After hours of painful labor Eugenia was born in 1897 in Florence, Italy. The daughter of a bronze pots dynasty, soon to be the disrepute of her family.
Years ago, when I was still a Londoner, I payed a seasonal visit to my dad’s in Milan. We had a classic pizza-movie night and the film in question was Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo (it’s about a Depression-era unhappily married ingénue who goes to the movies to watch the same film over and over again to escape her miserable life, until the film’s main character walks off the screen and what was a black and white dream becomes real…). “I knew someone like that, an obsessive-compulsive person…” dad says.
Eugenia was my father’s mother’s aunt. I never had the chance to look at pictures of her. I like to think she was petite, controversially boyish-looking for her era, maybe with asymmetrical eyebrows (like those ones of evil movie characters) but still intrinsically sensual.
They say she was precocious for her age. Some others say she was a prodigy. Her family aspected great things from her, even though that would just mean marrying a suitable man of good fortune.
By the time she became old enough to embrace the philosophy of nihilist European writers, the world was experiencing what was then the greatest invention of all: CINEMA.
Movie theatres were filled with what was then la crème de la crème of Florentine society. I would have liked to know what was the first picture Eugenia has ever seen, because that day, the day in which she stepped into a movie house for the first time, something spectacular must have happened. That day marked what was to become her passion, obsession and ultimately madness.
I don’t know what it is, this feeling. It’s Stendhal’s syndrome, maybe. A repulsion to reality after having experienced something of colossal beauty. It was probably just a moment of absolute limpidness. They say it’s natural to become mad as soon as the truth laughs in your face. A lightning bolt.
Eugenia became soon a cinephile. She couldn’t help herself. She would spend her days in picture houses stepping from one movie to the other, often watching the same one repeatedly, feeding herself with lavished silver images, starving herself from the rest of the world, like a junky. Once you get locked in drug addiction, the tendency is to push it even further. One obviously does it because the dullness of life is unbearable. There’s something incredibly gloomy and romantic about it. Lastly, why should it be wrong? Isn’t life about making oneself happy? It doesn’t matter how. Morals weren’t definitely her problem regardless.
Seasons changed, fashion changed, political circumstances changed. Eugenia, unaffected by it all, was now an habitué of movie theatres, so much that they didn’t let her pay for the tickets anymore. It was pointless.
She was quite infamous in town, everybody knew she was a lunatic, a pagan. She had the devil inside. Even the priest had lost faith because of her, he had abandoned his functions and moved back in the countryside, with his lover.
Eugenia didn’t appreciate social gatherings, she hardly ever spoke to her sisters. She would mostly communicate with grimaces, if she had to. Occasionally, she would show up in some café downtown and make a scene. She was popular for showing up drunk and jump on tea tables to dance barefoot. At that point, someone would bring her back home where her mother would be waiting crying, or pretending to.
One day, she found out she was pregnant. Her mother fainted, or pretended to. “It’s a disgrace, it’s a disgrace! What have I done wrong, dear Lord? What have I done?” her father would say frantically while walking up and down the baroque living room, booze in hand, “Who is going to marry you? Who? Charlie Chaplin?”.
Eugenia never married. As a matter of fact, she had no idea of who the father of her baby was, not that she cared. Actually, Charlie Chaplin wasn’t really her type, she must have preferred someone more virile and adventurous, maybe Douglas Fairbanks, or Rudolph Valentino.
Sound in films was already the norm. Eugenia remained silent for the rest of her life. She continued watching movies, neglecting everything else. Obsession, running through blood like poison.
Apparently, her daughter Gilda had inherited the same kind of obsessive compulsive behaviour. She was an avid reader, a book eater. She, in turn, had a son too, whom one day left to move to the promised land, America. It is said he has become a religious fanatic and has joined the Mormon Church.