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From the category archives:

My Life

Submit To Fotografia

by Elena on April 12, 2010

Fotografia MagIt has always been a desire of mine to start an online publication.  As far back as middle school, I met with some other leotard wearing, grade schoolers and we planned the possibility of starting a zine (the first inclinations of a nerdy future).  Zines are small scale print publications usually with an eccentric and unique edge, reflected directly from its contributors and editors.  Blogs are similar to zines because most are self-published, personal, and done on a small scale with limited readership (I’m not talking about the Huffington Posts of the web).

Online media has grown dramatically the past couple of years and I have toyed around with starting an online project for some time now.  The past couple of weeks I finally put together my project, Fotografia Magazine, an online magazine/ zine/ project that features the work of photographers, giving them a chance to promote themselves and their photography.

Seeing as Gringa Española is focused on travel, photography, and new media, I figured some readers with similar interests would be interested in submitting some of their compelling, travel photography.  It is a great way to promote your website and your work.  On Fotografia there is always a link back to the photographer’s portfolio or website, driving traffic back to you.  Fotografia is a new site, but I hope it will grow quickly!

Anyone who would like to submit their photography are more than welcome to do so.  In your submission you must include the following:

  • Title of work
  • Place of capture (if applicable)
  • Link to your website or online portfolio
  • Year picture was taken

One of the reasons I wanted to start an online magazine is because of the opportunity you get to discover new artists and photographers.  One of these photographers is Stephanie Mackenzie whose work you can see at Deka Photography.

Stephanie Mackenzie - Deauville

Image via: Deka Photography

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Why I Love Freelancing

by Elena on February 10, 2010

Nor'easter '10After last week’s phantom snowstorm, I had some doubts about the impending nor’easter making it’s way up the East Coast to the Tri-State area.  Even last night at around 2am, while I was impatiently waiting like a 4th grader hoping for a day off from school, still no snow.  But alas I woke up to this…

Nor'easter '10 Table

A blizzardly nor’easter is one of many reasons I love freelance work.  While I sit at my desk working on some pending deadlines, I can look out my window and relish in the fact that I don’t need to go anywhere, besides the few breaks where I go outside and toss Nico in the snow.  Ahh it truly is a great feeling.

Nor'easter '10 Front YardNor'easter '10 Nico

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Looking Forward In 2010

by Elena on January 8, 2010

Henri-Cartier-Bresson-Dieppe 1929The word resolution can be intimidating.  Someone who is resolute is firm and determined, bold and steady.  That is a lot to live up to if you ask me.  Most of the time, on the journey to figuring out career, happiness, the meaning of life, people are more likely to waver than stay firmly planted in their decisions.  Resolutions are usually made because of our very nature to teeter back and forth.  Should I eat the cupcake?  Should I not eat the cupcake?  Trust me, you should eat the cupcake.

2009 was a big year for me because I made the decision to start pursuing this crazy idea of writing for a living.  The end of my stint in Montreal, meant I return to NJ and look for a job.  It was then that I decided to take matters into my own hands.  This blog, and a few others along the way, got me into the habit of writing.  It is a great discipline and there is no better teacher than practicing on a frequent basis.  You yourself are accountable for your success.  This site has been a huge learning experience for me, in many ways.  In 2010 I hope to expand my audience, gain more contacts within the industry, travel more,  and basically do the things that make me happy and keep me jonesin.

In 2010 you can expect…

  • A new photography section, including travel photography and other pictures that strikes my fancy.
  • A growing travel and city guide section.
  • More personal travelogues.
  • Articles on innovation and entrepreneurship.
  • Articles on working in new media and the freelance world.
  • More South America and Mexico.

I have a lot to be grateful for in this past year.  I was able to visit South America for the first time in my life and wander about Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina.  I saw sites like Machu Picchu, Salar de Uyuni, and Mendoza’s wine country.  I ate some of the best beef you could imagine, and got a serious bout of altitude sickness that didn’t completely ruin my digestive system.  I wrote extensively about my two road trips to Montreal and this year I will write more about South America and the time I spent in Mexico.

In 2010 I’m looking forward to…

Becoming a Digital Nomad – This is still one of the main goals that inspired this website.  I continue to be inspired by so many people on the web like Timothy Ferris, Nomadic Matt, Chris Guillebeau, Christine Gilbert, and the Frugal Traveler.

Using 80-20 Principle – So this Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, came up with the idea that 80% of all effects come from about 20% of causes.  That means 80% of your finished work comes from about 20% of the effort you put in.  Now here’s a thought.  What would happen if you spent more time on the 20% effort that actually gets the job done.  Well you would save a lot more time and headaches, that’s what.  I plan to test out the theory and find out exactly what 20% of effort I put into daily activities has the most desired result.

