May 6th, 2009 06th

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The Success Story Of Fine’s Beak

Remember Fine’s Beak? I told you it was the best place in Paris to get a Grec/Doner Kebab in this post. I just got back from there after having a very interesting conversation with the co-founder El Hady. That, and an incredibly awesome chicken kebab marinated in curry and eaten alongside fries dipped in “Andalouse” sauce for 5.90 Euros – to die for.

I’d say I probably pop in about twice to three times a week to check out what Khalil and my fellow immigrants are up to, and to get a quality and cheap meal at the same time. And since I tend to go at night, I usually hang out with Khalil, but today I went a little earlier and shared by authentic and tasty experience with Khalil’s partner, El Hady. I had seen him before, but we’ve never really “broken the ice” or bonded until this afternoon.

Like many Arabs, Tunisians are very fond of Egyptians, and believe in the Egyptian dream. What can you expect? If you don’t live in Egypt, it’s a lot easier to idealize what it means to be Egyptian, and see it as the Romans used to see Rome. Obviously, when you spend time there, you realize that the Egyptian government has done nothing but completely destroyed the country and has left it in ruins. Politics aside, El Hady was happy to share with me his traveling experiences when he ventured a road trip (via microbuses and public transportation) from Tunis, capital of Tunisia, to Fayoum, Egypt. His final destination wasn’t precisely Fayoum, it’s just that it was the last stop before we started heading back. The total time he spent in Egypt was about 15 days, and he had nothing but good memories in the land of the Pyramids.

He told me stories about how every single person he came across helped him out. People would give him directions, exchange phone numbers, and call him later to make sure he arrived safely. Not to mention that he enjoyed some homemade food via the numerous invites that he received from random people. Of course a taxi tried to rip him off at one point, but even then a fellow passenger intervened and saved him. It’s very refreshing when you hear such stories from others who have been to Egypt. It makes me realize Egypt’s importance in the Arab world, and it also makes me realize how much potential we have, in contrast to our current state.

So El Hady and Khalil have opened Fine’s Beak about 10 months ago (which is why it doesn’t appear on Google Maps if you go on street view, hence not being able to post a picture of it, but I will try to get one for you all soon). Basically, they are open every single day from 10am till about 2am. What happens is that El Hady opens the place in the morning, and stays until about 6 or 6:30 in the evening, which is when Khalil comes to take over, and they might overlap for a few minutes before the shift is handed over. Khalil then works until shutting at around 2 am. Hard workers. The only time of the week when they close is Friday morning, for the prayer, for about 1.5hours.

Each one is granted about 25 days of holiday a year, during which case the other has to work both shifts. And we complain that the weekend ends too fast.

It is kind of sad that they don’t get to enjoy Paris that much, and they definitely don’t have the ability to travel around. But at the same time, this is like the land of opportunity for them. And apparently the business is going well (their delicious taste is becoming a trademark!).

I can’t wait to go back next, but I’ve been trying to maintain myself to avoid spending too much on the long term, but more importantly, to avoid the slightest of chances that I lose my strong passion towards them if I visit too often.

May 5th, 2009 05th

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The Dark Side Of Freelancing

Today won’t go down as one of my best in my stay in the second Capital of Love; some problems with the freelance work from Cairo, but oh well. Like they say here, c’est la vie. That’s the general problem when you’re working as a freelancer: the client.

You have to freedom to work from anywhere in the world, there are very little costs associated with your work, you work whenever you want to…and the list goes on. But unfortunately, like we say in Egypt “the sweetness is never complete”, there always has to be a downside, and that is precisely what I had gone through today. Maybe I should try to avoid Egyptian clients, and stick to the Europeans, who are much more organized and generally pay more. But then again, it would be nice to know that I would be helping the design industry in Egypt somehow.

To rub salt in the wound, Arsene Wenger proved that his time at Arsenal desperately needs to come to an end with a humiliating defeat at home against Manchester United in the 2nd leg of the semi-final of the Champions League. I am now convinced that he doesn’t really care about the club having any success or winning trophies, all he cares about is to prove to the rest of the world that he is a genius because he can get players of no value and still make big achievements. He’s obviously a failure because ever since he took on that school of thought four years ago, he has not won a single trophy – nothing. I can go on forever complaining about his philosophy, but I should leave it for some other time.

