Back in California: Where is My Life Going?

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I feel like I have more headspace while in sunny SoCal. The 10-hour time difference gives me enough quiet minutes to get my to-do list in order while dadboss is snoring in another hemisphere. I don’t have many friends left here so there are less temptations and I’m not a tourist so there’s no major itinerary to follow besides work-related supplier visits. Books and sunshine are my main distractions. However, having so many tete-a-tetes with your own tete makes the content all the more daunting. This self-reflection, this attempt to answer the everlasting question of should I stay or should I go, this search for the cure of stunted adulthood – it can be overwhelming when you’re one year away from that 4-year reevaluation that just so happens to fall on my 30th year of life.

I love being here and it’s not just for the donuts. I love that my thoughts have room to expand like a soap bubble and pop when they’re done. There is no annoying toddler in the form of Lebanese inconveniences coming in to poke the bubble forcing its premature death. To be fair, that may have more to do with the distance from daily life than it does with the California weather and temperament.

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Am I the only one that thinks, okay, I’ll figure this all out when I’m away for a few weeks? As if being detached from your own reality will give you clarity to work out the kinks in your life plan. You look back at home and think, is this where you want to be/are you maximizing your potential/are you meeting the right person/is this it for me/are you okay with it if it is? It would be wonderful if the answers to those questions came in black & white but it feels like gray comes in more than 50 shades. I’m sorry I used that. Won’t happen again.

When I’m away, Beirut is on my mind and when I’m home, I’m looking abroad. Not in the grass-is-greener way but in the am-I-settling way. Being young and untethered, restless and ambitious, hungry and responsible. All these adjectives lead to one: conflicted.

“Small goals.” After a talk with a friend in London who recently had a break from life to figure out life, he said it. Small goals will take some of the pressure off. Baby steps toward moving forward on a personal level so you feel that even if you’re not on the express train, you’re still not stagnant.

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And it’s about the little things. Reading in the backyard. Getting just the right amount of milk in your coffee. Finding that Yeezus shirt on Amazon. Tacos & dancing nights with your homies. Maybe the future needs to stay in the future since we all don’t know what’s ahead, how to get there, or even where we need to go. Or maybe I’m still jet lagged and a reflection session will hit me in the afternoon. At this point, all I can hope for is another good coffee and a good book to go with it.

El-Tanein Diet Week #33, #34, and #35

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This post comprises weeks where I was in Beirut & LA. It includes more burgers than runs and workouts but I promised to report. It’ll be short post, despite being a 3-week compilation, because I’m jet lagged.


Workout Tally

– (3) 5 km runs

Outdoor Activity

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2/3 of my runs these weeks were outdoor runs around Californian suburbia. The contrast between the greenery of the residential areas in California and the outdoor runs of Beirut’s concrete jungle. The dose of green makes the time outdoors so soothing even though you’re a sweaty mess. I should give Horsh Beirut a try on a sunny Saturday soon.

Nike+ App

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Best Meal(s) of the Week(s)

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I had some great meals in Las Vegas which I’ll be posting about separately in the next few days but In-n-Out wins for ETD across the board. I consider it an achievement that I only hit it twice in 19 days.

Other Highlights

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Charity Miles: This app allows you to run miles that correspond to donations for multiple charities. I haven’t tried using it in Lebanon yet but that’ll be a test for week #36.

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The Broad Museum: Pronounced like “brode,” the Broad is a new contemporary art museum in downtown LA located between the Disney Concert Hall and the MOCA. Its entrance is free but you can pre-book tickets to skip the line. It’s currently got Yayoi’s Infinity Room as a special exhibit which I skipped. I didn’t want to wait in line for another hour to get a selfie that everyone has. Yes, I regret it.

Good Impressions of Beirut: I was networking at some work events and was pleasantly surprised to find that a lot of Americans had been to Beirut (and other parts of Lebanon). I’d been so used to meeting people who didn’t know it was a capital in the Middle East so this was refreshing to see. Even with those who had had their hearts broken by Lebanese folk, there were good memories associated with our little country. The worst part was that a follow-up question to “do you like living there?” tended to be, “so how’s the garbage thing going?” Sigh.

Workout Track of the Week(s)

Tell JK that I’m still rooooollin. That beat tho.

Cheese of the Week(s)

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Brie & mushroom sourdough burger at Mimi’s Cafe was my last meal in ‘Murica. Worth it.

