June 26th, 2009 26th

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Amreeka With Dahshan: A Must-See

A couple of days ago I went with my Egyptian friend Mohamed el Dahshan to see a Palestinian movie about a mom and her son migrating to the United States. It would be very difficult for me to justly portray Amreeka so that you can get a good idea of what it’s about, but it’s suffice to say that you absolutely have to watch it. I was really amazed by it, and the more I think about it, the more I like it. Director Cherien Dabis & Co put forward a movie so realistic, that it is very difficult to remember that you’re sitting in a movie theater watching a screening.

Amreeka, The MovieThe movie starts in the West Bank where a Christian family is going through the daily hell of the occupied territories, until they receive the immigration letter that allowed them to move to the US. That’s when it takes you through the period of settling in with their extended family, and taking in the huge cultural gap between the two countries. The movie is mainly in Arabic, although I would say a good third of it is in English (sometimes even mixing the two – which made it much closer to reality). So watch it in its original version with subtitles (many movie theaters here, and throughout Europe, dub the movies, and that would take away the beauty of it).

Many movies fail to capture the differences of opinions within Arabs and Palestinians regarding the Israeli occupation. In fact, there is a significant crowd who’d advocate that the Palestinians abroad have pretty much the same mentality. Well, one of the strongest aspect of this film in particular, is the fact that you have a wide range of Palestinians, each with their own influences and thought processes. While they are all unanimously against the Israeli occupation (as is the entire world, except for the US), and they equally enjoy Arab food, there are quite a few significant differences between them.

I leave you with that. The best way to learn more about the movie is to actually watch it. Since we went on a Tuesday night, the tickets for students are at 5 Euros and change (compare with standard 10 Euro fee), and Dahshan was kind enough to invite me, since I’m kind of stripped on cash right now!

I wish everyone can see it so we can talk about it. The conversation that followed with Dahshan was very intriguing, but I think that would’ve been the case anyway, because he’s quite the intellectual, intelligent guy.

June 19th, 2009 19th

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History In The Making

Glorious.

I’m left speechless as I attempt to re-live Egypt’s historical victory against World Champions Italy in the Confederations Cup last night. Following a quality performance against Brazil in the first match, the Pharaohs took African football to the next level, becoming the first ever side from the black continent to beat the Azurri. And what a victory it was!

Egypt vs Italy

I witnessed history being re-written at a bar near Place Monge with Alberts, Jose (pronounced: err-kho-thei) and Rocio. What a night! I had picked up Jose and Rocio from the airport yesterday morning, they’re here from the weekend, visiting from Utrera (an authentic, ancient town near Sevilla). They showed immediate interest in watching the spectacle. While Alberts thought it was a good opportunity to pay me back for all of the Barca games that I had watched with him and the Catalans!

I was the only Egyptian at the bar, as you might’ve imagined. In fact, I was the only one closely following the game (and not really hiding my emotions), proudly boasting my Egyptian national team jersey with the six stars, representing the number of times we have been crowned African champions. My new Egyptian friend, Mohamed el Dahshan, who I met through Paris-Blog-activist Ruth Pimentel, tagged along as well (although a few minutes AFTER the game was over). Immediately after, I took off to the other airport, Charles de Gualle, to meet my originally Valenciano but realistically Egyptian friend Toni Bolinches, who’s also here for the weekend.

The funny part was while I was on the way to pick up El Bolinches. The RER made stops that weren’t schedule, until they decided that the train is not going any further, and that everyone has to get off and catch the bus. I’m not sure how they justified it to themselves, but there weren’t any French complaining. Instead of taking me 40 mins to get there, I arrived to a stranded Bolinches in over an hour and a half. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I were trying to catch a flight.

Anyway, as I was about to get on the bus, one of the station organizers, standing at the entrance to the bus, said “Essalamu 3aleiko” (after noticing that I had the Egyptian shirt on), and so I jumped at the opportunity to express my joy, and went on in Arabic about our historical victory against the world champions. He said that he had watched the match as well, and was extremely happy for us. But then he dared to make the blasphemous move of saying “But against Alegria, you can’t win. You can’t beat us”.

Immediately after, there was a sudden silence as my ear-to-ear smile instantly changed to a serious frown. It was a look of a gangster who is about to pull up a gun and shoot the guy’s brains out. The poor Algerian’s face was converted to a look of fear and deep concern. His jaw dropped, his eyes wide-open, and his head slowly but surely turning away in an attempt to save his life. My hungry face was literally 10 centimeters from his, as he started to feel my fuming body heat. Seconds later, we both burst out loud into outrageous, obnoxious, Arab-style laughter and gave each other a symbolic fair-play hug that sent peace and love vibrations to the entire region.