Deconstructing a New Language and Refreshing the Old – The techniques to learning a language is very popular topic among travelers.  Writers, like Tim Ferris, claim that language classes don’t work, that you can learn any language in as little as 3 months, even 1 hour.  Based on a recommendation from a friend, I picked up the book How To Learn a Language in 7 Days, by Ramon Campayo.  (I wasn’t able to find an English version).  I want to experiment various theories of learning a language and see if it is possible to quicken the process.  Maybe we have approached the process incorrectly.  I would like to chose two languages, one that will be fairly easy because I already speak Spanish, and another that will be more difficult because it doesn’t use the roman alphabet.  So I’m thinking Portuguese and Hindi.

Becoming a Master Cook (in my kitchen) and Gourmand –  I decided to keep my expectations high learn not only to cook, but to cook well, so well in fact that people are licking their fingers and begging for more.  It won’t be easy, as I’ve learned with a few mishaps in the kitchen, but it is enjoyable.   Food has always been a very important part of my life, beyond the whole nourishment and daily bread aspect. Eat Drink & Travel documents it.

Writing an EBook – This year I will get started on my eBook and post it on this site.  I have a bunch of ideas and I still haven’t selected the exact one yet, but it will be in a similar vain to the content found on my sites.

Less Clutter Less Junk – Toss it!  That’s my new mantra.  I will finally get rid of my pack-rat tendencies and move on to having a simpler, less cluttered life.  Hmm I should probably start with my pile of fashion magazines.

Figuring out my Canon Rebel XSi – It seems only fitting, since I included the photographs of one of my favorite photographers on this post, that I think about finally figuring out my new camera!  This year I want to get more technical, pick up a few books, and finally conquer the art of Photoshop.

Oh and at some point I want to lie on my back on a beach of pebbles with an umbrella over my head.

Do you remember this song?  I think it came out around the mid 90s.  Jesse from Rising Bean used the Baz Luhrmann song “Sunscreen” in his video documenting his various trips around the world.  

Image above : Henri Cartier-Bresson Dieppe, 1929

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Memorable Book List of 2009

by Elena on January 4, 2010

Memorable Books of 2008Happy New Year everyone!  Hopefully everyone had a great holiday season.  My Christmas and New Years are always based around food, so it goes without saying that I had a great time.

Last year I put together a mental list of all the books that I really enjoyed throughout the year.  This post is a little late, but I feel like the books are still very pertinent.  The list of 2009 is a personal one, as you can see the books didn’t necessarily come on in 09; they did however inspire and entertain me this past year.

TRAVEL WRITING

Travel writing is a medium I greatly enjoy and often read.  In a certain vain I strive to write like these authors I listed.  They are no doubt some of my favorite authors, who all have a distinct voice, whether snarky or informative, and who constantly keep my attention, make me laugh, and change my perspective.

Travel as a Political Act by Rick Steves – Travel as a Political Act is a must read for any person with a love of travel.  Steves explores traveling as a means to finding out more about the world, your country, and yourself.  While there is nothing wrong with travel where you relax with nothing more than a margarita and some sunblock, he reminds you that there are other forms of travel where you can learn something besides how to nurse a sunburn.  He discusses and compares the way other countries handle issues such as drug abuse, war, globalization, and religious differences.  No country has all the right answers, however we only benefit by understanding other cultures and experiencing them firsthand.

Road Fever by Tim Cahill – I read Road Fever while on the road in South America, therefore I had a very strong connection with the work.  Cahill writes about his journey and quest to break the world record time for a road trip from the very tip of South America to Prudhoe Bay Alaska.  Tim Cahill writes in a manner that is entertaining and infectious, where a 5’3 short girl like myself would consider the possibility of following in the footsteps of these two explorers clearly mad for trying.

Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson –  Like all great storytellers, Bill Bryson makes his story of traveling around Europe that much more interesting than anybody else could.  He has a snarky side which I always welcome and a definite British wit as he recounts his past, and muses about strange foreign customs.

Sand In My Bra and Other Misadventures: Funny Women Write From The Road by Jennifer L. Leo and Jessica Maxwell – This collection of short stories are written by a group of adventurous women who have at some point, put the open road before all else.  I received this book as a gift from my cousin, who thought that the title aptly applied to my travels and misadventures.  It was refreshing and fun to read a book from a female perspective in a genre, it seems, that is dominated by men.  If anyone has any other suggestions, please contact me!

