Scenes from a Bahraini mall – empty elegance

Manama, Bahrain, 29 September 2009

It’s 6:30 pm and I’m in Moda Mall at the World Trade Centre, wondering where all the people are.

Moda is a huge shopping centre with high-end boutiques. Just from where I now sit, I see Louis Vuitton, Dior, Emporio Armani, Versace and Fendi. And where I sit is in a purple velvet chair; one of many comfortable, yet elegant chairs and sofas in a large hall. From the high ceiling posters encourage me to “shop to win weekly vouchers up to BD 45,000”. In the middle of the hall are displayed two smart Boxster sports cars, one blue and one white, all tied up in red ribbons.

Occasionally, a group of two or three veiled black-clad women walk by. Bahraini women can be very striking. Slender, with high heels and hair piled high under their head gear, they look mysterious and beautiful, gliding across the shining marble floors.

Shopkeepers hang about their doorways, happy to see me. They invite me in, smiling but not pushy. How do they survive in these large, dazzling, empty halls? Earlier today, I was in Harbour Mall for a while to get out of the sultry heat of Manama. Free wifi and being waited on hand and foot was nice – but it was a bit boring being the only one about. The only one! Too early, I was told. Everyone goes to the malls at six. Well, it’s past six now. I ask a guard – the one who just told me I couldn’t take pictures inside the mall – if Tuesday is a slow day.

“No,” he replies. “It’s always like this. Not many people.” And yet Cartier is just about to open a shop here. As is South African diamond giant De Beers. They must see potential that I don’t.

Another group walks by, comprising a well-fed man in white garb and Yassir Arafat head gear – and four women. Well inside, one of the women rips off her head scarf, revealing a face that is 12 at most. They all enter Versace.

Next to my plush velvet chairs is a red and black Bedouin tent, with a Persian carpet, pretty lanterns, large cushions and sofas. A man dressed in a white dishdasha has taken off his shoes and is having a lie-down on one of the sofas. For a few minutes, he and I are the only ones in sight. He snores lightly, disturbing the melancholic French song playing on the surround system.

I’m eager to snap a few pictures of the snoring man in the tent, but the guard must have read my mind. He keeps looking at me, smiling knowingly. Not that there is much else for him to look at. Nothing that breathes anyway.

Another family walks by. A man, four women in black with faces uncovered and two young children. They look like brothers and sisters, all chatting and laughing. The women look pretty and gay, but in this group, the man is the striking one: tall, slim, with a strong nose, a beard, warm brown eyes and extraordinarily beautiful features. Shamelessly, I try to sneak a photo, but who looks around the corner just then but the omnipresent guard, tut-tutting and shaking his head. I consider following them into Burberry instead, then stop myself before I become a stalker.

Les feuilles mortes is now playing. The large empty hall creates a slightly surreal echoing effect. It’s a hauntingly beautiful song: my father’s favourite, I’ve been told – last popular in the 60s, right before he died. For a long time, I’m lost in thought; in another world.

A woman in black comes up to the man in the tent – his wife presumably – and shakes him gently. He wakes, stretches and farts, bringing me back to earth.

Time to go out into the hot Bahraini night.


31 Responses to “Scenes from a Bahraini mall – empty elegance”

  1. Turtle 9 February 2012 0309 #

    Who needs photos when you write such beautiful descriptions!
    What a strange experience, though. It must have been a bit strange to see so much opulence and no people there to pay for it!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 February 2012 1521 #

      Thanks. Yes, it was a bit surreal.

  2. inka 9 February 2012 1500 #

    You didn’t need a camera, Sophie. Your story is a picture!!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 February 2012 1521 #

      Thanks, Inka.

  3. Beautifully told story! I’m curious as to why there would be no pictures allowed in a mall? Interesting.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 February 2012 1523 #

      Thanks. You know, I’ve been told not to take photos in individual shops before (they were afraid I was sent out from the competition, I imagine), but never in an entire shopping centre.

  4. Michelle 10 February 2012 0526 #

    You awakened my imagination in the description you have given. It is often that I see posts that include pictures and don’t need to make an effort describing the place. I miss reading this type of stories that I can just let my imagination flow. Thank you for sharing.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 February 2012 1523 #

      Thanks you for your kind words, Michelle.

  5. Tim 10 February 2012 0931 #

    This is just gorgeous writing. I felt I was right there looking over your shoulder. Bahrain is a country I have never even thought twice about, and now I want to see it.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 February 2012 1524 #

      Thanks, Tim.

  6. InsideJourneys 10 February 2012 1330 #

    Beautiful post, Sophie. Like Debbie, I was wondering why photos weren’t allowed. It’s not a museum. Now wouldn’t it be a hoot if they allowed them in their museum?

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 February 2012 1605 #

      Thanks. Actually, I took heaps of photos from Bahrain National Museum. Must be a business-thing, then.

  7. Abby 10 February 2012 2023 #

    Wow that sounds like another world! We do have a mall sort of like that in Las Vegas, Crystals. At first glance, it’s cavernous and not that crowded, but it pulls in enormous amounts of sales. The people who DO buy drop $50 grand like it’s nothing, so who needs crowds?

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 14 February 2012 1950 #

      That’s probably true in this mall as well. Curious to see Crystals now 🙂

  8. Catwoman 10 February 2012 2211 #

    Nice post, I’ve been there for about a few years. And I totally agree, it’s hard to understand that world for us. It’s another world with an other culture as well.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 14 February 2012 1952 #

      You’re an expat in Bahrain then?

  9. Gladys 11 February 2012 0444 #

    that’s quite a posh mall… but i do have a friend who used to work in a burberry shop there and said that people who shop there really splurge on expensive brands.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 14 February 2012 1954 #

      Yes, that’s the impression I got. Even just a few customers can mean huge sales.

  10. Andrea 11 February 2012 0512 #

    The shopping scene in the Middle East is out of hand – I regret being on a budget for my time in Dubai and Abu Dhabi!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 14 February 2012 1955 #

      So completely and strangely and interestingly over the top, isn’t it? Bit tiresome being on a budget, but there’s always people-watching.

  11. Heather on her travels 11 February 2012 1938 #

    I was wondering why there were no pictures – but I can see that it probably isn’t the done thing with all those headsarves – yet I would have likes to see those shop windows – how annoying that the guards were on to you

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 14 February 2012 1958 #

      Yeah, that guard…whichever corner I turned, there he was.

  12. Andrew Graeme Gould 11 February 2012 1958 #

    I’ve heard about these malls, and how they’re popular for getting out of the heat, too. An interesting recounting of your day, Sophie.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 26 February 2012 2208 #

      Thanks, Andrew 🙂

  13. robin 12 February 2012 1915 #

    A strange moment beautifully captured – these are the pyramids and Taj Mahals of our quieter, in-between moments.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 14 February 2012 1959 #

      Eloquently (and poetically) put, Robin!

  14. Nick Kellingley 13 February 2012 0803 #

    It was always empty when I lived in Bahrain too, the only mall that ever seemed to get much in the way of foot traffic was Seef Mall, but then only late at night and on weekends.

    I actually made Costa coffe in that mall my office for 2 months, while my company were looking for premises…

  15. Anne-Sophie Redisch 14 February 2012 2007 #

    Nick, how interesting you having lived in Bahrain. I remember the Costa Coffee. At least an empty mall doesn’t provide too many distractions if you’re working.

  16. Suzy 19 February 2012 1913 #

    How strange they don’t allow photographs in the mall. However you words create enough imagery.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 26 February 2012 2209 #

      Thanks, Suzy 🙂

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