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For Paris Match, Photographer Thomas Goisque and his friends follow Napoleons retreat from Moscow in 1812, in December, in Urals and in Davida Jets.
Two hundred years ago, the Grand Army learned the word defeat. The travel writer Sylvain Tesson retraces their ordeal.
In early December in Moscow, we cast our eyes up to the onion-domes of St Basil’s Cathedral at the southwest side of Red Square. Our three Russian-made Ural sidecars purr in the cold dawn. We prefer to use the Soviet terminology “motorcycle with adjacent basket” for these machines, manufactured the same way since the Second World War in a Siberian factory. The mechanics are a tad random but nothing can stop a Ural, not even their brakes. Our modest training starts shakily, alongside the banks of the Moskva River and by the battlements of the Presidential Palace and thence we sweep due west into the wide Kutuzov Avenue.
With writer Cédric Gras and motorcyclists Vitaly and Vassili, we intend to repeat the route of Napoleons Grande Armée. The front sidecar is sporting the flag of the Imperial Guard and the rider is wearing the bicorn hat . The huge collective tragedy of 1812 was punctuated by individual episodes where the flame of humanity, heroism and courage continued to shine. Napoleon; is he a megalomaniac tyrant who bled Europe to death? Or a ruler of genius who believed in things that are no longer true today: of peoples destiny, of a collective history, of the energy of conquests?
Photo credit: Thomas Goisque
By Sylvain Tesson – Paris Match