Big Questions in Brooklyn

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Being in New York City can make you feel small. And when you’re arriving from a dot on the map, it can make you feel like a speck of dust in a sandstorm. It was the first time that I stopped to think, not only about all that has happened to me in the last few years, but also where I may be heading in the ones to come. Turns out, I didn’t want to wait another 3 years to reevaluate – by then, it would be too late.

Spending a week in NYC was more of an investigative trip. I wanted to see if it could be a new frontier, the next step that would shove me out of my comfort zone and teach me more about who I am. The more I thought this way, the more I felt like a high school senior in need of a gap year, a lost guppy who wanted to find herself or was on some journey of self-discovery, a walking millennial cliche. Basically, I felt like a spoiled brat because I wanted more when I was and am already quite fortunate.

Honestly, only those who are blessed enough to have options at their fingertips have the luxury to think this way. When you are tied down with responsibilities and bills to pay, the path in front of you has limitations. But when you’re not surrounded by commitments that dictate your decisions, you only have you to answer to. The possibilities are overwhelming and have never been more daunting. It brings on inner monologues and sidewalk soliloquies that have your brain pondering things like What am I really doing? Why am I restless after 3 years at the region’s best agency? Am I satisfied with where my life is now? And if not, why am I wasting time being stuck? But where do I go?

If I were to move to NYC, or move anywhere that wasn’t my dear Lebanon, would I survive it? Am I as strong as I think I am? Like many people who were strolling the streets of Brooklyn, I found that I was having discussions with myself out loud; I was asking the big questions that come with being in a big city. Am I doing everything in my power to make sure the life I want will come to be? What is the life I want?

My closest friends are all abroad and the days are numbered when it comes to those who are still here. Most of my phone contacts have country acronyms next to their names because they’re abroad trying to make something of themselves. Am I selling myself short by staying behind? Is there more for me out there? In a country that can be so much but give so little, I am finding it increasingly difficult to pass up opportunities that would empower me as a young professional, experiences that would equip me with new skills, and chances that would expose me to hidden facets of myself I have yet to know. Can Lebanon give me that? Am I still betraying my country if I want more for myself? If I stay but don’t move forward, who am I really helping? In the end, wasted potential serves no one.

I’m grateful I don’t have parents that poke and prod about when I’m going to walk down the aisle or make them grandparents. Instead they entertain the same questions that I struggle with. My dad recently asked me if I ever give any thought to where my personal life is at. I think he worries that he instilled in me such a spirit of ambition that my careerist ways have backfired. Regardless of whether it shows or not, I do think about it. Even more now that I have entered Wedding Territory. For the next 5-7 years of my life, I will have, on average, 3 engagements/weddings to attend annually. Not out of desperation, lack of self-esteem, or fear of becoming a cat lady, but this brings on big questions as well: Will I find that person? Would I notice them if I did? Have we already met? What am I missing? and then the worst one of all: Is something wrong with me? 

If I were to move to NYC, or any other city that disconnects me from the world I’ve known for so long, would I become more guarded than I already am? Would I be so good at surviving that I become too strong? Would I be lonely? Will I miss out on special milestones for the sake of my own selfish drive? Does going solo really matter if it means you’re sacrificing moments with the ones you care about the most? If I leave, dad won’t be around to make Spanish omelettes with Kalamata olives on Sunday mornings. If I stay, I’ll never make them for myself. There’s always a fine line when trying to decide what’s best for you. In the Arab world, sometimes you have to cut the cord yourself.

I resigned from my job before boarding my flight to the States. A week after landing, as I stood on the edge of East River Park looking at the Manhattan skyline on my last morning in Brooklyn, a small voice asked, will Beirut be okay without me?

I know I want to find out.

