Vulgar. To be vulgar is to belong to the masses. To be vulgar is to be common. To be vulgar is to act or appear indecent and indelicate. To be vulgar is to lack sophistication and good taste. Saraghina is all of these things and more. Tawdry, kitschy, garish, gaudy, flamboyant, risque, salacious, smutty. Saraghina, one of the most important characters in Federico Fellini's masterpiece "8 1/2", is every single one, and then some. There is an unexpected, child-like vulnerability you see from her later in the film, however, and it reveals a woman who did not choose, but was forced into the oldest profession. Unlike so many these days, it wasn't for the money or the material possessions. It wasn't for notoriety or fame. I feel nothing for shrewd or greedy business women. Saraghina is a relic of the traditions of the old world; although she is shunned, she is a vital character in a society where visits to mistresses and whores were as commonplace as drinking an espresso in the morning. The whore, throughout history, has lived on the fringe of society - it is no mistake that Saraghina is exiled to the outskirts of her town. Saraghina belongs to everyone, and yet she belongs to no one.
In Saraghina I see an alternate life that my soul already somewhat inhabits. As a girlchild of twelve, had I stayed in the that little town in Eastern Europe, I most likely would have succumbed to the bitter fate of a faded nymphet. Indeed, even as a nymphet at that tender age, the brusque push into the oldest profession from the neighborhood boys seemed encouraged and inevitable. In fact, after the initial shock (struggle) of being initiated into this strange new world, observing the exchange of services became as routine as brushing ones teeth or tying ones shoes. There would never be verbal negotiations, but unspoken agreements. Sometimes it would be for a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Other times it would be for a few dollars. Many times, however, it would be in exchange for keeping secrets. Secrets that could ruin a family, dishonor your father and brothers, and certainly secrets that could tarnish a reputation (and in many cases, prevent proposals of marriage in the future) in the small town we lived in. It may seem difficult to believe, but places still exist where the rules of the old world still very much apply. Sadly, for the characters in the story of my childhood, a happy ending has remained elusive.
There is no beautiful ending to this story, but that doesn't make the characters involved less beautiful. On the contrary, to flourish within the cruel grasp of adversity is the truest definition of beauty that I know.
Beautiful stories are rarely ones that are neat and sterile. I believe that the same can be said of truly beautiful people. Truly beautiful people often times have some of the darkest souls, but certainly not in a sinister way. I am speaking of the dark corners inhabited by whispered childhood secrets, the tender insecurities of youth, and the heart-breaking fears of the inevitable decay that we all face. Some are more poetic, graceful, than others. Tragically, some of the most beautiful stories will never have a chance to be told.
Comrade Von Pussycat