The 3-Month Itch

I’m off again after 3 months of being back and I’m THRILLED to be hopping onto a plane. The appalling images of the garbage trails have been flooding my channels. I walked through RHIA’s departure floor last August thinking that it would be solved by the time I returned but here we are, 6 months later, with the same shitfest.

Before my latest flight to CDG, I had lunch with my laptop at Cafe Younes in Hamra, an old hideout of mine during my second-round-of-undergrad-days. Maybe it was a move to remind me of when I felt like there was a lot of possibility ahead. A refresher of those vibes before I bask in West Coast living and become removed from the headache that is the Levant and its neighbors’ temper tantrums.

We try to grow our businesses, we fill our calendars, we pour more hard-earned cash into something we hope will be a sustainable source of income and/or purpose. We try.

Or we leave for some fresh air so we can keep doing the above with some sanity when we come back like the labrador that returns to an abusive owner only to be kicked in the face again. I can’t help but ask: what makes us come back?

Oh Lebanon, I may love you too much for my own good but even love grows tired when one side’s fighting the battle alone. Here’s to hoping some of this garbage gets sorted out before my return. And I don’t just mean the trash.

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Interning with Tarek Atrissi | The Art & Science of Arabic in Barcelona

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Courtesy of Death to Stock Photo

It’s been exactly 3 months since I left Barcelona where I spent another 3 months interning for Tarek Atrissi, a Lebanese graphic designer who runs his own design studio out of the Catalonian city after relocating from the colder Hilversum, the Netherlands.

I’ve written a lot about what I did to prepare for this trip and what I learned on a personal level while there but I thought it would be helpful to see what I got out of this trip from a professional standpoint as a designer from and working in the Arab world. The environment of Barcelona seemed like an unconventional backdrop for learning about Arabic type & script but it made one thing more evident: capable designers with a background in Arabic design are needed, regardless of location.

Lesson 1: The Difference between Arabic Typography, Lettering, and Calligraphy

As an introduction, Tarek walked me through a breakdown of different uses of the Arabic language in design. Typography refers to creating typefaces or designing a print layout using Arabic text. Lettering is when Arabic letters or words are built by drawing them out piece by piece. The focus would be on one element as an artistic composition or unit instead of an entire alphabet or page of text. Calligraphy is an old artform that takes years to reach the pro level. If there’s no time to learn the trade, this is usually outsourced if you want it done right.

Lesson 2: Making Arabic Versions of Logos

A skill highly underrated and glossed over when it comes to designing Latin logos is the ability to adapt them to Arabic while retaining their aesthetic and iconic attributes. A visit to Dubai will tell you how poor adaptations of your non-Arabic logo can hurt your brand’s image. It is hard enough to do from the start of a project but even more challenging when it comes after the logo is already in use and plastered all over the world. Icons or graphic elements become gimmicks or are forced into the Arabic script. Creating an Arabic version of a non-Arabic logo takes practice and understanding of both languages; not only how they are similar but how their differences will affect the visual outcome. Arabic differs from a lot of commonly used languages in many ways; two main concerns being that 1) the letters are connected (at times) and don’t align with non-Arabic glyphs because they adhere to different guidelines and have fluctuating proportions and 2) it’s read from right to left.

 

Lesson 3: Looking at Arabic Glyphs like Shapes, not Letters

During my GD undergrad years, a calligrapher who was giving us a workshop had told me that people who don’t know Arabic tend to be less constricted when sketching forms because they look at the letters like shapes. They have no linguistic knowledge of what the aleph is; it’s just a long line. I was reminded of this when drawing up endless versions of Arabic glyphs. When lettering, you have to let go of what you know of the defined structure of each letter – to a certain extent – in order to let your hand freely take over.

Lesson 4: The Importance of Arabic as a Language in Design

Coming from an advertising background, I rarely had the chance to dabble in typographic design, much less anything in Arabic since I worked on international accounts. Working on fonts and logotypes in Arabic made me realize how neglected it is as a skill in our part of the world. Sure, most Arab designers can read and write in Arabic but can they design in it? Do we have the understanding of it as a language to tackle it the way an Arab national should? This should be our added bonus as designers from the region: we should know how to work with our own language with respect – in a way that does it justice as a beautiful form of communication.

Lesson 5: Give More, Keep Less

What was surprising about Tarek was that he was so willing to give and teach. It is rare to find a successful professional who is open to mentoring you as a designer, in skill but also in thought-process. Tarek was never condescending in his approach when it came to finding solutions and he gave me the confidence I lacked when it came to discovering my strengths as a designer. He was leading by example and a true team player. He taught me to be open with what I know and even with what I don’t. And by constantly sharing and exchanging, there was a flow of stories and experience that brought fresh energy to the office each day.

You can learn more, the more you give away.

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A big thanks to Tarek and everyone at TAD.
See you guys soon!

El-Tanein Diet Week #32

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Main in Laguna Beach, California (July 2014)

I’ll be heading to Los Angeles for a couple of weeks mid-week #33 so next week’s post will be all about In-n-Out and sunshine. And a weekend in Vegas. It’s so easy to give up your workouts when away from home but, as I learned in pedestrian-friendly Barcelona, you’ve got to think of exercise as part of your everyday routine. Wash face, brush teeth, move your butt. I’m going to be hiking and running around the neighborhood while there so that I can keep up with NRC while away. I don’t want all the progress I’ve made to dissipate because of some animal-style fries. If anything, I’ll run FOR them.

Workout Tally

– (1) 6.45 km run
– (2) 30 min treadmill

Outdoor Activity

I’ll admit that this was one of my poor weeks given the momentum I’ve had this last month. I’ll also admit that I hit a low point.

For the past few years, I’ve conditioned myself to equate my happiness with my professional productivity. The more I’m stimulating my brain, the happier I am. A self-aware workaholic, I have not only been trying to trim the fat at the gym but in all aspects of my life as well. Reassessing where my brain cells are being used is a tiring task in itself.

…and so I crashed this weekend. My mind and body gave up and I couldn’t work or work out. Instead of heading to a cardio class or running off the frustration, I curled up with a book and let myself decompress. Sometimes, you need to break away and hibernate. I’m going to accept this and push forward. This next week, I’ll be better for it.

Nike+ App

 

Best Meal of the Week


Once again, dinner at Studio Beirut.

Other Highlights

250km Green Level: I’ve reached green on the Nike+ Running app! Sure, it only took two years of intermittent running but, with NRC, I should reach the next level much quicker.

NTC every Wednesday: Nike recently launched Nike Training Club sessions at U Energy gym in Downtown Beirut. They’re every Wednesday evening at 7pm and they’re free. All you’ve gotta do is book a spot a day in advance via phone/whatsapp. I haven’t had a chance to go yet but I’ll be checking it out once I’m back in town.


Sursock Museum with Mom: I promised mom a lunch at the swanky museum after we perused the halls of the old Sursock residence. It’s beautifully renovated; the historical architecture mixes nicely with sleek, minimal accents. The cafe is a bit too posh (and overpriced) for my taste but they had burrata so I was happy.

Workout Track of the Week

The track but with Elmo’s moves. From now on, you will never be able to listen to this song and not see him shake his groove thang.

Cheese of the Week

I ran out of brie last night. What would Kanye do?

Nike+ Run Club: Byblos was our Valentine

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Taken by Ali Itani

As readers of El-Tanein Diet know, the Nike+ Run Club (NRC) runs twice a week from the Nike store in Beirut Souks every Tuesday and Thursday evening. However, what is not advertised on their flyers is the NRC-organized fun runs on weekends. I stress on the words “fun run” because the main point behind this group is to run for the sake of running, not for medals or podiums.

Leading the pack in this group of awesome folk is Mark Jibran, the NRC coach and all-around positive force of nature. Having a good coach should not be underestimated when it comes to sticking to a fitness regimen. If one’s trainer pushes too hard or doesn’t know how to motivate effectively, then they have failed as a trainer. What seems to fall through the cracks when finding a personal trainer or fitness advisor is not the reps or preferred activities used to get one in shape, but the personal approach they have while one is undergoing training.

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Mark Jibran, NRC Coach – Taken by Ali Itani

And that is where Nike hit the jackpot with Mark. He knows how to deal with people and he knows how to push without making you want to throw spiky pineapples at him so he’d back off.

For each coach, there is a pacer: Mohamad Marhamo. With M&M, the NRC is guided by two smiling and seasoned runners. We are pushed to keep running at our own best pace or, at the very least, to keep running. We are told how to stretch, how to stay hydrated, and how to exercise correctly. And if that wasn’t enough to convince you that they know what they’re doing, both are members of De-Feet Runners, a group of ultra-marathoners who run marathons back-to-back for 6 consecutive days to raise funds for charity.

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Mohamad Marhamo, NRC Pacer – Taken by Ali Itani

Running with these two on the Beirut corniche will show you that this group truly does run BEY. Be it at 6am or 6pm, fellow runners all over the path call out a happy hello to M&M because they are deep-rooted members of this athletic community that is alive in our city. While the rest of us sleep in, these guys are out there enjoying the sunrise and serene calm that you rarely associate with our chaotic capital. By being part of this group and going for runs at the crack of dawn, I got to witness this spirit and, dare I say, be part of it even if just for a few instances.

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For Valentine’s Day, we decided to take on the cultural port city of Byblos (Jbeil) for an early morning 10km run through the old souk and asphalt road to Amchit. On the bus there, while still trying to figure out how and why I was on my way to run on the morning of my 28th birthday, I was also debating how many kilometers I would actually do. The warm-up was set at 2km so that was the minimum but where would I stop? I’d done 10km in the Beirut Marathon but that question popped up, like it does before every NRC meetup, do I feel like it today?

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At every kilometer, my mind would ask, “are you ready to turn around?” But as I neared the halfway point where M&M were waiting with water, I had other NRC members making their way back and cheering me on. So I thought, “yalla, another kilometer and then you’ll stop.” And that’s how it went on until I did the entire 10. I did it thanks to their cheerleading combined with my mind not wanting my body to succumb to being closer to the age of 30. HA.

I was never a runner. Hell, I still don’t think I can call myself one. But maybe, in the future, with the help of NRC, I will be.

El-Tanein Diet Week #30 and #31

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tuna baked in bell peppers

Last two weeks have been more about adjusting my diet and cooking thanks to my #TakeOutTakeout challenge attempt. Grocery shopping and home-cooked meals has me experimenting with spices and sauces. Truffle oil tastes good on anything.

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white truffle oil spinach and ricotta tortellini

Besides that, getting to the gym has been a bit more challenging since work hours have been on the heavy side and I’ve been giving my feet some resting time between runs so my arches can heal – runner’s blisters are a real thing. Lots of Epsom salt baths and moisturizing to be done to keep the I-can’t-run excuses away.

I want to try a few classes at my new gym to mix things up a bit. Machines can be so dull sometimes.

Workout Tally

– (3) 6-7 km runs
– (2) 30 min elliptical
– (1) 10 km run

Outdoor Activity

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The NRC organized a 10km run at 7 am in Jbeil on Valentine’s Day. I’ll be writing more about that in detail in a separate post. Being that love day is my birthday, it was my personal battle to prove I was not going to sleep in and get old. Mission accomplished!

Nike+ App

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Best Meal of the Week(s)

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Birthday dinner at Meat the Fish with my people. Duck tacos, lobster mac & cheese, and pomegranate prosecco. And then a homemade cake from my second mommy and Magnolia cupcakes from my first. Happy 28th indeed!

Other Highlights

Improved Breathing: A few months of running combined with a ridiculous app called Plant Nanny has got me moving with steady breathing. The app reminds you to drink water by making you water a plant at the same time. No more gasping or pangs in my side which makes a huge difference when covering long distances. Last week was the first run I completed without stopping. Okay, I walked twice for 10 seconds each but still – it was 7km! Thanks to Arielle for sharing her story and the info about the app.

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Bananas are Your Friend: According to Shape Magazine, bananas are a great snack pre-workout. They’re packed with good sugars, potassium, vitamin C, and stimulate the production of dopamine. Read the article for more info.

Adidas Here to Create: The sportswear company has launched a new series that features athletes’ multifaceted life as creators. The spots feature athletes of all kinds from supermodel Karlie Kloss to DJ/model/entrepreneur Hannah Bronfman. It’s a smart way to show that fitness is a seamless part of your life rather than the reason for living. It also gives examples of how your fitness regime doesn’t have to be boring AF but it’s up to you to find what works for your lifestyle/personality.

Workout Track of the Week(s)

May not be a track for running sprints but Jagger works for a warm-up or getting mentally in the mood to tackle a workout. Or a Monday.

Cheese of the Week(s)

Because I don’t want to squeal over the baby brie packs I found and, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, here’s a little figurative cheese:

 

El-Tanein Diet Week #29

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After spending days ordering tabbouli and sandwiches to the office, I’ve decided that I’m going to attempt something similar to the #TakeOutTakeout challenge. I’m limiting the number of times I order takeout for lunch in hopes that I’ll save money & calories. Plus, I miss cooking.

My revision to the framework of this challenge would be that ordering one coffee or a gin & tonic when out with company will not count as one takeout stub, and I’m allowed one dinner out/week. Groceries and condiments shouldn’t be an issue; my house may not be made for visitors but it is made for being a Wesley’s Testing Ground for new snacks and American goodies. This could be good or bad, depending on what I indulge in. Without further ado, let’s reflect!

Workout Tally

– (1) 5 km run
– (1) 6.4 km run
– 1 gym session (machines + cardio)
– (2) 30 min elliptical

Outdoor Activity
   

The NRC crew had a friendly competitive race this Sunday where we were split into mixed teams (fast and slow runners thrown together). Waking up at dawn to run on a cold Sunday only sucks for the first few minutes when you need to get out of bed. After the run though, you feel strong and awake…until you pass out at 6pm.

Here’s the Feb schedule for NRC – it’s got stairs and hills. As my elementary school gym teacher would say, “FEEEEEEEEL IT IN YOUR GLUTEUS MAXIMUS.” We were 9.

Nike+ App

  

Best Meal of the Week

Dinner at Studio Beirut. I haven’t been photographing my food but trust me when I say this place has great mezza even though they removed the mezza bar. Gasp.

Order hummus Beiruti and the meat with cherries.

Other Highlights

Best 5K: I’m down 3 minutes from my last best 5K so I’m getting closer to my 35-min goal. It’s satisfying to see that but I’d like to maintain my 5K time, not just hit the 35min mark once. Everyone can have one good day but if you can have a consistent drop in time, that’s progress.

Absorbent Socks: Running with the right gear is not restricted to shoes and pants that don’t slide. If you don’t wear absorbent socks, your feet are prone to painful blisters and discomfort on your arches and soles. Make sure to have a couple of absorbent pairs for training so your feet stay dry during your workouts.

Upping the H2O intake: I still suck at this and, during a run, it always shows when you haven’t hydrated enough. I feel like this when I haven’t downed a couple of liters.

Workout Track of the Week

I need to stop liking Chris Brown. After I listen to this one more time.

Cheese of the Week

Check this out. Aren’t they marvelous?