I have been trying to figure what the color of Bishkek is. Every city has its color, just like every city has its distinct smell and soundscape. Santa Fe, for example, is earth-colored because of its adobe buildings. But that’s an easy one to determine; other cities are more difficult to figure out when it comes to color. In 1991, when I moved to the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood of what used to be East Berlin, the predominant color around me was grey. It was the color of building facades that had not been renovated in decades. It was right around the time when all buildings in former East Berlin disappeared behind scaffolding. And when they were freed of them and reemerged from the wooden planks and steel bars, they shone in light pastel colors. Back then, one could count the colorful houses on a block. Today, one can count the very few that are still grey.
Bishkek is not exactly a city of color explosions. Because of its many parks and tree-lined streets, it is a lush, green city in the summer. And for the same reason, it is a spectacularly beautiful city in the fall, with its abundance of colorful and changing foliage. But architecture colors a city, too, and the raw and harsh urban aesthetics of Bishkek’s Soviet-era architecture, both in terms of structure and color, give it its grey-brownish color. “Drab” comes to mind. In between the sea of grey facades, new apartment buildings have been painted pale yellow, pale pink, or pale mint green. Specks of timid color that stand out.
But I found Bishkek’s other, its bold, color, despite and because of the city’s overall concrete-colored appearance. It’s turquoise. It’s the most vibrant color in the city, the one that has stood out to me from the first day. The one that stubbornly claims its bright presence in small pockets here and there, amidst the overwhelming and imposing grey of Soviet-era apartment buildings. Many staircases in Stalin-era apartment buildings are painted turquoise. Flower containers on sidewalks are. And park benches. As are window frames. I guess the reason for this is that it is has been the cheapest and most widely available paint.
In the many shades of the color turquoise: here are glimpses of Bishkek. And tunes from Paris. Parce que ça me fait quelque chose. And because every city needs its own song. Edith Piaf sang life through a rose-colored prism. But “La Vie en Rose” is not Bishkek’s song. People’s lives here are too hard. For now, though, until I have found my Bishkek theme song, I reverently borrow from Edith Piaf. Simply because her song is so beautiful. And the video of the live performance is, too. Even in Bishkek, one can dream of Paris. In turqouise, of course.
bichkek en turquoise, a set on Flickr.