What makes a loss feel even worse is not having the people around to share your disappointment with. Football isn’t that important anyway, but I think little things that usually upset me tend to have a more noticeable effect here in Paris since I’m not surrounded by my usual listeners (and phone calls are not the same).

On a more positive note, I’ve kicked off some other projects that seem to be very promising. I’ll post about them at a later date. But it’s comforting to know that I will be working with professional people, and the income should come in handy around here.

Would I give up freelancing for a high-paying and secure 9-5 job? If I can help it, I would never give it up. And luckily, I think I’m in the field where I do actually have a say, and with the demand in Europe creating an attractive market, I hope to be able to have my freelancing cover for my monthly expenses. We’ll have to wait and see how things develop, but I, as I tend to be, am pretty optimistic.

May 4th, 2009 04th

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World Record: 0 Euros Spent

Yesterday was one of the “stay in” days. I had a lot of work to do, and got less than half done, but it’s still progress. I’m starting to get into the flow of things, as far as my freelance work is concerned. The fact that my window overlooks the street and lets in a lot of sunlight has helped me stay at home, work, while still enjoying the beautiful sunshine. Another advantage of not going out is saving cash monies.

In fact, I have matched the world record of 0 Euros spent in the ENTIRE day. Nothing spent on food, drinks, bread, ridiculous and useless objects you buy on a daily basis – nothing. Thus, I’m extremely proud of this achievement, and will reward myself by spending a lot of money in the near future. Seriously, though, it’s good to settle in with home-made food, fill the fridge properly (because a lot of the grocery shopping that I had previously done was rather useless), and be able to get on with what you need to do. At the same time, I’ll have more freedom to spend when I next have the opportunity.

Today I spent 60 Euros at InterMarche on groceries (don’t worry – it was money well spent). I actually came across a ready-made Mussaka3a! It’s basically almost cooked, all you need to do is throw in the oven for a couple of minutes. While I’d like to think I’ve got this whole living-alone thing down, I’ve sadly discovered that I am far from independent. In fact, I might just be a bit of a disaster.

So here I am all excited to eat the Mussaka3a, and I throw it – as is – into the over. A couple of minutes later, I find that its plastic (yes plastic) container, and the plastic lid were not as excited as I am and decided to start melting all over my dinner. So I had to take it out quickly (using a towel that has been destroyed due to the plastic molding into it), and quickly flipped the contents onto another plate, and threw the remains of the 100% natural plastic that it came in. The sad but true story was that there was a bit of melted plastic that has infiltrated the food by then, but to be honest, I didn’t care and went ahead and ate it. It was delicious! My only complaint (besides what I would argue were not clear-cut instructions on the box) would be the quantity – price value. At a little under 4 Euros, it’s not a lot better than Khalil and the people back at Fine’s Beak doner kebabs. But it’s definitely a good alternative to eating out, and goes very well with some home made basmati rice.

I don’t remember being anywhere near as bad when I was living in Madrid, it must be that I’m getting a little rusty. Nevertheless, there’s reason to celebrate the marvelous achievement of equaling the world record for the least amount of money spent in a single day in Paris.

May 3rd, 2009 03th

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Parisian Nightlife: The Bad Version

Following the enchanting experience of hanging out in the Louvre with friends, I took off to meet up with my buddy Abdul-Kareem Abdel Ghany who’s here from Geneva for the weekend. I thought we were going to a local club, because I guess I’m still very much an out-of-towner when it comes to the night scene here.

We went to this place called Cabaret, very close to the Louvre. It’s the typical club where you have a lot of people waiting in line to go in, but I guess I was with the “right” people, because we walked right through and to our table.

The clubs that I’ve seen in Paris and Geneva, are VERY different than what I’m used to in Madrid, or even Cairo. In the Spanish capital, you go out with a group of friends, go to the downtown area, and walk into any bar you want. If it’s after midnight or 1 am, they might charge you a blasphemous 5 Euros to go in, but even that includes a free drink. When you go in, everyone minds his or her own business, because everyone’s there to enjoy themselves. You feel the positive vibes from everyone, and the music is incredibly engaging – such beautiful nights!

