July 29th, 2009 29th

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General Updates

It might seem that I have lost the spark for translating my thoughts into blog posts as of late. While it is true that It has been difficult to find the motivation to dedicate the time to do so as oppose to any other activity, my passion and observation has only gotten more intensive over time. I thought it would be a good idea to fill everyone in with the general updates so that we’re all on the same page.

The end of the Parisian dream

Sad but true story. I head back to the City Victorious on August 9th, for good. The thought of parting is so sad that I prefer not to discuss it much. Nevertheless, I am looking forward to returning to my nest – there have been one too many experiences that I have had to handle single-handedly, and it’s comforting to know that I will make the trip back to the motherland shortly

French classes and language

My last French class was after the first week of July. After that, due to travel plans and the likes, I took time off. Seeing that there was little time left and a lot to get done and see, I have decided not to enroll in further courses. Having said that, I am proud to say that my French is at a developed stage. I have no problems communicating in general. And while I cannot have profound friendships exclusively in the language of romance, I maintain acquaintances and everyday friendship in French. I was confident that I would be able to improve, but I was hopeful I’d reach fluency. Unfortunately, I’m nowhere near fluent, but as a good enough stage to build on in the future.

Visits and trips

Both my sisters Nora and Nevine came to the second capital of love for a week, before all three of us took the Eurostar to London to spend five days with Amr. It was refreshing to have a family reunion, and as always, a whole lot of fun. It was very interesting to try to present the city to my sisters. We grew in the same place back home, and everyone has grown in his or her own way. Apparently, areas like Barbes are not as appealing to everyone as they are to me!

London was cool as well. It’s great when you visit a town such as London with tourism the last thing on your mind. Because you begin to use it as a means to an end, a different perspective than what we’re used to as foreigners in any given country.

Following the family reunion, I made a much-awaited trip to Madrid. I could proudly declare that it was a huge success, in every single way. I was very clear on what it is I was looking for in that trip, it was by no means a regular visit. I saw most of the people I wanted to see, I visited all of the areas that have huge sentimental significance for me, and got to carry out all the activities I was optimistically hoping for.

New website

As many of you know, I have launched a revamp of my website and portfolio at http://www.tarekshalaby.com/ after weeks of non-stop work. The most difficult aspect of building a new website is not so much the initial phase as it is the maintenance. In order to drive traffic, gain credibility, and be exposed to potential clients, I have had to be extremely active, and that is precisely what I have been doing. Between the constant design and technology blog posts, the accompanying tweets, and the design and development enhancements, I’ve been dedicating overwhelming amounts of time.

The good news is that all of the hard work paid off. I had signed up to be featured in CSS galleries (websites that display the best websites across the internet for people to see as example of exceptional design and development) and got featured. In fact, at the time of writing, tarekshalaby.com has been featured in 18 CSS galleries, including big guns such as CSS Mania and CSS Drive. I’m obviously very proud of the achievement, and I hope it helps me become an exclusively freelance web designer.

The everyday life

Generally speaking, especially with the projects and the new website, I have been spending the majority of the days at home working, and the evenings/nights in the streets of Paris. In fact, I have not rejected a single plan of any outing. I make sure I take full advantage of the city, no matter the cost. Therefore, whenever there is a chance to meet and do any activity, I always took part. In many cases, going back home at the early hours of the following day.

I think it’s been great, although it has somewhat changed the second half of the experience as more of a vacation with a part-time job. Fine by me, my priority is to learn the language, and become as familiar as possible with the city.

The final days

I’ll be sure to do some of the activities that I never got around to doing before I take off. I also plan to be making some blog posts before time is up, as much as possible. Whenever a dream is coming to an end, it’s hard to remember just how lucky you are for achieving it. I know in my mind that I shouldn’t be depressed that I’m leaving, but try telling that to my heart. C’est la vie

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.

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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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

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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 20th, 2009 20th

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French Course At The Alliance Fran├žaise

I started my French course at the beginning of last week, and although I was aiming for the intensive track, since it wasn’t the start of the month, I had to take the extensive one, which is three days a week, for three hours each time.

So far it’s been great! My classmates seem to be ahead of me, which is good because it means I have a better chance of improving, and I’m already learning overwhelming amounts of French in little time. As expected, my confidence level was quite low at the beginning, as I had surprised myself with how poor my French has become. But with time, the light has appeared at the end of the tunnel. So my current schedule is Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 13:30 to 16:30.

However, seeing as French is the main reason I’m here, I will be moving to the extensive track at the start of May, so my schedule will be Mondays through Fridays, 13:30 to 17:50. This will definitely get me more involved with the language, and hopefully give me the opportunity to express myself comfortably within the next couple of months.

Our teacher, Leticia, is very cool. She has a lot of patience, and keeps us all involved. The diversity in class is almost an attraction within itself, as we boast Spaniards, an Italian, a Dutchman, an Iranian, a Romanian, a Taiwanese, and a Japanese (amongst others). So it’s always good to see people make mistakes different than yours, and I think it helps us all as a group.

The center is located near metro St. Placide, which is on the same line as Simplon, where I live. Therefore, it only takes me 25 minutes to get from door to door.

So now I’ll get to my homework for tomorrow. A la prochaine!