A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines by Anthony Bourdain – I’ve read A Cook’s Tour multiple times and returned to it again in 2009.  The book really resonates with me, in particular the section when Bourdain is in Portugal, where certain memories and subsequent pig slaughter ceremonies, reminded me of my summer’s in Galicia as a child.  This book sparked my interest in culinary travel, exploring new cultures, and finding other books of this nature.  Anthony Bourdain’s writing style is funny and addicting like a Krispy Kreme donut that you would be willing to drive 20 miles to eat a bite of.

Smile, You’re Traveling by Henry Rollins – Reading this book is like slipping into a portal that leads to Rollins’ mind, except you don’t get tossed near the Jersey Turnpike when you’re finished.  You experience his crazy adventures firsthand, right in the middle of his stream of consciousness.  I admit that it was hard to keep up the first time around but after some outside coaxing I agreed to try again.  Rollins’ thoughts are often scattered but they are never dull and they will always make you question your own perspective on the world.

TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY

Travel photography, like all types of photography, tells a story of its subject and setting.  I honestly haven’t read that many photography books, preferring to browse through picture albums and portfolios online.  This year I’d like to read more about the craft of photography.

Travel Photography: Documenting the World’s Peoples & Places by Bob Krist – Bob Krist makes photography interesting and attainable in this book.  His book doesn’t delve too much into the technicalities of taking a picture, the camera itself, or Photoshop, however that was exactly what I was looking for.  He gives a more general approach to working with color, movement, composition, flash, and time of day.  I especially liked his tips and anecdotes about taking pictures of people.

MARKETING AND LIFESTYLE DESIGN

Marketing and lifestyle design books are the source of many dreamers’ dreams.  These books in particular got my creative juices flowing, and spurred a few grandiose views of the future.

Purple Cow: Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable by Seth Godin – Seth Godin’s blog is a wealth of knowledge.  Each post provides insight on how to spread your ideas or grow your business.  He has opened a new way for me to look at marketing.  In his book, Purple Cow, he talks about the way old ‘proven’ marketing tactics no longer apply, and how each and every company, employee, or website needs to be remarkable if they want to stand out from the heard.  Basically you want to be a purple cows in the midst of the black and white ones.

The Big Moo: Stop Trying To Be Perfect and Start Being Remarkable by Seth Godin – The Big Moo is a continuation of the ideas in Purple Cow.  This book is edited by Seth Godin and has many different contributors tell a story or anecdote about being remarkable.  The interesting thing is that you don’t know which author wrote what.  If you need another push to buy it, know that all proceeds go to charity.

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferris – The 4-Hour Workweek was one of those books that started it all for me.  If got me thinking, dreaming, and being outright delusional about my future.  A four hour work week is something that most people aspire to, and Timothy Ferris explains how it can be possible.  Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean you will be sitting around doing nothing all day, what it does mean is that you have more available time to work on your own ventures, instead of wasting time dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s.  He just came out with an expanded edition that I haven’t been able to check out yet but I am excited to read soon.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP

After reading a few marketing books, I got the  itch so to speak, of turning ideas into something more.  I don’t usually read business type books because I think I may be slightly allergic, however these books were interesting and quite insightful.

Awakening The Entrepreneur Within: How Ordinary People Can Create Extraordinary Companies by Michael E. Gerber – I picked up this book after reading about it on Timothy Ferris’ blog (a must read as well).  Although I haven’t finished it yet (I am somewhere in the middle) I would recommend this book for people who are looking to start their own business, or expand on their own ideas.  Gerber talks about the process that innovative entrepreneurs take to follow their dreams and see them to fruition.

The E-Myth Enterprise: How To Turn a Great Idea Into a Thriving Business by Michael E. Gerber – The E-Myth Enterprise expands upon the ideas of Gerber’s previous books and it also gives more of a personal perspective and tells the success stories of people that the reader can relate to.  These people were able to create businesses and make their business thrive.

NEW MEDIA

New media is blanket term to describe the emergent digital and computerized information that has grown dramatically in the past decade.  Online publications, blogs, social networking sites, and digital technology are all a part of new media.  Print publications and television are not.  If you have a blog or site of your own, you are already aware of new media, in fact you are a part of it.

The New Influencers: A Marketer’s Guide to the New Social Media by Paul Gillin – Gillin’s book provided the insight I needed to really understand the influence of new media today.  More companies are developing blogs and switching their marketing strategies and the all important advertising dollars in order to keep up with the changes.  The book also illustrates the tremendous power that bloggers and new media insiders have over the market.

