“Russia! Russia! I see you, I see you from my wonderful, beautiful far away: how wretched, scattered and uncomfortable everything is about you. Everything in you is open, empty and flat; your low cities imperceptibly stick out of the plains like little dots, like little marks; nothing captivates and nothing charms the eye.
But what is this inscrutable, mysterious force that draws me to you? Why do my ears ring unceasingly with your plaintive song, that carries through all your length and breadth, from ocean to ocean. What is in it, in that song? Why does if so beckon, and sob and tug at the heart? What are those sounds that caress so painfully, steal into my soul and hover about my heart: Russia! What is it you want of me? What is the hidden inscrutable tie that binds us? Why do you gaze like that,. and why is it that everything in you has turned to gaze at me with eyes full of expectation?
And yet I stand here motionless, full of bewilderment, and my head is already: overshadowed by thunderclouds, heavy with imminent rains, and my mind is numb before your vast spaces, What does this immense expanse portend? Is it not here, in you. that thought without end should be born, since you yourself are without end? Terrible is the embrace in which this mighty expanse holds me, terrible the force with which it strikes me to the very core; supernatural the power with which it lights up my vision: Ah! What a sparkling, wonderous expanse, vaster than any there is on earth! Russia!”
Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls, 1835
photograph by Alexandr Kalion