On other hand, this doesn’t seem to be the case around here. It’s the kind of club where as soon as you go in, you become immediately conscious of your appearance and everyone else’s. You get the most snobbish and arrogant individuals from around the planet. The “music” is nothing more than a dozen old scanners combined with the noise from a construction site, and it’s all about who you’re with, and which table you’ve reserved. Because there are the expensive tables, and then the outrageously expensive ones, where you actually need a bracelet to indicate that you are one of the chosen ones to enjoy the enlightenment of entering the VIP section – it’s ridiculous.

There were actually very few Parisians, from what I can tell. It’s basically made for people from outside that want to come to the capital of love and prove a point. They are presenting their case for being members of the elite.

However, that is all nothing compared to the kind of “women” that hang out at the VIP tables. I can’t visualize a way of them arguing against the fact that they are pure and utter objects roaming the salon and willing to do anything for free drinks and attention from the rich ones. One of those escorts was actually hooking up with one guy, and then secretly and simultaneously, hooking with another right before my eyes. Now that’s talent. I never understood the West’s claim of equality between the sexes, but that’s a whole different topic that tends to back-fire, so I’ll keep quite for the time-being.

Did I mention it was a bit expensive? Don’t sweat, though, the bill was only 1,800 Euros, so it’s manageable. I offered to pitch in with 20 Euros, that I had worked REALLY hard to earn I may add, but Abdul-Kareem and his friend Hassan wouldn’t let me.

Don’t get me wrong, it was an entertaining night, and I definitely enjoyed hanging out with Abdul-Kareem (what a character! Out of this world). But between the Cabaret (and there’s a dozen of these type of clubs in town) and hanging out at the louvre, I don’t think it’ll take too long for me to settle on one of them. I miss the good ol’ days of Madrid. And for that matter, I really miss hanging out in Cairo, where the city never sleeps and, for me at least, the options are endless.

May 3rd, 2009 03th

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Parisian Nightlife: The Good Version

Last night I went to a sports bar with one of new Catalan friends, Alberto, to watch the Real Madrid – Barcelona clash at the Bernabeu. As many of you already now, the result was a shocking humiliation of the Madridistas by the Catalan club 6 – 2. Little did I know that I was about to meet the Spanish community in Paris.

The Spaniards are the same in any part of the world, be it Cairo, Paris or even Portugal, they form groups that share the foreign experience together. You can’t blame them, though, infiltrating the Parisian social scene is not a piece of cake, and almost all of them get to know each other from the interchange program between their universities back home, and then ones here in Paris. Nonetheless, it was a lot of fun to watch El Clasico with people from all over Spain.

Following the game I hung around with them as we passed by a liquor store (run by Egyptians from Shobra), where each one picked his of her drinks, and then we took off to the Louvre. Personally, I have never visited the museum, but I always had the intention of doing so. The big surprise for me was how the complex surrounding the museum pyramid is actually converted into a strategic nightlife spot to go with friends, relax, and have a few cheap drinks that you brought along. Apparently, a lot of people know about this. Maybe it’s because I’m from the 18th and am a bit of a foreigner to the central and touristic areas.

The view is spectacular, as the entire complex is lit-up (including the pyramid), and you can see the Eiffel Tower shining from a far – breath-taking. There’s nothing better than being able to enjoys this city’s magic without having to spend too much, and without having to be in crowded, noisy areas. And don’t worry about the space, there’s plenty of room for everyone, and you’re not going to have to be too close to any other group.

I think hanging out late at night at the Louvre complex is ideal for any kind of group. I personally think it serves as a romantic hotspot as well (and it was demonstrated repeatedly infront of us). The weather at this time of the year is glorious (except for the rainy days every now and then), so be sure to live “the other side of the louvre” if you are in the French capital.

April 30th, 2009 30th

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Staying In, At Home

My financial situation has been a disgrace as of late, which has had its own influence on the Parisian experience.

Yesterday, for example, I stayed in the entire day, and only stepped out at around midnight for about 15 minutes to buy some bread and withdraw cash from the ATM. However, it was quite a productive day, as far as my freelance work is concerned.

Today wasn’t very different; besides the 3-hour French class downtown, I have spent the entire day at home, between the different projects, emails, to-dos. And even though the weather is currently competing with exotic England, you cannot help but feel bad for not spending more time out in the streets of Paris. But the truth is that part of settling in, and making yourself at home, is getting on with your daily tasks and routine.

