Tag Archives: Paris

On Strawberry Hair, Mountains and Dying Happy Lists

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I may have mentioned previously, New Year’s Eve is a big deal to me. It’s that one day when I get drunk on optimism and sugar, set myself wonderfully ambitious goals that I will absolutely not complete, and look back on the last joyous year where I achieved none of those goals either.

Since the tender age of sixteen, I’ve been making lists of things I need to do that year in order to have really lived. Items include getting my hair dyed bright pink (there was a brief phase of infatuation with Gwen Stefani) or my eyebrow pierced, learning a useless language and reading books with big words in them.

Every year, I tell myself ‘I will die happy once I see Paris.’ Or climb a mountain. Or bungee jump. Or write a book. Every year, I have one thing left to do before I can die happy.

Now, at 29, it pains me to admit that I’m too old for an eyebrow piercing, and a recent flirtation with a stubborn Lebanese hairstylist left my hair in a garish strawberry hue that a mean friend affectionately referred to as Ganzoury Hair. I have climbed a mountain, I finally made it to Paris, but I’ve yet to fling myself off a building, write a bestseller or visit India. Would I die happy now?

Given everything that has happened to Egypt in the past year, I would have to say no. I won’t get all political on you, but suffice it to say that it’s very difficult for me to look back on 2011 without feeling utterly shitfaced depressed. And with the anniversary of January 25th tomorrow, I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to celebrate considering people died, people got jailed, people lost their eyes, and the same people remain in charge.

So in an attempt to lift my rather sombre spirits, I’ve made a list of all the great things I’ve accomplished in 2011. Prepare to be shaken.

Big Things I Did This Year:

  1. I was in a revolution, bitches. I’ve always wanted to write that. Thank you.
  2. I gave up smoking. Twice.  Some people  manage this once. I quit twice, being the overachiever I am.
  3. I travelled twelve times around Egypt. I did my part for the tourism industry this year and visited Port Said, the North Coast, Gouna, Ras Sudr, Dahab and Nuweiba repeatedly.  And I loved every minute of it, even when stuck on an East Delta Bus for six hours with a man smoking behind me and a plastic bag of live chickens skirmishing in front of me. I met lovely people and saw incredible sites that remind me of how lucky I am to live here.
  4. I did things that scared me. I windsurfed in Ras Sudr, which is terrifying when the winds are high and you fall on your ass so often, the fat 10-year-old British boy starts sniggering and pointing at you. I also climbed a mountain, which took six hours and brought me 1000 feet up. Or something like that. I also flew backseat in a small glider plane that surprisingly didn’t crash. And I managed not to scream or embedd my fingernails permanently in the poor co-pilot’s arm.
  5. I didn’t cut my hair. Every year, I go blind bat crazy and chop all, or half my hair off in an attempt to feel young and stupid again. This year, I managed to avoid the allure of the sheers, keeping my hair firmly on my head and avoiding what my mum calls ‘That Lesbian Look of yours.’ Clearly, I’m maturing.
  6. People Read My Blog.  People who weren’t my mother and my 30 friends. The narcissist in me was ecstatic. Yaaay.
  7. I Got Sick. You learn a lot about yourself when you lose basic functions, like the ability to eat, sleep or even walk. When you’re that incapacitated, you realize just how privileged you are to be able to breathe or move your arms. Once you’re well again, you quickly forget all the bargaining you made with God (‘Make me better and I promise I won’t smoke/yell at my parents/dump trash/bully again’). So having been there, done that and got the t-shirt, I try to be thankful every day for being healthy.
  8. I Am Loved. This is the one basic fact that comforts me every time I’m on a plane that’s about to crash – which is every time, I hate flying so much I once wrote my will before boarding for London – is that I can die happy because I know I’m loved. Even though those who love me, including my family, have contemplated throttling me at some point or other.

All these basic, insignificant achievements are what make 2011 a slightly happier memory for me, and 2012 a little less painful to face. I may not make it to India this year, but I hope I end 2012 on the same I-can-die-happy-now note.

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For The Love of Paris

As with most major events or mishaps in my life, I like to blame my mother for my love for Paris. Thanks to her and her iron fist of TV censorship, I spent much of my childhood ogling happy musicals, many of which were about Paris.

