Le Cirque Terrible
November 6, 2009, 8:54 am
Filed under: thirsty raconteurs | Tags: , ,

Far, far away, in a land where the mellow glow of the morning sun lightly skims the snow – softer than a stolen kiss, swifter than a swallow – and the minute-dial of the vintage Vostok watch stops functioning in a biting blizzard, a convoy of caravans dot the backwoods east of the Ural Mountains. In the afternoons, people from nearby villages swarm to gasp at fire-breathers and goad at tightrope walkers. In the nights, discordant roars and shrill caterwauling rise above the thunder in the Siberian skies and brilliant pyrotechnic parades ride above the thickness of the smog.

Welcome to Vaudeville.

The ringmaster, a boisterous samovar of a man, introduces the French circus to the heterogeneous hordes of people – Muscovites, third- and fourth-generation Ukrainians and Kazakhs, indigenous Yakutians, and Turkic descendants – as the last circus that has not surrendered to nouveau cirque; the last circus that has not blotted its escutcheon by succumbing to the money-making snares of the contemporary circus. He declares that his circus’ only true love is to thrill its patrons with the charm of the circus of yore. “Let the show begin,” he bellows into the microphone.

Trapeze artistes swing from the upper airy lofts of the giant tent; they perform the corde lisse – adroitly intertwining the silken vertical ropes with their sinewy limbs and dancing gracefully in mid-air to the somnolent tune of a folk song – and the crowd applauds impassively; they are visibly bored of the “dancing in the air”. Unicyclists juggle plastic balls as big as watermelons but as light as opened tin cans while creaking along a curvy path, and the eyes of the throng begin to droop. “Zut alors!” swears the ringmaster under his breath.

“Bring on the lions, Esmeralda!” he roars, trying to hide the nervousness in his sonorous voice. A sudden blast of Wagner’s funeral march jolts the audience, having slipped into a moment of sleep, into consciousness. The zaftig trainer flings open the cage and the lion languidly stretches out one pathetic paw. A crack of the leather whip on its derriere and the animal springs into action. It gives a low growl before starting its routine: circle the periphery of the inner ring – it had to represent its pride back in Africa with due pride, especially in the company of the cunning Siberian huskies – and then perform various stunts on its two limpid legs. Despite the poor lion’s gallant attempts at entertaining the onlookers, some of them still snore lightly in their seats. By now, the ringmaster looks distressed, only short of shouting diatribes.

On tenterhooks now, the ringmaster is desperate to try anything that would save his circus and him from falling flat – face first – on the cold, muddy snow. He decides to let the 1940s – the fury of Operati¬on Barbarossa – work its melodramatic magic on the apathetic crowd; something ought to incite this dispassionate lot of rustics!

“Ladies and gentlemen, ze grand finale – Rhönradturnen, the German Wheel!”

Instantly, a pall of stillness casts itself upon the moment. Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu – as germane to Germany as can be – wafts in the quietude. As the unmistakably German twins – tall, blonde and beautiful – arch their long backs in the womb of the wheel and turn it into motion with their practiced fingertips, gasps escape the chafed lips of the crowd. And as the twins deftly maneuver their way, from inside the wheel, onto the platform from where the audience sits – their blood boiling as the twins inch nearer – one bellicose Yakutian youth throws a particularly succulent red tomato at the wheel. Out of balance, the wheel drops to the ground. And the crowd – like one big spleen-venting copier machine – rises to rejoice!

The ringmaster, heaving a sigh of relief, thanks Germany for ever being anti-Slav, anti-communism, and anti-Russia. It saved Vaudeville from vanishing.