[Updated Jan 5th]

EBOOKS

EBooks are becoming much more popular.  I have been a little reserved about them, but this past year I have bought a couple that I felt were helpful and informative.  People tend to be more careful when buying eBooks because they can be more expensive than a book you pick up at Barnes & Noble.  Let’s just say they shouldn’t be impulse buys.  When buying an eBook I always take a look at the reviews and see what others have said about them.  If an author offers a free book, you can test out and see if you like his style and topic choices.

Make Money With Your Blog by Nomadic Matt –  This eBook was a great deal of help for me when I wanted to delve into the world of ‘monetizing’ my websites.  For full disclosure I am an affiliate of this eBook, and I decided to do so  because of how helpful it was for me.  When I started my sites I had a drive to write and explore, but I also had little experience with actually ‘building a site.’  If you are knowledgeable about blogging and creating websites then this eBook may not be helpful because you will know a lot of its content.  This eBook is for anyone new to creating blogs, or the ways of new media.  It will teach you the basics of starting a blog, getting traffic, figuring out SEO, and monetizing your site.  Matt gives you the foundation that you can build upon with dedication and hard work.Make Money on your Blog

279 Days to Overnight Success by Chris Guillebeau – The great thing about this eBook is that it is completely free!  It is an encouraging manifesto written by the creator of The Art of Non-Comformity site.  It is a great way to become acquainted with his site, which is truly as a home for unconventional people doing remarkable things.  In the manifesto he discusses the steps he took to become a full time writer and entrepreneur of the web.manifesto-279daysUnconventional Guide to Working For Yourself by Chris Guillebeau – If you enjoyed Guillebeau’s free manifesto then you should really look into his other products.  They are pricey, but I believe the content is well worth it.  This eBook goes more in depth into the life of creating a business on the internet.  He discusses important factors such as the mistakes that many entrepreneurs make when building their business.  When you buy this eBook you also get bonuses about SEO and affiliate marketing.  As with most things, remember that these strategies are never a quick fix.  Working for yourself requires lots of hard work and dedication.UG workingselfUnconventional Guide to Art and Money by Chris Guillebeau – I purchased this eBook in a deal with the Guide to Working for Yourself.  The topic is very interesting and the eBook is thorough and easy to follow.   Basically it discusses the way artists have been supporting themselves through their artwork and new media.  It is interesting because while artists can be taught technique in art school, they are not often taught how to make money doing so.  The eBook discusses ways artists can promote themselves and gain a following that can lead to success in their field. UG artmoney30 Ways in 30 Days to Redesign Your Life and Travel the World by Christine Gilbert – Christine Gilbert created the popular travel site Almost Fearless, a site that I check on a frequent basis in order to gain insight into travel and the digital world.  This year Gilbert concluded a series she was working on called 30 Ways in 30 Days to Redesign Your Life and Travel the World.  The series went further into the world of travel and conquered such topics as budgeting, turning your job digital, telling your family and friends, and getting a job when you return from travel.  You can check out the series on her site, and you can also download a free eBook of the series by subscribing to her site.Almost Fearless

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New JerseyBeing from New Jersey I have heard the brunt of many Jersey jokes.  I know what it feels like to sit behind big hair at the movies, to watch a cashier count my change with her the long finger nails sticking between the bills.  I can recognize the distinguished nasal accent the second I hear it, and I’ve seen girls walk down the street without the slightest movement of their hair, held oh so carefully with an entire bottle of hair gel.  I used to work with a girl who filled the ladies bathroom with the fumes from her Aquanet bottle everyday, so yes I know the stereotypes.  Industry rules.  Down I95 factories pump out streams of smoke swirling around like a strange Rorschach test in the sky.  As if my home state didn’t have it hard enough, the MTV ‘reality’ show The Jersey Shore has thrown more gasoline to the fire of Jersey insults.

Granted the success of these shows are all based upon stereotypes.  I don’t judge Los Angeles by the fake tans, fake breasts, and lip enhanced women on reality television, ok maybe I do just a little, but I certainly can’t make broad assumptions about the city as a whole, much less the whole state.  We all have our own prejudices that affect our opinions about the places we visit, but by being completely ruled by these assumptions, we miss out on a lot of the good stuff.