On Tuesday night, I went to an Irish bar downtown with a bunch of Catalans to watch Barcelona FC fail to score for the first time this season again a stubborn Chelsea side in the semi-final of the Champions League. While it seems like a simple get-together to watch the game at a local bar, I burnt over 20 Euros in the process (I swear to God this city has a miraculous ability of sucking money out of you). And even though last night it was my team Arsenal against a far superior Manchester United, I refused to go anywhere (and thankfully wasn’t tempted by anyone) and stayed in to watch the game perfectly illegally over the internet.

It is just not possible to spend everyday out in the streets of the Capital.

As far as the French course is concerned, I have decided to continue with the extensive track (thanks to ALL of the people who voted in my poll to help me decide, all four of you!), as oppose to switching to the daily intensive one. There are many reasons behind the decision, but the two points that standout are the difference in price, and the time required to work on the different freelance and personal projects. Therefore my schedule will continue as is: Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursday from 13:30 – 16:30. This way I’ll have more time for my projects, as well as the freedom and flexibility to roam the city (and perhaps if the money starts flowing, the country) and engage on a cultural level.

My apartment is a comfortable place to spend time in. My windows overlooks the street Simplon; quiet and calm, and only 50 meters from all the action and noise:

outsideview

I also get to watch some French TV, and have downloaded a lot of French movies to watch in the near future. Next step: infiltrating the rigid social circles and become friends with Frenchies and Parisions.

April 30th, 2009 30th

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A Culture Underground

My good friend Ruth Pimentel, who’s been very active in participating in this blog and giving me her full support, has sent me a very interesting article titled “Un recorrido cultural por el ‘métropolitain’ de París” (a cultural track via the Paris metro) that talks about the underground from a cultural/artistic perspective. As you might have noticed, the article’s in Spanish, but even if you don’t understand the language, you can probably get the gist of it all via a web page translator.

It gives a historical background and then talks about the different stations, each boasting a different artistic statement, as if a world of its own. It actually reveals how the culture of the city and its habitants (residents and visitors included), is directly tied to the system underground. Which is why I had made the post earlier this week about using the metro as an indication of whether or not you at “home” in Paris.

You can come to the French capital and not visit the louvre (which I am yet to visit, by the way), but you cannot consider yourself to have seen anything in Paris, without experiencing the metropolitain,

Muchas gracias, chiquilla! Nos vemos cuando vengas!

April 30th, 2009 30th

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Le Bonheur Continued

A couple of days ago I made a post about Le Bonheur, and it provoked some very interesting comments. Today in class we actually revisited the topic, and it was even more intriguing because we all had the chance to think about it and perhaps share some thoughts with the rest of the class. I, for one, had something significant to bring to the table.

What happened was that Leticia, our amazing teacher at the Alliance Francaise (strongly recommend her), gave out a sheet that consisted of a long list of things that would make people happy. The idea was to discuss with a partner and come up with the aspects that most bring you joy. It was a wide range of possibilities, including situations such as laughing on your own, spending time with loved ones, and waking up at 4am by mistake and realizing that you can still sleep some more before you have to get up. The first and foremost, of course, was falling in love.

That’s when the topic goes from a potentially superficial in class activity, to a more profound, thought-provoking conversation. Personally, I’m completely lost on that end. The easy way out is to raise the PACE flag and sing “All We Need Is Love”, but after thinking it through, it’s not as straight-forward as you would’ve liked to think.

Falling in love is an experience you need to live to qualify as a human being. When you’re in love, everything looks different, smells distinctly, tastes stronger, and even feels a lot warmer. But unfortunately, love brings along his old-time friend: relationship. That’s the connection between the fantasy world of love, and the cruel reality of our world. Can love always bring happiness? I personally think love is a catalyst to extremes, and it can swing either way. I also think that no one can be considered an expert in love, which is sad since it’s importance is overwhelming. How can you talk about happiness, when you don’t know what it is exactly, and how it can be achieved, and then use love to describe a source of joy, when we have no clue how love works?

I guess there’s no easy way to find out.

