March in Bishkek: the weather has been kind. The outlook for this week: even brighter. So much so that I feel emboldened to write about the winter in the past tense. Why not get carried away by sunshine while it lasts; especially knowing that ice might, soon again, carry me away, involuntarily, on Bishkek’s sidewalks.
Last week, I could still spot them here and there, the remaining layers of thick and relentlessly treacherous ice that persisted despite weeks of warmer weather. But now that these last, solid patches that seemed to have forever merged with the ground have melted, it’s time for some visuals of winter in the city. And, to catch up with some images of last fall. That fall of Indian summer quality.
And what were the obvious signs of fall transitioning into winter? People got out their fur hats.
Even the honor guards at Ala-Too Square did.
What makes winter hard in Bishkek, despite the fact that this winter was relatively mild, is that there is no snow and ice removal on sidewalks. Surprisingly -no, miraculously- I did not see one person falling on the icy sidewalks (but heard of many bad falls). People here have shown amazing talent in catching their fall. Sheer acrobatics. Every day, when I, about half a dozen times, caught my fall (neither gracefully nor elegantly but effectively), I found myself in awe of the women who were gliding by me in high heels while I was inching my way forward (backwards, sideways) in heavy boots. The best explanation that I have heard for why they were still standing while I was stumbling is that their heels serve as spikes, though I would not dare to try the method myself. Yes, my fashion sensibilities were defeated by first experiences with snow and ice in December and by gloomy predictions about bouts of severe winter weather to come. For the first time in my life, I felt compelled to roam the SERIOUS winter boot/moon boot isle in German shoe stores before returning to Bishkek in January. Completely uninspiring. Nothing of St. Moritz winter glitz and glamor about these babies. (Are you sure you don’t have anything a bit more sculpted? A pair that doesn’t look and feel like casts on my legs? Do you at least have these in black? Not even in white?). Gore Tex instead of Italian leather. Romika instead of Vic Matie. Deep sigh instead of beaming smile when leaving the shoe store, bag in hand. Now, though, having bonded over ice and snow on Bishkek’s sidewalks: best friends, these boots and I.
My greatest accomplishment for proudly claiming winterized status in Bishkek: having mastered snow and ice (once) with coffee-to-go in my hand, without spilling a drop. Wow! A balancing act. Probably looked like the butler James (Freddie Frinton) in Dinner for One, tripping over the tiger’s head rug with the champagne bottle in his hand. There is a fundamental decision that one has to make in Bishkek in snow and ice: which one is the safer option, taking a taxi or walking on icy sidewalks? A matter of risk assessment. Having seen cars barely able to come to a full stop when the lights turn red, or at crosswalks (where they must and do stop, even though it might be with screeching tires and way too close to your body), instead sliding on due to inadequate tires and breaks in bad weather conditions, I have mostly opted for mastering the icy sidewalks on foot (but even then: careful when crossing the streets at intersections with traffic lights and at pedestrian crossings. It’s not that drivers don’t want to stop; it’s that they might not be able to).
But now to the beautiful part of winter in Bishkek. To winter wonderland Bishkek. To the blanketed trees, and the monuments and memorials frozen in time, and in snow. I measured winter weather in how it transformed familiar objects that I pass almost every day. They change with various amounts of snow covering them. And somewhat softening them.
The generals seem less stern.
The pirates (of Issyk-Kul) seem less tough. And the dragons (of the Tian Shan mountains) less fierce.
The rather depressing looking apartment buildings look friendlier framed in white.
But the people fighting for the revolution keep pushing just as hard against the powers that be, even with the added burden of snow on their shoulders.
February still brought snow: inches of thick snow and faint traces of powdery snow. The elements of Bishkek’s winter beauty are its many trees and blue skies, even in icy cold weather. And the crystal quality of its snow. I have had Smilla moments, here in Bishkek, studying the glistening snow.
Longing for warm weather to beat the winter blues? Dreaming of palm trees and sandy beaches? No problem in Bishkek. There is always the Hawaii Bar on Manas Street.
With the promise of perfect sunsets seen from perfect beaches. Or from comfy chairs, with a cocktail in hand, in LCD quality, surrounded by fish tanks. The next best thing to sitting on that beach on cold winter nights.
But now that spring is around the corner, dreams of Hawaii -faraway, so close- slowly give way to the anticipation of summer weekends at Issyk Kul. And the signs of spring are here, for sure. On Friday, I noticed the first green branches on the tree outside of my office. And on Saturday, for the first time, the honor guards had shed their heavy winter coats and hats for lighter uniforms.
Seems it’s here, that spring. And here to stay. Stopped believing in it? Not me, and not Tom Waits: