How Laguna Beach Deals with Panhandling

Some parking meters in Laguna Beach have been repurposed in order to avoid panhandlers. Making them colorful little pieces of art scattered around the artsy town, each meter has a plaque explaining that inserted coins will be collected and used toward efforts to aid the homeless. Assuming that these efforts have been effective, I believe this is a good controlled way (regardless of how minimal it may be) to help those in need with your loose change. Although most of us need coins for the actual parking meters since there are no change machines set up, maybe we could implement something similar in the future here in Lebanon.








Observing Space & Time

This post is dedicated to two observatories in the US of A: the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California and the abandoned Warner & Swasey Observatory in Cleveland, Ohio. I encourage you to actually click on the “Click to Enlarge” pics below.


Walking up to the Griffith Observatory

Walking up to the Griffith Observatory

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Atop a hill overlooking Hollywood within Griffith Park is the Griffith Observatory. The land surrounding the observatory was donated to Los Angeles by Colonel Griffith J. Griffith in 1896. In his will, he also donated funds for an observatory, exhibit hall, and planetarium on the donated land. Griffith’s aim in this project was to allow astronomy to be open to the public instead of cut-off from the people by being on a solitary mountain exclusively for scientists. First, the Observatory is beautiful just as an Art Deco structure on its own. An obelisk-like sculpture celebrating historical astronomers in the center of a grassy lawn that leads up to the Observatory doors, which are also beautiful. The grounds have the solar system engraved in the floors. Second, as soon as you go through the doors, there’s the Foucault pendulum hanging from a ceiling mural of Atlas and other mythical characters. Both the left and right wings have exhibitions on space exploration and discoveries in physics and astronomy. The view from the opposite side is almost a 180 of Los Angeles. Since it was featured in Rebel Without a Cause, there’s a James Dean bust near the Hollywood-sign lookout spot. The Observatory would be the ideal date spot at sunset if you’re into spacey nerdy stuff. And sunsets. Plus it’s free entrance since 1935.

The orbits of each planet run across the floor of the grounds

The orbits of each planet run across the floor of the grounds

At the foot of the entrance stairs

At the foot of the entrance stairs

View from the other side

The view (click to enlarge)


The Abandoned Warner & Swasey Observatory

The Abandoned Warner & Swasey Observatory

Warner & Swasey Company used to be manufacturers of machinery, including telescopes and precision instruments. The partners, Worcester Reed Warner and Ambrose Swasey, opened a machine shop in Cleveland in 1881. According to Case’s Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, “With the advent of the sewing machine, bicycle, and automobile industries, the firm began to focus on producing turret lathes.” Turret lathes are machines that make tools and interchangeable parts. W&S donated their private astronomical observatory to Case School of Applied Science (now part of Case Western Reserve University) in 1920. It expanded and grew to be the Warner & Swasey Observatory housing another telescope, a second dome, a library, and a lecture hall.

Located in East Cleveland, eventually with time, the facility was no longer viable because more light pollution (suburban sources of artificial light that brighten the night sky). It operated for 60 years but was sold sometime in the early 80s. The telescopes were relocated to other facilities and the W&S Observatory was “left abandoned, as a host to decay until some time in 2005 when it was bought by a couple to be converted into a residence. These plans were put to a halt when the new owner was convicted of mortgage fraud and sent to prison in 2007 but other sources say this had connections with a drug dealer.” The name of the fraudulent real-estate broker? Nayyir Al Mahdi of Shaker Heights. Sounds Middle Eastern. SCANDALOUS. Check out some pictures of the interior and read more on the closing here. The irony of such a place: a home to telescopes looking into space is now a decaying shell. I have never wanted to commit a B&E so badly in my life.







