Blog Archives

The Sónar Music (only) Recap

Oddly enough, I’m about to start this blog post about the oh-so-amazing Sónar music and multimedia art festival I just attended in Barcelona, Spain while listening to Beethoven’s Symphone No. 9.

My friend, Stefanie, has talked to me about Sónar for as long as I’ve known her. Stefanie and I are music addicts, junkies…whatever you want to call us; we love music! So, of course when we both found ourselves living in Europe in 2012 our Sónar talks became concrete plans. Lucky for me a random selection of friends from all over the world and different phases of my life all decided to flock to Sónar this year, too.

In short, Sónar was an unforgettable experience. In an attempt to preserve this amazing memory, here’s a list of favorite tracks from the 3 amazing Sónar days (list is in no particular order):

  • Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs: Trouble

  • John Talabot: So Will Be Now
  • Metronomy: The Bay
  • deadmau5: Ghosts’n’Stuff
  • Die Antwoord: I Fink U Freeky
  • Laurent Garnier ft. LBS: Jacques in the Box
  • When Saints Go Machine: Fail Forever
  • Maya Jane Coles: When They Say
  • Nina Kravitz: Ghetto
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Moving to Warsaw: A (Simple) Neighborhood Guide

Moving to any new place is always confusing. The choices of neighborhoods can be confusing and overwhelming. Add a language barrier, a hectic work schedule, cold weather (in my case) and the whole process can easily become a nightmare. There are a couple of not-so-great ways you can go about this:

  1. Resort to the good ol’ Gumtree! Where you basically have to master the Google Translate technique (and I recommend you install the Chrome extension!)
  2. Hire a real estate agent! In Warsaw real estate agents charge up to 50% of rent to help you find an apartment. Hmmm…I say not worth it!
  3. Solicit the help of a local co-worker or a friend. Just be prepared to be paying for that favor for a long time.

As you may have guessed I chose to go with not-so-great-but-seemed-like-the-best-choice #1. I have become a master at translating Polish sites and capturing important pieces of information. Once I started looking at the listings I realized I had to get to know the neighborhoods, this required investigation, which for me meant: WALKING…a whole lot of walking all over Warsaw! I had a basic idea of what I wanted and liked. So, let’s start by taking a look at the different neighborhoods:

  • Żoliborzis one of the northern districts of Warsaw. It is also where I have been living my first few months in Warsaw. I would describe it as green, quite, and pretty. There are a lot of small parks around the neighborhood. So, it’s great for walking especially for families and people with dogs. It is also directly connected to the center via busses (#116, #503) and the metro.  Pl. Wilsona is 4 stops away from the Centrum Station. One of my favorite bars in Warsaw is in Zoliborz, Coco d’Oro, where they serve delicious Sri Lankan food.
  • Old Town: As the name suggests Old Town is the oldest historic district of Warsaw. Although initially, established in the 13th century what stands today was meticulously rebuilt after the city was destroyed in World War II. Old Town is pretty, colorful and busy. Some of the tucked away residencies offer some quite away from the touristy hustle & bustle. It is quite well connected with busses to the rest of the city, but expect to walk a lot since most of the Old Town is a pedestrian zone.
  • PowiśleLiterally means near-the-VistulaThis is probably my second favorite neighborhood if not my favorite. This neighborhood is happening! Surrounded by beautiful little parks, the Warsaw University Library (which has an amazing rooftop garden that overlooks the entire city), and a great selection of bars and restaurants. This is a quite central location accessible via busses and if you ride a bicycle it’s one of the more bike-friendly neighborhoods in Warsaw. Some of my favorite hang outs here include: OSIR Cycle Culture Cafe, Warszawa Powiscle, and Solec 44. And if you’re crazy about street art as I am, you’ll love taking a stroll down Aleje Ujazdowskie and getting a taste of Warsaw’s vibrant street art  and graffiti culture.
  • ŚródmieścieMeaning city center or downtown. With Warsaw’s iconic landmarks Palace of Science & Culture, Warszawa Centralna Station,  and Złote Tarasy shopping mall you cannot get any more central than this. Unlike other city centers, Srodmiescie is not overwhelming and crowded. It is also not a downtown that is solely functional and lively during the week. Many bars, pubs and other venues call this part of town home. If you like being in the center of things, this is  definitely the place for you.  The square of Pl.Zbawiciela is packed with great places to hang out like Charlotte, Plan B Bar, and Coffee Karma. One of my favorite places in downtown is art venue called V9. V9 offers all sorts of art workshops from stenciling to silk screen printing and more. They also regularly hold art exhibitions and small concerts.