I was still laughing by myself on the bus. And then I started getting into the vicous cycle of calculating how Egypt can make it to the World Cup, and that was sad. Regardless, a revolutionary win, an incredible achievement. Mabrouk to the seven thousand years of Egyptian civilization.

June 16th, 2009 16th

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Les Beaux Gosses With Alberts

Today I went to see my first French movie at the cinema. On Mondays and Tuesdays, Mk2 (a chain of cinemas found everywhere) have a special offer where if your under 26, you get to see a movie for 3.90 Euros! Compare to the regular 10-Euro fare, and you’d understand where the excitement is coming from.

My friend Alberto Estrada, from Barcelona, had called me up so that I can help him look at laptops and what not. As a good Egyptian, I got to the store where we were going to meet at 20:07. Besides the fact that we had arranged to meet at 19:00, and thus I was over an hour late, the store Surcouf shuts at 20:00. So wasn’t the most efficient of evenings, but that OK. We went for amazing Lebanese food instead, and Alberts (that’s what I call him – to me it sounds very Catalan to say it that way, but to them I just sound stupid) did something a true Catalan would NEVER do and actually paid for dinner. So I would like to take the opportunity via my personal Paris blog to express my official appreciation to the Catalan people for being able to produce at least one person who goes against the stereo-type! (For those of you who aren’t aware of the stereo-types out there, Catalans are known, and proven, to be some of the most stingy people around). Seriously, though, having amazing Lebanese food, paid for by Alberts, definitely made my day.

Les Beaux GossesBack to today’s movie. We saw an American-Pie-style film taking place at a high school in France. The idea is to get some laughs out of it, and that we did. There were obviously a lot of things that I couldn’t really follow (lots of slang and speedy talk), but I’m glad to have been able to hang on to the huge majority of events.

It’s incredibly funny, and shockingly disgusting at the same time. French cinema, you see, doesn’t care too much about revealing scenes that no one finds attractive, and many find offending, even. However, having said that, it gave the movie an interesting twist.

The main character is basically the typical loser who’s horrible with girls and is far from motivated. Surrounding him, were many characters that brought interesting twists to the story. Like his mother, for example, who enjoys involving herself in everything her son does, and his friends at school, who make him seem more or less normal.

It’s a clever comedy that’s very entertaining until the last 20 minutes or so, when they run out of ideas for ending the movie properly. Still, though, it’s definitely worth the trip (even if it weren’t for 3.90!).

So on a night when I was supposed to help my friend with his new laptop investment, I got a free Lebanese dinner, and saw a French comedy at the Mk2. Not bad, eh?

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 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.

May 6th, 2009 06th

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Mes Que Un Club

Tonight was a crazy night. Those of you who follow the beautiful game will understand exactly what I mean. In the return leg of the semi final of the Champions League, FC Barcelona had traveled to London and managed to score a last-gasp goal to book their place in the final against Manchester United in Rome. There’s so much to talk about, it’s ridiculous, but I guess it’s better to leave that for another time.

fifthbar

The fun part of it, for a neutral like myself that doesn’t really support either team, was that I was surrounded by a large group of Catalans at a bar in Mouffetard. It’s always a lot of fun to be amidst a group of Catalan-speaking football fanatics. And with the way the match ended, the entire bar and neighborhood went WILD. Even though the main idea of living in a city like Paris is to meet and get to know Parisians, it’s still rather entertaining to spend time with a group of people like that. After the game, we all went to another nearby bar for some drinks before I headed back home.

Another striking feature of tonight was getting to know a new area of Paris: Mouffetard and Place Monge – REALLY cool area. There are cobble-stoned narrow streets with bars and restaurant left and right. More importantly, and rather surprisingly, they are (relatively) cheap, which in turn draws a lot of the university crowd, making it an even more interesting area. It’s the kind of zone that surprises you, because you realize what this city is truly capable of. There’s so much to live here, it’s over-whelming.

In an earlier post, I talked about Bip Bip Pizza, who earned my acknowledgment as the best creperie in town. While I stand by my word, I must say that he’s facing tough competition from AUP’TIT GREC. This place is famous and has people lining up to pick up crepes. Don’t bother with the sweet crepes, they’re just as good as in most other places. What makes this place special, are the salee crepes, offering various ingredients including Feta cheese, Mozzarella, and mushrooms. All crepes come accompanied by free onions, tomatoes and lettuce, converting the crepe into a full meal. To top it all off, they’re rather reasonably prices, so it’s definitely something you wouldn’t want to miss.

auptit

So I think everyone should visit the aera at one point, and pick up a egg and cheeses crepe, for example, from AUP’TIT Grec. To get there, just catch line 9 to Place Monge, walk one block down until you cross Rue du Mouffetard. Enjoy!

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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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 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.