Thursday, June 1, 2006

Those Hot Pierogies at the Bottom of Your Spine

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for June is called, "I MOON YOU!" It pays homage to two of the most beloved performers of the Russian stage. "Belka and Strelka", as they were known, were conjoined twins born in Moscow in 1855. The brothers were joined at the elbow, facing opposite directions, so one of them could speak to the audience while the other one mooned people.

Mooning was already a fashionable pastime by the middle of the 19th century, but the twins elevated the discipline an art form. Strelka was the traditionalist. He tirelessly studied the works of the European masters, attempting to replicate the buttock-unveiling techniques of contemporary and historical virtuosos. Belka was the innovator of the pair. He experimented with radical new methods, incorporating state-of-the-art technology into their act, such as Bunsen Burners and gyroscopes. In fact, Levi Strauss designed his prototype "blue waist overalls" at Strelka's request in 1873.

Their windfall came on a Spring day in 1882. Czar Alexander III was riding by the Golitsyn Hospital Gardens in his Imperial Troika when he happened upon the twins doing a street show. As luck would have it, Strelka was bent over at that very moment, performing a poignant rendition of Catherine the Great. The Czar reportedly stepped down from the carriage, raised his arms to the heavens and bellowed that he could not distinguish between his ancestor's butt and that of the artist.  Alexander immediately commissioned the twins to moon his wife, Czarina Maria, for her 35th birthday. Three weeks later in an extravagant banquet at the Terem Palace, Belka and Strelka had the opportunity to moon more than 400 of the wealthiest and most influential aristocrats in Europe. The event was so successful that the Czar named them Chief Mooners to the Imperial Court, and moved their workshop into the palace. 

For the next twelve years, they performed at the Bolshoi Theater four nights a week, honing their craft and their asses to perfection. It is said that their bare buttocks were so expressive, so emotive, they could make grown men weep with a single pants-dropping. They could moon at different speeds, different angles, and different levels of intensity, elegantly gesticulating a visual vocabulary of over 50,000 words and phrases. These moons did not just say, "Hey There!" These moons told stories.

Oh, and what great stories they were! They would moon Aleksandr Pushkin poems. They would moon Leo Tolstoy novels. After one show, Fyodor Dostoevsky himself dejectedly took the stage to confess to the audience that the twins' all-butt interpretation of "The Brothers Karamazov" was much more moving than the book he had written. "That's exactly what I was going for," he announced, "But I just couldn't figure out how to say it."

Belka and Strelka did not run from success, but they never forgot their humble beginnings. So long as they were in the employ of the Czar, they insisted on mooning the public at least one night a week, usually from the roof of the Grand Kremlin palace. These performances brought hope to the people of Russia during the bleak winters, and undoubtedly delayed the proletarian revolution by a number of years.

The twins died in 1896 when they were trampled to death on the fields of Khodynka following the coronation of Czar Nicholas II, along with over 1300 other civilians. When Nicholas heard of the tragedy, he immediately ordered their asses bronzed and hung in the antechamber at St. Basil's Cathedral, where they remain to this day. However, many historians feel that the buttocks on display in Red Square are poor representations of the original architecture, probably due to the trampling that occurred immediately before they were cast.

Now over a century later, the rich legacy of Belka and Strelka continues to touch people and inspire artists throughout the world. I hope you enjoy their song.

With Warmest Regards,
Hard Taco

Belka and Strelka were commemorated in 1960, when two dogs carrying their names were launched in to space aboard Sputnik-5, returning safely to earth one day later.