Of course, there are many more neighborhoods in Warsaw, but I wanted to cover the ones I know most about. Be sure to check out: Praga, Saska Kepa, Wola and Mokotow.

Happy Apartment Hunting or just neighborhood exploring!

Poland…not Holland!

Yes, I have made yet another big move! This is probably one of my biggest and randomest thus far! I have moved to Warsaw, Poland.

Old Town Warsaw, which was rebuilt after the war in the 1950s replicating the former city plans.

I accepted a job with TechSoup Global as their Sr. Manager of International Partnerships, EMEA (Europe, Africa and the Middle East…and yes only Americans would come up with such acronyms that lump random parts of the world together!). The reason TechSoup caught my attention is the simple fact that it works to utilize technology for social good. TechSoup’s main focus is to provide non-profit organizations around the world with donated software (and hardware) to enable them to do accomplish their missions more efficiently. Obviously this is a big win for me – my two passions combined: technology + social good.

The reaction to me moving to Warsaw from family and friends has been less than ideal. People tend to have a very uncordial reaction to Poland. The perception is usually a cold, distant, unfriendly, harsh and the list goes on. It also didn’t help that I moved here on December 1st…the very beginning of the unbearable winter ahead of us. I’m not going to pretend like I’m not scared of the winter ahead, but I’m looking forward to the experience. Besides, I’ve already gotten a few tips about ways to face the winter, but the most interesting is the way you wear your scarf:

  • Make sure you have a warm (wool) scarf
  • Tuck in your winter coat colar
  • Wrap the scarf around your coat’s color – this guarantees maximum warmth (here are a few examples: this or this)

In the meantime, I’ll keep correcting folks “Poland…not Holland (or Portland, in some cases).

The Owls have been claimed!

This is an update to my previous post on the Beirut Owls. Thanks to a local friend I now know who’s behind the Beirut Owls.

Meet Accousmatik System, a Lebanese non-profit organization responsible for cultural exchange in music accompanied by various art forms AND of course they are behind the owls.

Watch as their crew fills Beirut with these owls.

According to their website, there are 700 of their stenciled owls all over Beirut.

Calling 112 in Beirut

Last night I went out to meet some friends at a local bar in Hamra. We were having a highly engaging and interesting conversation about women, feminism and sexual harassment. There were three women and 2 men. And we were discussing whether your typical sexual harraser on the streets of Beirut or Cairo is aware of the damage he’s causing. We also talked about the privilege men have. I was trying to explain to one of the male friends that a major retraining of how men and women are raised in this world needs to take place.

After an invigorating, exciting and sometimes even frustrating conversation, my friend, Edy,  gave me a ride home. We were parked in front of my house still full of after thoughts from our conversation at the bar when we started noticing a young man driving on a scooter roaming around us.

I pointed out to Edy the fact that the guy has been roaming around us and is looking a bit suspicious. Edy drove up a bit and the guy immediately got down from his scooter walked up to Edy’s window and asked him what he was doing. The guy was clearly high or intoxicated, slurring his words and unable to focus his eyes on thing. Edy calmly told him that he was dropping me off. The guy proceeded to get closer and asked Edy where he was from. Edy remained calm and told him I don’t need to tell you this. The guy looked at him and said “oh yeah than let me fuck the shit out of you!” Edy immediately backed the car up as the guy opened the door.

We drove off to a restaurant down the street that has a lot of light and Edy called 112 (the equivalent of 911), Lebanon’s police emergency response. He explained that there’s guy that’s being suspicious and violent and preventing us from going up to our house. We continued to drive away in order to loop back. While we were driving Edy and I both looked at each other and made a joke about how the police is probably not going to show up for another hour as we were saying this we saw a police car driving in the opposite direction. And by the time we looped back to my house Edy received a call. The police officer said “We came by and found no one. Are you safe? Are you seeing anyone?” Edy told them he could no longer see the guy. He thanked for their quick responsiveness and hung up.

