About the skies over Bishkek. And life on the ground.

A Tree Grows in Bishkek

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The White House in Bishkek, the White House in Washington, DC. Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, Ala-Too Square in Bishkek. More than 6,000 miles apart, but the same procedure every year, the same ritual: ’tis the season for the holiday trees to arrive. And to make their home, for a few weeks, in symbolic locations. In Bishkek, despite the Christmas ornaments, it’s the New Year’s trees. December 25 is an ordinary day in Kyrgyzstan. New Year’s Eve is the day of celebrations. January 7 is the Orthodox Christmas Day.

And the tree situation stateside? The White House tree, delivered to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on a horse-drawn carriage, is a Fraser Fir from North Carolina. The National Christmas Tree, planted on the Ellipse in October, is a Colorado blue spruce from Virginia. This year’s tree at Rockefeller Center is a Norway spruce from New Jersey. And what’s growing in Bishkek? What trees were carefully selected for the capital, for the decorating and the tree lightings? Hard to tell. About two and a half weeks ago, the heavy machines arrived in the center of Bishkek. But not loaded with gigantic trees. Unlike in the U.S., no flatbed trucks, no tractor-trailers delivered the huge trees to the White House and to Ala-Too Square, the city’s main square. Instead, in Bishkek, the trucks and buses delivered the branches. Which then had to be stuck on the metal tree. And then decorated, with lights and ornaments. All by the brave workers who were being lifted with a crane towards freezing, lofty heights and blue skies, until they found themselves face-to-face with the Kyrgyz flag and Manas on his horse. And inch by inch, branch by branch, a tree grew in Bishkek. A wondrous transformation from a metal, stick-like structure to a colorful, ornate holiday tree, trimmed and all. First, the one at Ala-Too Square:






In close proximity, another tree grew in no time, in front of the White House:








Day and night, Bishkek’s workers were busy decorating Ala-Too Square: they put up banners with holiday messages and light chains across the main roads.





Even the memorial commemorating the dead of the 2010 Revolution got its share of illumination. Overnight, trees turned sparkly blue in Bishkek. Historical memory turned bright by LED lights:


All over Bishkek, holiday decorations of all kinds started to change the face and feel of the city. In all the usual places: on the streets, in shop windows, supermarkets, commercials, and on billboards. And other trees, although much more humble than the trees at the White House and Ala-Too Square, showed up, too. All artificial trees. For sale, for example, at the Orto-Sai flea market.



And the trees came with a lot of colorful glitter:


And with old tree ornaments from Soviet times. Looking for hammer and sickle and the communist red star this year? Look no further:



Orto-Sai is also where I found my favorite holiday postcard. Perfect for travelers. And for wishing (you, too) a wonderful new year.


And, after having left Bishkek for the holidays on one such plane: is Kyrgyzstan out of sight and out of mind? Neither one. In a small town in Germany, on the Nordmanntanne from the Taunus forests (small enough to transport in a car; no flatbed truck or tractor-trailer needed for this one. Just some pushing and pulling and squeezing), traces of a small country more than 3,000 miles away, one that most people don’t even know about. The traditional German Christmas ornaments and the souvenir from Memphis, Tennessee, kindly made room this year: for a tiny Kalpak (the traditional Kyrgyz woolen hat for men) and a ceramic bell decorated with traditional Kyrgyz patterns. It got a wonderfully crowded on that tree this year, where Elvis rocks and rolls. In perfect harmony with the symbols of Kyrgyzstan, in Germany. With Radiohead playing in the background, to mix up the German Christmas tree with Bishkek’s fake plastic trees from Orto-Sai. Elvis, I am sure, would not mind the sound of British alternative rock of the 1990s.


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