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.

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 4th, 2009 04th

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World Record: 0 Euros Spent

Yesterday was one of the “stay in” days. I had a lot of work to do, and got less than half done, but it’s still progress. I’m starting to get into the flow of things, as far as my freelance work is concerned. The fact that my window overlooks the street and lets in a lot of sunlight has helped me stay at home, work, while still enjoying the beautiful sunshine. Another advantage of not going out is saving cash monies.

In fact, I have matched the world record of 0 Euros spent in the ENTIRE day. Nothing spent on food, drinks, bread, ridiculous and useless objects you buy on a daily basis – nothing. Thus, I’m extremely proud of this achievement, and will reward myself by spending a lot of money in the near future. Seriously, though, it’s good to settle in with home-made food, fill the fridge properly (because a lot of the grocery shopping that I had previously done was rather useless), and be able to get on with what you need to do. At the same time, I’ll have more freedom to spend when I next have the opportunity.

Today I spent 60 Euros at InterMarche on groceries (don’t worry – it was money well spent). I actually came across a ready-made Mussaka3a! It’s basically almost cooked, all you need to do is throw in the oven for a couple of minutes. While I’d like to think I’ve got this whole living-alone thing down, I’ve sadly discovered that I am far from independent. In fact, I might just be a bit of a disaster.

So here I am all excited to eat the Mussaka3a, and I throw it – as is – into the over. A couple of minutes later, I find that its plastic (yes plastic) container, and the plastic lid were not as excited as I am and decided to start melting all over my dinner. So I had to take it out quickly (using a towel that has been destroyed due to the plastic molding into it), and quickly flipped the contents onto another plate, and threw the remains of the 100% natural plastic that it came in. The sad but true story was that there was a bit of melted plastic that has infiltrated the food by then, but to be honest, I didn’t care and went ahead and ate it. It was delicious! My only complaint (besides what I would argue were not clear-cut instructions on the box) would be the quantity – price value. At a little under 4 Euros, it’s not a lot better than Khalil and the people back at Fine’s Beak doner kebabs. But it’s definitely a good alternative to eating out, and goes very well with some home made basmati rice.

I don’t remember being anywhere near as bad when I was living in Madrid, it must be that I’m getting a little rusty. Nevertheless, there’s reason to celebrate the marvelous achievement of equaling the world record for the least amount of money spent in a single day in Paris.

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.