Bishkek Smells Like Summer


Each season in Kyrgyzstan has a distinct marker, you can feel the change as soon as you step outside as if it happened in an instant. As if, asleep for a hundred years, you woke up and the world had changed without you, in spite of you. It’s a distinct feeling that exists in the quality of the air, the smells on each street corner as you walk through Bishkek.

In the Fall, its the smell of smoke – trashfires are starting, leaves are being burnt, coal and wood fires are beginning to heat homes. Winter smells like cold; bitter and bracing and numbing, dark seeping into the daytime hours. Spring, inexplicably, smells like green – or however you would describe the scent of fresh air and sunshine after months and months of being trapped indoors by the cold, wrapped in as many sweaters and sleeping bags as you can manage.

Summer in Bishkek smells like fruit. Carts of golden and green apricots, softening in the heat. Old women sit huddled in the shade, glass jars full of strawberries stacked in front of them, sparkling in the sunshine. Cardboard boxes seeping cherry juice onto the sidewalks. They call out the freshness of their wares and where they were picked: from the dusty Ferghana Valley, from the trees in my family’s orchard, from high in the clean mountain air. Scooping the fresh fruit in cellophane bags, their fingers dyed to the first knuckle bright crimson, or dark burgundy like fine wine.

Summer smells like shashlik: the tendrils of smoke curling around duck, beef, sheep on metal blades, the bright coals fanned by bored and distracted women absentmindedly gossiping into their cellphones. Bishkek smells like beer on open patios and sugar bowls crusted with buzzing flies. Like cheap ice cream in stale cones, dripping lazily down the fingers of children walking in the parks. Like diesel and exhaust from the exponential growth of cars, marshrutkas, motorbikes. Summer in Bishkek smells like sun-baked marble statues, shimmering in the city’s squares. Like the sweat of so many bodies in a city where the hot water has been turned off for an entire month, like the breeze humming through the city from the mountains. Summer smells like the last of cottonwood snows, the dark earth in the beds of freshly-watered roses.

And right now, Bishkek smells like summer. It’s incredible.


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