June 15th, 2009 15th

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Back On Track?

Not quite…but getting there, that much is true.

It’s hard to find the motivation to write when everything suddenly becomes insignificant. It’s tough to look up, to see the light at the end of the tunnel, or even occupy yourself with other things. But there’s no other way out, this is the only route.

I’ll take this opportunity to give you all a quick update on what I’ve been doing over the past few weeks. Well, the whether has been miserable. We get some nice and much-needed sunshine every once in a while, but frequently enough, I feel a bit confused as to why London has been unanimously voted as the city with the the saddest whether. I think the French capital should claim a bit of the fame, but that’s not very important as far as my experience is concerned.

In my French class I’ve been bumped a level (ie a month’s worth of classes) because my current level was canceled and the teacher thought I’m better off going to the level above. It’s good and bad. I mean, it’s finally refreshing to be in a classroom with people who can express themselves well, but I feel I’ve been jumping too many levels for my own good. My language base is nowhere near top notch, so I’m going to have to find the motivation to go over the basics on my own sometime soon. Today was my first day in B2, and the instructor, Lucie Marquer, has left an incredible impression – I’m really excited about the class. It’s come at a good time, as I had been losing motivation for learning the language as of late.

I had signed off the two big projects I carried with me from Egypt, and have been working on some freelancing with a couple of European clients. Things are pleasing in general, my only concern is that I do not have enough projects to guarantee me the income I need to survive till next month. But it somehow seems to work every time, so I’m not too worried.

For the last month or so, I have been working intensively on my new personal website www.tarekshalaby.com. I guess for me, designing is an effective approach to releasing stress and lots of negative emotions stored inside me, and I’m actually quite happy with the outcome. The website is complete, and you can see it, but I won’t be publicly announcing it and try to steer traffic towards it until a couple of days from now. It’s always good to be in private beta for a short while, just to make sure everything goes smoothly and according to plan. I’m hopeful my new website will help generate the necessary income I need for the coming period.

I also got some injuries, which led me to pay a visit to the doctor, but that’s a whole story on its own that merits a dedicated post. The bottom line is that I’m not screwed, but I’m not doing so well either. But I’m going to have to wait till I’m back in Egypt to get proper treatment.

I’ve also reached some conclusions regarding friendships with Europeans (especially people from the North), albeit not so positive ones. But I just realize how living in Cairo made me forget how many “friends” are like in the West. Thank God I’m going back home within a couple of months. I would never be able to live in the West indefinitely. Although you can always find the right people, I guess, no matter where you are.

VISITS! Definitely gave me a boost. Ruth Pimentel and Dani Ortiz were in Paris for eight days – had a blast. I’ve added the photos they sent me to the photo gallery page so that you can check them out. Also TONES, officially names Tony Haddad, was in the second capital of Love for about four days, and I think I’ve laughed more than during my entire stay! This kid never fails to overwhelm you, in every way! If laughter is the best cure, then Tones merits a PhD!

So this is the post that will hopefully act as a catalyst to get me back to writing regularly. Bare in mind that I wish to do the same with my new personal website, only focusing on design and technology. So I might be a bit like dust in the wind right now, waiting to see where events take me, but soon enough, I’ll be back in the driving seat.

May 9th, 2009 09th

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Paris The Small City

When you think of Paris, one of the first things that comes to mind isĀ  “metropolitan area”. No one doubts the size of the French capital, it’s got to be one of the biggest cities in Europe, and probably one of the biggest cities in the entire world.

Surprisingly, though, if you take into consideration the entire urban area surrounding the city, the total population is around 10 million habitants. That would not even place it in the top 20 cities world-wide. Moreover, if you look count what is the “city” without the suburbs, then the total population is a mare 2.1 million! That means there are more people in my part of Cairo, the all of main Paris combined. Shocking, huh?

When people refer to the city Paris, they tend to be talking about the 20 arrondissements:

parismap

That cover the entire area inside the surrounding ring road, also known as the peripherique.