There was Gene Kelly in American in Paris (whom I would also like to blame for ruining my taste in men- I will never find a suave tap-dancing painter who can pull off a red necktie while dangling off a lamppost) and Leslie Caron in Gigi, a film that I later on discovered was actually about a woman training her granddaughter to become a ho. A high-class ho, but a ho nonetheless. Why my mother allowed her seven- and five-year-olds to watch Gigi and yet banned Pretty Woman still baffles me to this day. The only difference between Julia and Gigi is, as far as I can see, the hot pants.

So why I never visited the city of lights in all of my twenty seven years remains a mystery to me. Life tends to get in the way of your plans, you find yourself swayed in unexpected directions. Every birthday, I’d promise myself that I’d see Paris that year (I have tens of journal entries to prove it), but then university/jobs/friends/relationships got in the way; and suddenly, twenty years had passed.

When you find yourself living a somewhat conventional life with a sickeningly responsible work ethic (I turned down free trips to Sharm El Sheikh, Beirut, Dubai and Cyprus for the sake of my work duties- did I mention free trips?), you look back on the opportunities you’ve missed out on with regret. And I hate regret. It’s up there on my list with Nabila Ebeid, snakes and fart jokes.

Maybe it’s the gay man inside of me (I love sequins. I improvise cheesy cabaret songs in the kitchen when I cook- I even have an ‘I Love Butter’ sequence- and I once re-enacted the entire Moulin Rouge duet between Ewan Macgregor and Nicole Kidman on a table- singing both roles), maybe it’s my unabated adoration of French gastronomy; but I’ve held onto my idyllic vision of Paris for years, no matter what people warned me about Parisians being rude, arrogant and smelly.

All I could think of was Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy walking the Rive Gauche in Before Sunset, and all I wanted is one photograph of me sipping my café au lait by the river banks, with a necktie elegantly wrapped around my neck (again, I blame Gene for this). And then I can honestly die happy.

By die happy, I mean that every time I get plane fever and think that the plane will crash (which is, um, every time), instead of screaming out ‘I’m too young to die!’ or think of the unborn children/unpublished books/unclimbed mountains/untasted ice cream flavours that I’ve yet to meet, all I can think of is ‘But I haven’t seen Paris yet!’

And then one day, I finally did. A string of mishaps, coincidences and a sudden bout of bravery led me to book my flight to Paris without a map, itinerary or accommodation (until the very last minute) and very, very little money. I didn’t care.  The trip was a beautiful experience, especially because I knew I deserved it.

Why, you ask me?

Let’s say I was part of a business partnership for a few years that I invested all my time, energy and money into. And let’s say that I woke up one day to find that my business partner had frozen my assets, sold my share of the company and left me penniless and stranded in a foreign country with not even a ticket home.

Fast-forward one year later, and I’d worked my shapely butt off to pay off my debts, and when I sold the only remaining asset I’d managed to hang on to, I did exactly what the logical, sensible me wouldn’t have done- and I bought myself a trip to Paris. After all, I earned it.

Every dream, every musical fantasy I’d had about Paris was true.  The city lights do shimmer, the cobblestone paths do wind, and there are buskers on street corners playing Aznavour classics at sunset. The people do roll their eyes and say ‘Ohlalaaa’ as if they’re having an eyegasm, or ‘Coocoo!’ affectionately instead of Hello when they enter a friend’s home. Charming, witty and extremely Mediterranean, they roll their words off their tongue in such an effortless, musical rhythm; that even ‘Pardon me, where’s the train station?’ sounds like the sexiest thing I’ve ever heard. Drool. Pick. Jaw. Off. Pavement.

And yes, the Parisians can be rude, but they’re rude in general about everything; so it’s nothing personal. They’re as grouchy and aggressive as the average Egyptian taxi driver. All you need is a bright smile, a little skin and a flutter of ze eyelids; and they move swiftly from C’est Quoi Ca? to Mais Oui, ma Cherie!

And the food. Don’t get me started on the food. Parisian portions are small but unbelievably tasty; so good that even a random brasserie in the middle of nowhere can serve up a Croque Madam or crepe or a macaroon that’s so delectable; you may lose the will to cook every again. I know I did.

