The troitka is the most famous of Russian conveyances and travellers to St. Petersburg in 1900 were eager to experience a jaunt in one, but actually they were very hard to find on the streets of the city. The three-horse troitka at full speed was a magnificent sight. The center horse travels high and at a swift trot, while the outside horses are harnassed low, their necks bent outwards and running like racehorses. Driving a troitka took considerable skill and the bearded coachman, with his peacock-feathered hat, was considered the king of coachman. Troitka rides were best over frozen snow, with tinkling brass bells and a net to catch the flying snow from the horses hooves from flying into the coach itself. Troitka horse-bells were famous all over the world and were even exported to the USA and Canada. Every important Russian family had their own particular tuned set of silver bells, so that you could know who was coming from the specific sound the bells made.
Troitkas have been part of the popular repertoire of Russian images which have lured adventurous travellers to visit the country for generations. In 1900 there were few Americans to be seen in Russia, although the number was growing. Mark Twain had written about his visit to the Imperial resort town of Yalta in the Crimea and popular magazines in the USA frequently carried articles about Russian subjects. The most popular were pieces on the famous Russian author Tolstoy, the Imperial family and the precarious political situation in the country. Americans, along with Europeans, were also experiencing a growth of interest in Russian history and culture. Famous composers, such as Tchaikovsky, had toured the USA and Russian art of the time by the "Wanderers" had been well-received in America was its' realism and social consciousness.
Russian exports had been reaching the USA for sometime. Brass urns, pots and vases from Tula or Moscow could be found from San Francisco to Biloxi at very affordable prices. Russian furs, cigarettes, enamelled silver, linen, painted handicrafts and tea were also popular in the USA. Vodka was not well-known, as it is today, and did not become popular until after World War II. In 1894 vodka in Russia became a State monopoly and was a significant source of income to the government afterwards. The government put new regulations on the consumption of vodka, which included the prohibition of drinking vodka within 50 yards of a state vodka shop or within 90 yards of a church.
Experienced vodka drinkers in Russian opened bottles with a swift blow to the bottom of the bottle with the flat of the hand which popped the cork from the top. Small bottles of vodka were called "Little Rascals" - "Merzavchik" and were usually downed in a single gulp.
Russians were (and are) generous and engaging hosts, toasting and celebrating with guests the most seemingly insignificant events - often with vodka. American travellers to Russia in 1900 often found themselves experiencing Russian warmth, vodka and the effect of over-indulgence for the first time simultaneously.
Next photograph: Cabs in Front of the Summer Gardens
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