Despite it’s relatively small size and belittled population, the more time you spend here, the bigger it seems. I went out for a walk earlier today, and started heading in different directions in an attempt to cover new areas that I hadn’t previously visited. I’ve been thinking about this topic recently, and today’s walk made me confirm my theory: Paris seems like a gigantic city because practically EVERYWHERE you go, you’ll find shops, restaurants, bars, supermarkets, bus stops, metro stations, benches with people sitting on them, creperies, fast food chains, and the list goes on. That’s what makes this place so special, anywhere you chose to go, you’re in for an adventure, you will be embarking on a journey to a beautiful lively area with endless possibilities.

I’ve lived my whole life in Cairo, and have become intolerant to small cities and towns. In fact, any place with less than a million habitants is too small for me to spend a long time at. But that is always based on the assumption that the interesting part is only a small portion of the overall size of the city. Cairo, for me, is the best city in the world, but the majority of the city does not offer anything of special interest to any visitor. But since it’s gigantic, there are several areas one can visit.

Madrid is another example. With a population around 5 million, the Spanish capital seems a lot smaller than Paris, even though it’s twice its size. That’s because, as beautiful as it may be, the area where you can spend time in Madrid are probably in the region of 30% of the overall size of the city (a percentage that I would say is considerably high). Otherwise you’re in residential areas, boring neighborhoods, quiet streets, etc.

Here’s the map of Madrid with the same om level and image size of that of Paris. Even though with Paris we could see the entire city and beyond, with Madrid, there’s a significant portion that you can’t see at all.

madridmap

Paris, on the other hand, is completely different. I would say that based on my short time here, close to 90% of the area inside the peripherique would be considered as nice areas to walk around, eat, have a drink, or just sit on a bench and observe. It’s rare to come across areas that don’t offer anything of interest. In fact, that is yet to happen to me (bare in mind, however, that nothing would scare me here. If anything, people might be scared of me – I’m the young Arab male).

When you take a path, a part of you feels guilty for leaving out the other, because it’s at least as beautiful as the current one. You never feel comfortable enough to claim that you know a certain area, because there’s got to be a few blocks knocked off your radar, and that would potentially mean intriguing hotspots that are left undiscovered.

That’s the beauty of this place. That’s the real magic of Paris.

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 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.

April 28th, 2009 28th

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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 22nd, 2009 22th

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Thinking Of The People Back Home

As I was getting ready to go to bed, I checked my Facebook wall and saw that my buddy Hazem Mohamed Ahmed had written me a HILARIOUS note about my earlier post with the award I handed to Bip Bip Pizza!

Basically, he was making the sound argument that, besides the fact that I am ruining the business of many tour guides in Paris with my blog entries, I made the shameful act of giving credit to a “pizzeria just around the corner” and never mentioned any of the champions we boast back home in the City Victorious. Most notably, “Ma7roos”, in Garden City, will always be remembered as the best fool in town, and by far the best atmosphere you can experience.

Unfortunately in Egypt we don’t really use maps, so to get to ma7roos, just get in a taxi, ask him to take you to Garden City, pay him half what he asks you for, and ask random people in the street for Ma7roos – you’ll never get lost. Make sure you try two different fool dishes, and don’t waste your time with the siders, you’re there for the fool, and you mean business. If you go WAY overboard, you might end of paying LE 20 (less than 3 Euros), so saving up shouldn’t be on your list of things to do before you head to the headquarters of fool.

On a more serious note, small things such as a comment by a good friend make you look at the situation from a different perspective. No matter how many people I meet here, and how interesting they may seem, nothing will EVER compare to spending late nights with friends in the streets of Cairo. So while I may seem to be flirting with Paris, I am absolutely clear on where my heart lies.

Same7ny ya Zuma! hahaha. Leek 3andi crebbaya lamma tegeely insha2allah.

P.S. Credit to Reem Abulleil for introducing me to Ma7roos, and insisting on taking me there when I had been convinced for ages that competitor El Baghl was the king of the fool domain in all of Egypt