Love aside, we went on to read some of the famous French quotes about Le Bonhuer, and each had to select his or her favorite quote. None of them, I thought, were moving, so I went ahead with the courageous move of declaring that I have a quote that beats them all:

“Le bonhuer n’est pas un exploit, c’est un mode de vivre

All the credit to my sister Nevine who had made up that quote in one of her comments on the earlier post, and I can proudly say that my classmates were equally as impressed. The original quote was in plain English, but it obviously sounds a lot nicer in the language of romance: “Happiness is not an achievement, it’s a way of living”. So don’t go too far looking for the things that make you happy, just live the happy way.

Thank you Neefa!

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April 28th, 2009 28th

5

Le Bonheur

It’s funny how some coincidences are just hard to take lightly. Just as I got back from Gran Canaria, today in class we talked about happiness and well-being. It couldn’t have come at a more pivotal period in my life, and it left me with more questions than answers. Besides the fact that my French is nowhere near good enough for me to fully express what I think of happiness, how it works, and how it can be achieved, the topic is far too complicated for me to comprehend.

When you leave your “home”, and try to take on a completely new society, you start to notice that there were a lot of things that you took for granted, and you regret not appreciating them enough. Some of the basics include home food, late-nights, and time spent with loved ones, but more advanced aspects can include mental strength and emotional support.

In Cairo, if I have any problem, there are so many people I can call, and there are so many things that I can do to release the negative vibes that have infiltrated me. But in the French capital, it’s not the same. Here (or anywhere away from home, for that matter), you start realizing that you’re not as strong as you thought you were, and perhaps the obstacles you face are too much for your confidence. But this is what it’s all about, learning to be happy no matter what. Learning to overcome obstacles, even when you don’t have your peops covering your back. That’s when you realize you’re not as tough as you had originally thought.

The thing about happiness, is that no one really knows what it is, or how it is achieved. You can fight your hole life for something, and when you get it, you’re happy, momentarily, before you’re seeking satisfaction elsewhere. One of the students in class, Maria, made the argument that it is part of evolution to seek happiness constantly, and to never settle for little, you always want more. While the word evolution automatically puts the argument beyond doubt (how can you argue against that?), it would be interesting to see if anyone can “think outside the box”, if you will, and become the rebellious, adventurous fighter that becomes constantly happy with very little.

I have no idea, but I wish we all find long-term happiness in our lives, and while I hope I never have to live without the security of my City Victorious, I think I should still be capable of surviving comfortably away from it. La bonheur is a destination that forces you to go through quite a bit to reach it, and just like evolution has always taught us, only the fittest survive.

April 27th, 2009 27th

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Back Home, In Paris

I’m back from Gran Canaria, and even though I knew this has been home to me, I wasn’t sure what would be the things I would do or feel that would leed me to think so. So I paid attention and realized that the Paris metro is probably the best indicator of whether or not you are at “home”.

One of my best friends, Waleed Fateem, once told me that when you’re in the Egyptian army, you take so much crap until you reach a point when you become a soldier. That’s when nothing matters to you, nothing scares you, and no thoughts are strong enough to penetrate you and trigger feelings such as fear, nervousness or exhaustion. That was very inspirational. Not that coming to Paris is in ANY WAY related to joining the Egyptian army, but here too, you reach a point when you’re no longer a visiter – you’re a habitant, and this is your home.

The following are the traits that come to mind:

  • You jump over the entrance bar leading to the metro to avoid paying an “airport supplement” (it’s almost 8 Euros, can you believe it?). More importantly, you’re not bothered to look around you when you’re doing so, because you’re confident of yourself. In fact, people will look at you and say “this guys is from around here”
  • You know where exactly to stand so that the door opens right in front of you, and you get into the wagon before others do (hence a higher possibility of finding a seat). Moreover, when you arrive at your station, you find yourself right in front of your exit
  • When you swipe your card (assuming you have a pass – because buying tickets is for out-of-towners), you don’t even pay attention – you know exactly where to go and don’t hesitate for a second
  • You never look at a map, and if you do, you’re usually too embarrassed and worried someone might see you
  • When there are various options as to where you can sit down, or stand up, you know how to calculate it so that you’re comfortable, but you don’t have to go through too many obstacles to reach the door when you need too

There’s probably a few more. But I would say that those are the kind of actions you would be taking when you reach the point of considering Paris home. This reminds me of the days of Madrid – such beauty!