NYC: 3 Meals in 30 Hours


Grimaldi's, from across the street (click to see the line of people)

Grimaldi’s, from across the street (click to check out the line)

By Gracia El Ayle

Men at work (taken by Gracia El Ayle)

Grimaldi's pepperoni mushroom pizza

Grimaldi’s pepperoni mushroom pizza

Before heading to NYC, I looked up some places that were “musts” for a New York visitor. Grimaldi’s was listed as “the best pizza in NY” and I figured, if we ended up in Brooklyn and it wasn’t too far off, we could give it a try. I’m usually quite skeptical of places that have such titles on travel sites. After all, how many places have lines around the block and a lot of hype but end up to be flavorless disappointments? An hour into our NYC weekend, we’re roaming around Brooklyn with our luggage on our backs. Google maps led us to an old white building right under the Brooklyn Bridge, across from a red-bricked Eagle Warehouse & Storage Co. Although the line looks intimidating, it moves pretty quick. We waited for about 20 minutes and YES, it’s worth it. Each pizza is made on the spot and tossed into the coal-brick oven. You can choose all your toppings, with or without tomato sauce (white). A favorite is pepperoni mushroom with sauce. It’s Italian style (not Chicago deep-dish) and the dough is just right: it’s not too thin, soggy, or hard cardboard and there’s just enough oil to feel like you’re having pizza without needing to go TSA on it with a napkin. The portion sizes are also quite fair. Be warned: cash only, no delivery, no reservations, and they don’t serve by the slice. Whole pizzas only. If you don’t finish it, DOGGY BAG IT.


Max Brenner's, from behind the bar

Max Brenner’s, from behind the bar

The bar

The bar

The burger

The burger

We got to this place around 11:00pm with no reservations. Big mistake. You’d think that people would be done feasting by then but we had to wait a good 45 minutes before being seated upstairs. It wasn’t so bad though because that gave us time to inspect all the chocolate boxes at the entrance. The entire place smells like you’re sitting in Willy Wonka’s factory. Although it’s a chocolate bar, we hadn’t eaten since Grimaldi’s so it was time for the pizza’s evil cousin: a fat burger. Medium well meat with a ginormous onion ring & criss-cut fries on the side. One friend got banana chocolate waffles while the other got a Philly cheese steak sandwich…in waffles. Recommended chocolate to take home: milk chocolate covered pralines dusted in cocoa powder available in a cardboard giftbox or collectible tin. There’s also mini boxes by the register next to the chocolate-scented pencils. Yes, I’m serious.


The pastries, strawberry jam, and sea salt butter (taken by May Chaker)

The pastries, strawberry jam, and sea salt butter (taken by May Chaker)

The burger

The burger

The last NYC meal was at this little French spot in Greenwich. We got there for a $28 set-menu late Sunday brunch so we had the place to ourselves before the kitchen closed. The menu changes depending on chef Galen Zamarra and available ingredients – which are locally grown. Our server was a super-friendly perky lady who was ready to explain each entree. Although she described everything as “delectable,” I don’t think she was exaggerating because regardless of the entree chosen, we were all making happy noises throughout the entire meal. Excellent fresh-squeezed OJ helped with the washing down of a whole platter of pastries (vanilla scones, blueberry muffins, croissants, and mini baguettes) with strawberry jam and sea-salt butter. We were not prepared for the hoovering of the “Grilled Short Rib Burger with Herb Mayonnaise on House-Made Kaiser Roll” but we pulled through. My oh my, that little mushroom shaped bun of meat. I was full until the next morning.

Welcome Home?


After spending a few weeks in the States, my flight back to the Middle East snuck up on me. Upon arrival to my front door, the electricity cut, my friends were messaging about the Lebanese Army kidnappings, and I watched some videos and read some stats about unemployment & driving accidents in Lebanon. Did I mention we still have no president? At the moment, I’m spending my evening listening to Mashrou3 Leila and Wanton Bishops (a Beirut playlist I had made for my American family to listen to while there) and I feel like I never left. I feel at home instantly. It’s as if I hit the pause button here and went to another planet for 3 weeks. Maybe in my bubble it feels that way except it’s not true when you take a step back: the region has gotten worse. Gaza, Mosul, Syria, even our own Arsal. I want to write posts about my time in the US, new developments in the tech world, and perhaps even a post teasing Lebanese travelers and yet…

it all feels trivial and unfair when I see what’s going on around me. Thinking about all the negatives, especially when you feel powerless, is overwhelming. In the sea of news, I wouldn’t mind finding a lighter blogpost that doesn’t address such things just to escape all of the turmoil. It’s not about turning a blind eye and ignoring reality, it’s just giving yourself a breather.

Right now, I don’t feel up to writing one of those posts. Maybe it’s the perspective of leaving and coming back. Maybe it’s the jetlag. Maybe tomorrow will be the day I can’t stop typing about how much I missed this chaotic little place. But that’s not happening tonight.