I was in awe at the speed of responsiveness we experienced. So, when in trouble next time in Beirut give 112 a call!

Owl Owner, please stand up!

I have been living in Beirut for two and a half months now and I can’t get enough of my strolls around Beirut where I’m constantly met with creative street art. There’s just been one big mystery during my time here: the “Beirut Owl”. The “Beirut Owl” is to be found in many parts of Beirut. It’s a symmetrical stenciled owl that I have become very fond of during my time here. Will someone help me figure out who this owl is? Who’s behind it? And whether it means anything?

Here’s the “Beirut Owl” in Hamra:

The Beirut Owl - AUB Wall, Hamra, Bliss Street

Here are a whole bunch of them hanging out in Gimmayze’s St. Nicholas Stairs:

Beirut Owls - Gimmayze Saint Nicholas Stairs

 

Some friends believe that the owl’s symmetrical shape is an Arabic word. Others told me that they thought the owl had a blog where it talked about its adventures around Beirut. It just seems that no one really knows anything about the “Beirut Owl” so will the owl owner, please stand up!

For more pictures of street art in Beirut, check out my ever-growing photo collection of Beirut Street Art.

 

Easing Two Country’s Tension with a Song!

Between the summer of 2009 and early 2010 Egypt and Lebanon made many headlines. Tensions were high starting in the summer of 2009 when Hezbollah members were arrested and tried in Egypt for supposed spying and terrorist attacks plotting on resorts often frequented by Israelis.

The tensions kept rising and in early 2010, at the height of the blockade on Gaza, stone-throwing demonstrators made their way to the Egyptian embassy in Beirut to voice their anger against claims that Egypt began to build a deep metal wall along its border. Reports claimed that when it is finished the wall will be 10-11km long and will extend 18 metres below the surface.

It is worth mentioning that after the Egyptian Revolution earlier this year, the Rafah Crossing Border has been reopened after pressure was placed on the interim military government in Egypt by the Egyptian people.

As art is often used to defuse emotional tension and create peace in it’s own way, this song was released in the summer of 2010. I have loved listening to this song during my stay here in Lebanon.

The song is between an Egyptian woman and a Lebanese man. They both are singing about cultural and historical monuments and places in their respective countries and at the end they both confess their love and appreciation to each other and the country’s they both come from.

Working out = Our life is so much more fun!

This past Sunday after a 2 days of a good amount of going out and partying Beiruti-style, I was able to miraculously wake up at 7:00 a.m. and get myself to Martyr Square for to meet up with a group of folks to go hiking in the south, in Hasbaya.

On our way on the bus we stopped to take a look at Qala’at ash-Shqif Castle/Beaufort Castle, which is a historical castle from the 12th century that was used by Israelis and Hezbollah for military lookout over the past decades. There are now federal plans to renovate it and open it to the public.

Qala'at ash-Shqif Castle/Beaufort Castle is a historical castle from the 12th century that was used by Israelis and Hezbollah for military lookout

We started our  6-hour hike by walking through the narrow alleys and streets of Hasbaya, a predominantly Druze town in the South of Lebanon. Older and more traditional Druze men, often referred to as the ‘Uqqal (the Knowledgable Initiates) wear baggy black pants that are tight at the ankles.

Druze man in traditional clothing in Hasbaya

The trail overlooked large portions of the UNIFIL line (also referred to as the Blue Line), beautiful mountainous scenery and large amounts of crops and trees of all sorts of seasonal fruits. Our guide helped us pick at trees along the way to try the different seasonal fruits that were all over the trail.

Views of South Lebanon from Hasbaya

After completing our 6-hour hike we stopped at a local Restaurant/Bar in Hasbaya where we all had little snacks and refreshments after the long hike. Shortly after everyone enjoyed a short rest Nadine, the hike organizer, and Wael, the hike guide, started a small Debke party with quick lessons. I’m in love with the Debke and wish I knew all the steps better, but I’m determined to keep taking advantage of joining in on the fun anytime Debke breaks out in my presence.

