June 15th, 2009 15th


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


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


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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