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

May 28th, 2009 28th

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Fluctuat Nec Mergitur

“Tossed by the waves, but does not sink”

That’s the rough translation of the motto of Paris. On a historical level, the city slogan bares a lot of meanings. Its roots go back to the Roman times when the river Seine was home to prosperous commerce and trade that took place in the heart of the French capital. On a personal level, the significance goes way deeper that I would ever be able to communicate through a blog post.

It’s been three weeks since I have translated my thoughts into digital ink to be displayed for the world wide web to access, three weeks. Losing such a vital aspect of myself is no cup of tea, and attempting to share the pain with the hope of an accurate depiction is unjust. They say you never truly appreciate something until you lose it, and in many cases that is spot on, but not this time around. They also say that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger…Well, we’ll just have to hope that this is true, because if it’s not, than the logic of this world has completely lost me.

Depression, loneliness, fear, and restlessness, are nothing but words that we human beings have invented as part of a language that is used to make others understand our situation. The idea is to be able to communicate to another human-being how you feel, and what it’s like. If you pause to think about it for second, you’d instantaneously realize that the actual thought of transporting feelings via a combination of predefined sounds is absurd. If we don’t have a clue how feelings work, how on Earth do we expect others to share them with us? We are so limited by our language, that we have given up on properly communicating, and are settling for the general categorization of situations.

When you wake up every morning with a physical pain in your chest, no one feels it with you. When you feel you have no motivation to get up and join the evolutionary chain of production, no one stays back with you. When you get sudden attacks of intensive sadness out of the blue, there’s no one to blame, nor witnesses to confirm. Whatever you do, whatever happens to you, no one will ever come close to re-living the same experience. So what do we do, as animals looking to become the fittest for survival? We use a stock of words available for free, group them together, and toss them to our closest people. And what do they do? Well, their situation isn’t an easy one. On the one hand, they clearly understand that it is something they would’nt want to experience. On the other, they realize that it’s an experience they need to share. So the easy way out, is to approach it from a personal point of view, and compare it with previous experiences that were very similar. While that sounds like the logical solution, no one has the slightest of clues as to how each person has his or her own feelings. But we are so narrow-minded and focused on moving on, that we settle for the least.

To say that the past few weeks have been the most difficult of my life would be a simple way of describing a complicated era. When you’re sick, you do everything you can to improve. When you’re REALLY sick, and there’s nothing that can be done, you sit back and closely follow the progress until you’re up and running again. In which case, the slightest of improvements works as a catalyst to elongate the patience, which in turn is required for the process to be complete.

In my current situation, none of the above apply. You think you feel better one day, only to find out a little later that you’re worthless. You start enjoying life, only to wake up with physical and mental pains enough to end the day before it starts. You witness a bit of improvement, but enough damage afterwards to take you to a worse point than when you started. There’s no pattern, and there’s no use looking for one. You don’t know how long it’ll last, nor what it is you can do to help. You know nothing, and you’re only as good as what you know.

Despite the seemingly impossible obstacle, I’ve come out a lottery-winner with a family’s solid backing, and friends to make the happiest of people seriously jealous. Very few people on this planet have what I have, and it’s times like this when you realize that even though you’re not as strong as you had previously taken for granted, you have the people to get you through it. It’s not the end of the world, not even close, and while my friends and family are around, I’m not planning on giving up anytime soon.

I came to Paris to live a dream, and I might have bitten off more than I can chew. Nevertheless, it is here, in Paris, that I have reached a record low point, but it is also here, in Paris, where I will pick myself up, and experience the bonheur. This city will be the transition, the pivotal point the swings all the way down, only to come back up again – and to a higher point than before. It’s the stage where the act will take place, and where the performance will be boosted by the crowd. In a way, I’m in a unique situation that will allow me to experience an authentic, intensive, and rewarding Paris. It is a crucial part of my life, and where else can you present such an exceptional spectacle than the second city of love?

I’m tossed, bullied and constantly threatened by the waves, that much is true. But one thing’s for sure, and it’s that my boat will not sink.

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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