It’s about a 10- to 15-minute walk from my rented flat to the university. I head down a half block of Logvinenko and take a right on four-lane Chui Avenue, one of the city’s main arteries. Thick traffic always: taxis, cars, busses, the minivan public transport called marshrutkas. I pass the massive, ornately fenced, white Government House, and just before I come to Ala-Too Square, I step onto the zebra to cross the road; the cars come to an astonishingly consistent and respectful stop when pedestrians are in the zebras.
Across Chui I am in city parks. The traffic sounds muffle. I hit my stride on uncrowded, tree-lined walkways. I walk past the Kyrgyz Dramatic Theater and turn onto Abdymomunov Street where drivers like to come and do spinouts on the ice in the winter.
And then I pass one of a handful of Lenin statues in the city. It’s behind the State Historical Museum, which sits in the city’s main square, Ala-Too. This one is what a statue should be: formidable, commanding, oversized and a wee bit scary. (Another I saw features Lenin’s disembodied head floating about 10 feet up off the ground against a stone slab.) Unlike many former Soviet countries, Kyrgyzstan did not destroy its statuary when Communist rule ended, but they did banish this Lenin statue from center stage in the main square to this more obscure location behind the museum. Lenin the revolutionary, Lenin the tour guide. In this statue he stands with a joyless expression, his coat swirling at his knees, his telltale balding head and goatee. One arm outstretches before him. And if I follow the line of his fingertips, Lenin gestures with an open palm toward the university. The American University of Central Asia, according to a sign affixed beside the front entrance, was the Headquarters of the Supreme Soviet of the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic until 1984.
When people ask why I don’t write fiction, I will tell them this little story. And then I will ask: Why would I spend time making things up when real life pulsates with such delicious absurdities?
Rising like a spaceship from the right angles of the city landscape, I chanced upon the Circus Building today. There were echoes of the Deco District on South Beach with its palette and porthole windows. There were hints of Vegas, of a movie set, of The Jetsons. I blustered my way past the guard in the lobby sitting at a card table in a giant fur hat. Through a swinging lobby door into the interior I wandered unhindered for about an hour, snapping photos and taking in the sweeping vistas of Bishkek.
The Circus building is circa 1976 and designed by a quartet whose first names I have yet to ascertain: L. Segal, V. Shardrin, A. Nezhurin and D. Leontovich. There are similar Circus buildings in other former Soviet countries, most circular, grand and crumbling. Circus entertainment was a highlight of Soviet entertainment and the Bishkek Circus building is still in operation. During my stroll and photo shoot, I tiptoed into the hall to see a handful of performers in tights and spangles. Center stage was a big plastic swimming pool with a stage set inside it like an island. Aerial wires crisscrossed overhead.
–photo courtesy of Architectuul.com
The ceremony of the military is an international ballet. The costumes, the orchestrated and precise moves, the focus, the dedication to form. These two are in front of the historical museum in the city’s main square, Ala-Too. At the top of every hour a trio of soldiers struts in precise choreography to perform The Changing of the Guard. They are boys in long coats, white gloves and black tall boots. They carry big guns and wear fuzzy hats. One soldier calls out the moves as these two descend the stairs and a new pair ascends.
If you click on this live webcam trained onto Ala-Too, you are afforded an aerial view of part of the square; the soldiers are in a small enclosure at the base of the large flagpole bearing the red-and-yellow Kyrgyz national flag. The soldiers also have a cameo in Bommalatam, a music video showcasing a jinky set of moves by dancing duo Srikanth and Sneha as they gyrate in front of a buffet of Bishkek monuments. The clip is from Bose, a 1984 Tamil Indian action film.