Mistakes Made in NYC

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    • Buy a SIM card from a vending machine in JFK. T-Mobile, why no stand at the airport? How are there no telecom providers there? What’s a payphone?
    • Pay for individual metro rides. Get the unlimited 7-day card for $32 and take all the wrong trains you want, no penalties for being a semi-tourist except lost time.
    • Fail to invent an app that tells you where there are clean public bathrooms and charging stations. Every traveler’s two worst enemies are iPhone batteries and bladders. With that said, thank you Starbucks for your $7 blattery break. Get the powerbank from all those techie shops in Duty Free.
    • Assume that Airbnb hosts will have towels available because it’s basically like a hotel with a stove, right? Go buy $5 bath towels from a dollar shop around the corner. Proceed to have pink fuzz everywhere after every shower. It’s been 3 days since I returned and I still feel like a molting Furby.
    • Allow eternally lost friend to navigate. Instead of ending up at Century 21, the discount hotspot by the Empire Hotel, you end up near a Century 21 real estate office in Soho.
    • Attend Sleep No More while suffering from respiratory allergies. Although one of the most intriguing experiences and my first at interactive theatre, running up and down staircases through creepy sets with a mask on when you can’t breathe is a whole new level of nightmare. Note to self: bring tissue and a snorkel next time.
    • Eat breakfast before going to Smorgasburg. That’s just wasted space. Especially when you’re going to be stocking up on 18-hr cooked bbq beef burgers, ramen burgers, nutella banana wontons, and truffle fries. And maple lemonade. And cheese curds. And Pepto-Bismol.
    • Eat everything and justify it by saying “well, you ARE walking a lot here.” You are not Forrest Gumping through the Meatpacking District, you’re packing meat through all the districts. No, I don’t mean like that, perv.
    • Wait too long for a table at Spotted Pig in Greenwich without taking photos of the movie-set neighborhood streets because, if you walk away, you might miss Kanye walking in. Forget to ask for your burger without Roquefort cheese because you’re so hungry you didn’t even read the menu, you just said “burger, medium well” and started counting pig statues. Miss the train back to Brooklyn for the Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory Tour. Go home to slip into food coma.
    • Wear the right shoes with the wrong socks and bleed on your Nikes. Use this as a completely illogical excuse to buy a new pair and go to Lady Foot Locker when you know sneakers are your Louboutins. If you find yourself agreeing with the saleslady when she says, “you can never have too many Nikes,” you need to get out. ABORT MISSION.
    • After realizing you are part of the first two cult followings of America (Starbucks and Apple), contemplate joining the 3rd: Abercrombie & Fitch. Realize you don’t like smelling like a junior prom queen or lining up to use a flashlight to shop for hoodies. I can do both by rummaging through my own garage.
    • Pass up on a bottle of chili oil honey from Roberta’s because you got take-out since there was a wait of an hour and fifteen minutes and you didn’t want to buy it before trying the Beesting Pizza. You thought something called “chili honey oil” could actually taste bad. Fool.
    • Leave ribs on your plate at Hillstone because you’re full. You could’ve taken 4 more, weakling.
    • Going to Fuerza Bruta after ingesting half of NYC. I am a slug in human form.
    • Only spending 10 minutes at Grand Central Station and 30 in Dumbo. What are you even doing underground on the subway where you see nothing but people using the earphone protective forcefield? Swim to Brooklyn.
    • Wait for someone to ask where you’re from. Walk around with “I’m from Beirut” written on your face because people will either think you’re:
      a) a good businessperson
      b) friendly unlike the “dry Americans” and give you hugs goodbye
      c) from a place they’ve never heard of and, thus, you are exotic or a terrorist
      d) just sooo gorgeous.Upon revealing my nationality, an Ivory Coast cabbie immediately felt a connection because our countries were both occupied by the French, a Yugoslavian mother told me her life story within 12 minutes of meeting, a Turkish shop owner gave me free postcards & stickers, and a Puerto Rican gay man named Carlos said I was the Regina George of New York. WIN.
    • Send a picture of your vegan doughnut to your vegan sister. Have her jealous vibes send your cappuccino flying into your lap. Plus side is smelling like doughnut glaze all day.
    • Introduce yourself using Arabic pronunciation. Adopt “Vera” as your new name since that’s what they hear anyway.
    • Constantly move. Johnathan from HONY can’t take your picture if you don’t stand still and look pensive. I had my speech ready and everything. I even bought a hipster hat from a Brooklyn flea market.
    • Be flattered by people thinking you’re a New Yorker but then have an existential crisis about whether you are meant to be one or not. Chuckle and think, “Please. Carlos is right. I got this,” and get on the 6 humming JLo.
    • Use the excuse “I’m cold” to eat warm breakfasts like bagels, waffles, and muffins. Blueberry flavor and topped with fresh fruit because, ya know, it’s healthy. Having an everything bagel will teach you that frozen Sara Lee bagels tossed in a toaster aren’t bagels, they’re carbohydrate lies. Thank God that the cold also means your clothing layers will hide your gluttony until you go on a kale-only diet for 6 months upon return to the labneh motherland.
  • Miss labneh.

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.

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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.

LOS ANGELES

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)

CLEVELAND

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.

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NYC: 3 Meals in 30 Hours

1. GRIMALDI’S, UNDER THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE

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.

2. MAX BRENNER CHOCOLATE BAR, UNION SQUARE

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.

3. MAS (LA GRILLADE), GREENWICH VILLAGE

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.