Quick Debke Lesson after 10km hike

If I had to pick the highlight of the day it must have been our very last stop. We stopped in Kfar Kila‘s Fatima Gate, a border town to check out the border between Lebanon and Israel. Before getting there I didn’t really have an idea of what the border town would look like. Never in my dreams though did I imagine it to be what I saw. The border is essentially a fence with a space the size of a one-way road sandwiched by another fence on the other side. On the Lebanese side, the municipality has completely renovated the border town and built a fun and cool promenade along the fence that is decorated with various exercise machines. When I asked Nadine why that particular theme for a border town, she said “We are trying to show that we are having a great time over here on this side. We can easily see Israeli settlements from right here, which saddens us. But we’re sending a message: Life is great on this side!”

Kathy showing her active skills at the border

One of my co-workers at Al Majmoua is from  Kfar Kila and he told me that the historical urban legend on why the gate is called the Fatima is gate is because one day long ago a young woman was walking home and she was attacked by a snake. She immediately started yelling for her sister, Fatima, who quickly came to help her sister and was able to kill the snake and save here sister. No one knows how true this is, but the gate is named after a strong local woman who saved her sister.

Fairuz in the Morning

Fairuz is a national living symbol in Lebanon which sparks Lebanese pride wherever and whenever heard. Growing up in Cairo with my mother and two sisters, I recall Fairuz playing across the house when we returned home from school. One year in the early 1990’s my mom and sisters told me that they had a dentist appointment to go to and since I had school the next morning that I was not to go with them and stay home with the babysitter – I still remember thinking they were dressed too nice for the dentist but I complied with the instructions as any 8-year old would do. Years later I came to find out that they went to see Fairuz in concert in Cairo.

I was able to see her a decade later in Los Angeles and I remember crying when she sang “Zorouni” (Translation: Visit Me, a powerful song that is sure to pull on any expatriate’s heart strings far away from their home. 

Fairuz’s short, sweet and authentically Lebanese tunes speak of everyday life: the mountains, drunken neighbors, and most importantly a unified Lebanon and sad stories of the war. I was surprised to learn that her music is for the most part strictly listened to in the morning amongst the Lebanese people while they’re getting ready to start their day. While flipping through the radio one morning on my drive to work I found several local channels playing Fairuz.

One of Fairuz’s great contributions to the music society is her son Ziad Rahbani, who I should probably write a whole separate post on.

Great NPR report on Fairuz.

Lebanese Southern Nature

Welcome to Jezzine! A beautiful mountainous town in the South of Lebanon and where my dear friend and Lebanese guide, Edy, is from.

Last weekend we came over for the weekend with Edy’s friends, Joe and Marc, and it was wonderful. We spent Saturday evening at the local bar, Coin Rouge, and woke up the next morning to beautifully sunny day.

Gardening in Jezzine

Edy’s mother needed some help in the garden so we all jumped in to help.It was one of the first times I have gardened in a long time and I really loved it. Working with one’s hands is such a rewarding feeling. I have always thought about participating in WWOOF, but the idea of gardening all the time always scared and held me back. But now that I have given it a try – I’d love to get more into gardening and learning more about it.

This weekend Edy and I returned to Jezzine to a much needed getaway from the city. When we arrived late last night, we decided to go for a hike in the morning. We both were interested in visiting Sur (one of the very few places in Lebanon with an accessible and clean public beach) but due to the planned  The Return To Palestine March we decided that it was best to stay in Jezzine, because security was going to be really tight.

In the morning, Edy drove us about 2-3 miles away from his family’s home up the mountains. We parked the car and started hiking. The geographical diversity that one can find in Lebanon is fascinating. The mountains, the sea, the cedars, etc. We started hiking and  it was very different from the hikes I have been on in the U.S. or Europe – there were no trails, we came across shepherds with their flocks of sheep, and the grass was so high at some points it reached my waist. However, the most shocking and unique part of this hike was coming across empty shells (as in explosive shells). Jezzine was a witness to a lot of the violence during the 1982 Lebanon War because of its strategic geographical location in proximity to the Israeli border.

Old explosive shell on the hike in Jezzine

The hike was wonderful and I had never seen Za’atar before the drying and mixing process. Edy made me taste it straight from the ground and we started to pick some in a small bag he had.

Edy picking Za'atar

I would love to go back and hike in those mountains. I’m looking forward to continuing to explore this country’s amazing geography.

In Lebanese Nature