arles


Written: 1994
Released: 2000 on 'Cupid Is A Drunkard'

Many years ago, having left art school when I was 18, I went to live in Arles in the south of France. I had very little money, and quite by chance came across what I believe was at the time the cheapest hotel in all of Arles.

On the ground floor was a restaurant where Henri the proprietor would cook pizzas in a large oven right next to a small bar where I would sit drinking other people's drinks when they left them to take their seats in the restaurant. Henri would often slip me bits of pizza, and on two occasions lent me money which he refused to take back when I tried to return it. After a few weeks I didn't have enough money to pay for my room and Henri agreed to let me pay him with paintings instead - then, after a few months, when he saw that I had made some friends, he asked for his room back, saying that if I could find somewhere to sleep he would give me a bed and a mattress, which he did when my friends found me a place to sleep in the back of their small restaurant.

He was a wonderfully kind man, and whenever I get back to France I always look him up, but one year when I returned I found the hotel closed down, and Henri told me that he had been shut down by the police for six months for allowing the hotel to be used as a brothel.

Of course as a naive 18 year old the thought had never occurred to me, but looking back it was obviously being used in the same way when I lived there, which explained some of the strange behaviour when the maids came to do my room...

There was a second chef in the kitchen, and every Saturday his bullfighting son Igor would come and get changed into his costume there, ready for the afternoon fight in the nearby Roman arena. In those days Arles could be a dangerous place, and a few years later Igor's brother Christian was killed in a knife fight.

Dragoslov, who everybody called Pepe ('Grandpa' in French) was a mysterious Russian emigre with several missing fingers who would never talk about his past - he spoke to me once about the Tzar, but I could never understand if he was for or against.

The 'girl in the corner' in this song could have been one of many, I only remember Betty and Marie - I saw Marie years later, standing in the street barefoot, looking dazed and confused and talking to herself; she didn't recognize me, and to my eternal shame I didn't stop and talk to her. I hope she's OK.

If ever you visit Arles, the hotel was in Rue Reattu, although Henri has since sold up.

Philip Jeays

[Marie and Pepe also feature in October.]



On the bridge stands a lover who stares at the river
And waits for the other half of his dream,
He's been waiting so long his clothes are in rags
And he carries his world in two plastic bags
Just in case she should come, and he wasn't there
For her diamond tongue and her waterfall hair,
Though these poor backstreets are alive with girls favours
And American icons and thirty-two flavours
Of the stench of greed and despair,
But the only stars and stripes you'll see here
Are the stars in tarts eyes and the stripes on the sleeves
Of a sailor who laughs in her face as he leaves.


Arles, I remember you well,
The days were long
And the nights were still,
In this old hotel,
Where Igor dressed for the bulls.

And down by the Rhone, where the poor children skim
Their stones at the waves that wash out and wash in,
A father seeks work while a mother seeks him,
As the girls sit and wait for their ships to come in;
There's a girl in the corner, her dress off her shoulder,
Laughs like she's young though she looks much older,
And tracing the lines that her life won't forgive her,
She purses her lips into the cracked mirror
And paints her face, like a mural on a slum,
But who will wake there when morning has come
Is anyone's guess, as she drinks up her drink,
Then pours out another and tries not to think.


Arles, I remember you well,
The days were long
And the nights were still,
In this old hotel,
Where Igor left for the bulls.

And the drunks are drinking their lives and they're thinking
Of ways of sinking the desperate cargo
Of their amorous flies into one of those bitches
Who talk like lavender but think like ditches,
But I leave them behind me and walk down to the kitchens
Where Isabelle looks so tired but so pretty,
And the old men shout 'begone with you boy,
Or sing us a song of when we were young',
So I sit on a wall by the banks of the Rhone
Where the drunks and drunkesses all make their homes,
These cold pavement sailors who drown on dry land,
They sleep where they fall and they piss where they stand,
While Dragoslov sits at the end of the bar,
Cursing his luck, or cursing the Tzar,
And how Russia will never see his like again.


Arles, I remember you well,
The days were long
And the nights were still,
Falling in love with Isabelle,
As Igor moved in for the kill.

© Philip Jeays 1994
Philip Jeays © Sean K

Released April 18th 2016 Take The Slow Train album

© Philip Jeays 2011-2016