Arabs Never Sleep

Sunday In The Arab Quarter Bordeaux St Michel
Looking out my window

A north African souk in an ancient French port city

Arabs never sleep, not in Bordeaux.  There is already a tinny, blaring sound system somewhere on the street, pumping out club music.  I leave my cloistered bedroom and walk to the five foot windows in the living room that give onto the street.  I throw them open to let in the humid morning air, and to better hear the woman screaming.  Is someone hurting her?  I can’t tell if she is in trouble or just having such a good time it hurts.  Leaning out, I can see her hands waving, from a window also on the third floor, but several buildings down.

I make coffee, strong, just as David showed me, with an Italian stovetop espresso maker.  I leave the windows open, and the thick, humid Bordelais morning seeps into the house.  Soon, the alley fills up with women, heads covered, carrying plastic shopping bags and rolling carts.  Everyone knows each other; they call out greetings as they pass on the street.

The döner shop, the halal butcher, the exotic fruits grocer—they are all open for business.  It’s Sunday morning, and the boom box is now blaring Bohemian Rhapsody.

The alleys in the Arab Quarter smell of sandalwood, fresh coriander and mint, of long stewing mutton, of saffron and cumin.  Tajines and couscous fragrance the morning air.  The bakeries are piled high with sticky north African sweets—filled with pistachios, buried in powdered sugar, or shiny and yellow.  There is not a baguette in sight.

It’s intoxicating, and it all happens in these rotting, once grand Bordelais alleys that lead to and away from the Gothic basilica.


When I look out my window, they sky is dark. My eyes fall to the illuminated window of the flat across the alley.  It’s a large window, like mine, and a theater sized flat screen TV is playing hard core porn; the repetitive, close-up mechanics of biological imperative.

It’s 10pm, a decent time to stop work for the day.  I pull my boots on and go out without a jacket, order a döner from the Arabs Who Never Sleep, and eat it while circumambulating the flamboyant and decaying Basilica St. Michel.  It’s Gothic and grimy. I expect vampires and ghosts, but share the night instead with students from the local uni and the nocturnal Arabs whose shops never seem to close.

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