And I don’t care how cheesy or touristy the Eiffel Tower is; seeing it at night made the seven-year-old in me finally happy, and all the mishaps and misdirections over the past few years seemed worth the journey. Maybe my love for Paris all these years has been more of an idyllic dream that kept me going; knowing that one day I’d have my baguette in one hand and my bike in the other as I rode alongside the quai de la rapée at night.

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The Question of Courage

If you know me well enough, then you know that I don’t take risks. I’m not exactly the brave, daredevil, bungee-jumping type of girl. I’m afraid of heights and flying- which is quite unfortunate, considering I love traveling. Thankfully I’ve come a long way since the summer of 2002, when I literally cried all the way from Cairo to London. The fact that I was howling and reading my Koran at the same time didn’t go down too well with the elderly British couple next to me.

I don’t eat exotic foods (if I can squish it with a flyswatter or make a leather handbag out of it, I’m not eating it), and I don’t dabble in recreational drugs, though I do have a worrying weakness for painkillers and cough syrup (ask me about Toplexil later), and several eyewitnesses can probably testify that they have pretty much the same effect on me as mind-altering substances.

I used to fear cockroaches, especially the flying ones, but if you’re in a family where two out of three will climb on a chair and scream at the cockroach below, someone has to step down and kill it with a slipper. That someone is usually me.

Nonetheless, it’s dawned on me lately that I’ve never been the one to shave my head, get a tattoo, jump off a cliff or dive into the deep unknown (I’m claustrophobic under water, so I don’t scuba dive). If anything, I’ve always been the kind of girl that plays it safe in a boring dependable way, which is sad when you look at my family.

In his youth, my father had quite the reputation for meeting confrontations head on. It’s not that he picked fights; it’s just that his large-as-a-cupboard frame, crushing handshake and could-make-DeNiro-cry glare tended to attract fights to him. Friends would call him for help whenever a fight was going on, and usually he would win. I’m sure he must have lost at least once or twice, but I have yet to meet anyone alive who will attest to that…. My dad’s friends love to tell me stories about him, while he sits blushing slightly, like the one about him playing a volleyball match and disagreeing with the referee, whereupon he slapped the referee so hard that the man went deaf in one ear (myth). Or the one where he got into a fight with a driver on Stanly Corniche, so to make a point he picked up the front of the driver’s car and dragged it for a bit (I’m sure this is a myth; I don’t care if two of his friends swear this happened). My dad had guts; he would literally dive into the deep end and save drowning swimmers from the deceptively strong tides of Agami. Sometimes, he would bring them back alive and other times he wouldn’t; but he had the guts to keep going back.

When she graduated from university, my mother took on a teaching job that took her to different parts of the world every year, from Prague to Belize to Egypt, all on her own with her family left behind. Growing up in a society where it’s completely normally to live with your family till you marry, my mother’s spontaneous adventures through Europe (driving to Greece with a friend in a beaten up car) or her Greyhound journey from the Grand Canyon to New York City with only $40 in her pocket is an adventure that most Egyptians will only dream of or watch in a Julia Roberts movie.

With parents like these, you’d expect me to be a tobacco-chewing, sailor-swearing hippy traveler, and yet I literally hide from confrontations and when I travel, I have an itinerary, budget and every meal, sight and expedition planned down to a T; so that absolutely nothing can go wrong. I am, as one friend called it, ‘an obsessively neat traveler.’

But now that I think about, maybe risks can be taken in different ways. Maybe I’ve never done anything reckless, crazy or highly adventurous before; but I do have courage (surviving breakup, moving across the world, independent woman of substance, blablabla.)

So now, I’m about to embark on a little adventure of my own. A trip to Barcelona and Paris, alone, unplanned, unmapped. Buy a camera, take photos, taste their tapas and cavas by the beach. Sit in La Segrada Familia in silence and sunbathe in the Gaudi Park. Finally make it to Paris; a dream I’ve had ever since I was twelve and watched An American in Paris. Tie a scarf around my neck like Syd Cherisse and sip café au lait by the Rive Gauche. Flirt and cuss in four languages. See the Tour Eiffel at night and walk through Montmartre.

It may be your average vacation, and you may have already been and done that several times before. But to be out of my comfort zone, without my friends, family, maps and itineraries to depend on, takes a lot of guts on my behalf. Perhaps adventures don’t happen to you if you sit around and wait all day. You make your adventures; and I am making mine.

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