From The Good Tourist

On troikas

Ah, troika, bird-troika, who dreamed you up? … the horses swirl together like a whirlwind; the wheelspokes blur into a single smooth disc; the very road quakes beneath them.., and it’s off and away!… Very soon all that can be seen in the distance is the dust raised… And, you Rus, do you not hurtle forward too, like some spirited troika that none can catch? A trail of smoke marks your passage, the bridges rumble, everything falls back and is left behind…With a wondrous jingling the carriage bells ring out; torn into shreds, the air rumbles and turns to wind; everything on this earth flashes by as, with an oblique look, other peoples and empires step aside to let her fly past.[1]

My romantic image of Russia, the largest country in the world by landmass, is of  a snow-clad wilderness, endless miles of taiga[2], and riding in a horse-drawn sleigh. For centuries Russians travelled over frozen rivers and lakes in sleighs known as troikas, so called because they are drawn by three horses. The troika has long been considered a symbol of old Russia. At the time Gogol was writing, there was a fascination with the idea of freedom and exhilaration embodied by a troika ride and this mode of transport became the ultimate status symbol for the wealthy. For me, the horse-drawn sleigh with it bells and colourful harness conjures up all the romance of nineteenth-century Russia.

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[1] Gogol, Nikolai: Dead Souls translated by Christopher English: Oxford University Press 1998

[2] The vast coniferous forest that used to account for one third of the former USSR

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