“It was around this time that Fenton was walking past a parkette off Richmond street where a small crowd had gathered to watch a film projected on the cement wall of an old warehouse. The footage was black and white. The doleful lament of a clarinet in a minor key drifted through the trees. Two tramps stood in a ring, their pants too short, their shoes too big, their jackets threadbare. A cane hung over a wrist. A pork-pie hat. They try to share a bottle of vodka, but are thwarted by the appearance of a police officer. It was the loving attention with which the vodka was poured – the trembling hand making the bottle clatter against the glass, the other tramp’s face hung on the pouring, watching the progress of the vodka rise, as if it were the first uncertain flight of a baby bird. Then the gallant gestures. No, you first! The glass is lifted, the policeman appears. But they are innocent! What? We were just preparing to eat. Look, it’s water. See? We are washing our hands with it. Do you need some more? How’s that? The agony on the tramp’s face at the wasted vodka is magnificent. The policeman leaves. They begin again. Gallant as ever. It is a religious sacrament. He is about to drink. The policeman returns. They bend to the washing of hands again. A little splash on the face this time. Look, I’ll gargle with it. Oh, the taste! But it’s not vodka. Of course it isn’t. I’ll spit it out. The agony, again, of wasted pleasure – of the not having. How tragic and how inevitable. It’s so inevitable it’s hilarious. The vodka is gone. They surreptitiously lick their knuckles. A crust of bread is removed from a pocket, torn in half and shared. They can at least have that.”
That is an excerpt from my up-coming novel, “Sweet Jesus,” inspired by this YouTube clip of Yuri Nikulin performing in the Moscow Circus, some time in the 1960s.
Yuri Nikulin & Mikhail Shuydin, “Moscow Circus; Никулин и Шуйди” (1978)
I have two clowns in my novel, Fenton and Zeus, and they are more world-weary and sorrowful than your average balloon-wielding, unicycle-riding clowns. More Heinrich Böll than child’s birthday party in suburban America (though the latter setting, too, is rife with sorrow and social commentary). So I Googled Russian clowns. And this is what I found. Thank you 75moskvich75 for posting it. Thank you Russia. The man laughing in the audience is the spit of my grandfather, Rudy Ritz. Thank you audience member. Thank you Rudy. Thank you Yuri.
– Christine Pountney