Thole (one of the best known European SF artists and illustrators) on that very topic.
Some visitors to our place in Venice had also expressed appreciation for her works. Among them John and Marjorie Brunner, Don and Elsie Wollheim, Robert Sheckley, Tom Disch, Ted Sturgeon, Bob Shaw, Patrice Duvic, A. E. and Lydia Van Vogt, Sandro Sandrelli, Takumi Shibano, all well known figures in the science fiction field.
Ágnes had in mind a further work for children: a history of costumes through the ages. A publisher had shown interest and she had begun a very thorough research producing many a drawing on the subject, each a small work of art in itself. Unfortunately the project never came to completion because the publisher had met unforeseen difficulties and its program had undergone a change of direction.
Then in 1977, on the fifth of January, Diana was born to our mutual joy. Now the time had come to change some of our habits. Ágnes and myself were both thrilled by the task ahead, give Diana all the love we could paring down what now appeared almost superfluous if not even meaningless. It is something you discover when you have a duty that transcends all that went on before. But duty is not the correct term, bliss would be more appropriate.
At first Ágnes did not entirely give up her activity, as I did not give up mine, but Diana was paramount. And we followed with some trepidation all her progress day by day, month by month. The first words, the first phrases. Hungarian was in the lead but Italian followed shortly thereafter and even some words in English emerged from time to time. They were magic moments for us both. In January 1979 to make things more interesting for Diana we bought a set of cubes. Each face had a different letter of the alphabet and assembling them together side by side was not just a game even if it appeared so.
But I digress. Ágnes was feeling more and more the need to be part of Diana's life and had to struggle to find the right balance between the affection for our daughter and the craving to pursue her innate love for art. She did not stop expressing it but it turned into a more private matter. Exhibitions became a thing of the past. She had found more appealing the quieter surroundings of our house where she could work and sometimes share the results with Diana and satisfy her curiosity about what she was doing and how she did it. Of course there were also the long walks around Venice with Diana and myself (whenever possible). Most of the time Ágnes was carrying a sketchbook where she was jotting down sometimes the embryo and sometimes the whole image of what had captured her attention. And often they were the seeds of more elaborate works which saw their ending, further filtered by her ingenuity, on the canvasses waiting on the easel at home.
Hungary had always been in Ágnes' heart. Every summer she went back to her native country to visit and allow Diana to get acquainted with the other half of the family.
And so the years went by. New friends had become part of our lives and old friendships had been rekindled, while Diana was blazing her own trail first in kindergarten and later in elementary school proving to have imbibed Ágnes' teachings (and mine too) in the most positive way.
But life can be very cruel. Sometimes early, sometimes late. On the 28th October 1984 Ágnes was admitted to the hospital. The first diagnoses was gallbladder stones. An operation followed. It was cancer. Accompanied by Diana and myself she went to a specialized clinic in Milan in the hope that something could be done. We managed to spend Christmas together in Milan in the house of friends. The hope of a remedy were shattered by the response we received by the clinic. We went back to Venice. Her mother came from Hungary to give her some comfort but had to go back to Hungary after few days because of the emotional state she had fallen into. On the 30th of December her brother Ágoston came to Venice. We managed to offer her a glimmer of normality by celebrating Diana's 8th birthday in our house in Venice. But immediately after she had to go back to Fatebenefratelli, a Venetian hospital. There she saw Diana for the last time on January 7th. She passed away on the 12th of January 1985 surrounded by the affection of her brother Ágoston, myself and friends, some of whom had managed to reach Venice from Milan notwithstanding the harsh weather conditions at that time. Venice was covered in snow and the lagoon was iced and all communication with the mainland was critical.
She was cremated on the 16th of January in the presence of Ágoston and myself. Now her name is remembered on a wall of the Venice crematorium on the island of San Michele.
Hers was the soul of a friend, of a devoted mother, of an artist.
Ágnes, l’anticonformista sensibile
Ágnes, az érzelmes vadóc.