What most people forget is that New Jersey is the “Garden State,” and to all those distant snickers, I am dutifully ignoring you.  While industry has been an important part of our economy for many years, there are many beautiful parts of New Jersey.  Believe it or not there are farms in NJ, quite a bit actually.  If picking your own fruits and vegetables strikes your fancy, you can do so at multiple locations.  Farmers’ markets are all over the state and you can check on the Department of Agriculture website to find one close to your home.  Chances are some of the produce found in your supermarket and restaurants is from a nearby farm, especially if you’re buying tomatoes, blueberries, apples, beans, broccoli, corn, and the list goes on.  When I lived in Montreal, I would shop at the local farmer’s market and I was surprised to see Jersey tomatoes and berries so far north.  I have gone to farms in NJ since I was a little girl, where children could ride hayrides, go apple, peach, and pumpkin picking, drink apple cider, and pick out homemade pies.  Maybe I’ve belabored my point, but allow me to reiterate; we aren’t all sludging around in grime and hair gel.

As one of my family members said about the comments people were making about NJ and The Jersey Shore show.  “Let people think NJ is like that.  Save the nice beaches for ourselves.”  And it’s not merely the beaches but also the trails, the mountains, the small towns, the multicultural cities, the good food.

That is the thing with New Jersey.  People don’t go to places because there was a rave review in a prominent publication like the New York Times, although that is quickly changing.  People go to restaurants because of word of mouth, because the food is great, their friends go, it’s been open for years, they know the owner, and the service is friendly and generous with their drinks.  I’m not referring to the chains I love to hate and hate to love.  Yes those are popular too, and while they aren’t as ‘authentic’ as the small Italian eatery in my town, sometimes you just want to choose between 25 different kinds of cheesecake.

I challenge anyone to find a better quality steak or rodizio than in Newark NJ, and if you find one, I’ll be first on line.  If you want a great meal, go where the immigrants are; the Brazilians know their meat and they live in Newark.  If you want gargantuan portions of Spanish food, Newark is also the place.  The cost is reasonable and the food is damn good.  More “modern” eateries are popping up as well.  Modern Spanish dining, or as I like to call it shi-shi,  can be more expensive, with smaller portions and sauces drizzled onto nice designs on your plate, still delicious and following in the footsteps of Nouveau Spanish cuisine all over the world.  If you want Mexican food, Mi Pequeno Mexico on Ferry Street is by far the most authentic Mexican food I’ve tasted since wandering around Mexico City.  That’s a place worth returning to.

Call me biased.  I absolutely am.  I love New Jersey.  I love that there are trees outside my window and that the GWB  is a 15 minute drive from my house.  In a perfect world with no traffic and endless parking, I can be walking around the MOMA or grabing a coffee from the Mudtruck in Astor Place in 30 minutes.  In New Jersey there are towns that still have bookstores, coffee shops, and vintage stores that have remained untouched by the hands of chain stores.  Go to Montclair, Englewood, Ridgewood, or Madison and you’ll feel like you stepped into a small town movie set.  If you need a discounted superstore you’re in luck.  Rest assured, no matter where you stand in New Jersey, you are within 20 minutes from a few malls.  Sometimes closer.

So yes some of the stereotypes may be true, but in a state where there are so many cultures and immigrants, it is impossible to stigmatize the whole population.  Go to little India on Newark Avenue in Jersey City and tell me if you are reminded of the folks on the MTV show.  Not likely.  Taste some chicken makhani or saag paneer and you will be back for more.

Say what you will about the industry, the hairspray, the housewives, or the Sopranos, this is the place I call home.  And to those who don’t want to get past the stereotypes to find the good stuff, it is fine by me.  Like my cousin said, more for us.

Image via: Nicholas_T

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Do What You Want Now

by Elena on December 11, 2009

Elena VazquezSomething one of my professors told a class of mine really stuck with me throughout the years.  It was a class on television and media, and although the exact details on the curriculum are fuzzy, his words are very clear.

He knew that there were a lot of aspiring writers, producers, directors, and creatives in the lecture hall, currently vying for intern positions at big media companies throughout New York City.  He also knew we were all anxious to work long hours, mostly for free, performing menial tasks just to get our foot in the door.  He told us of the importance of gaining personal experience by ‘being in the game’  but he also told us how easy it was to get stuck and lose focus on what we really wanted.

“If you want to be a film maker, make a movie.”  He said.  “Stop getting all those people their coffee and pick up a camera.”

Getting someone their coffee most certainly won’t make you a director, accomplished producer, or whatever else you set your heart on.  The key is to distinguish between what pays your bills and what helps accomplish your goals.  If making that coffee gets you in contact with the right people that’s great, but don’t wait to start doing what you love until after your big break.  You might be waiting a long time.

The fact of the matter is, bills need to be paid and food needs to be put on the table, which is why so many artists and entrepreneurs pursue their true passions on the side, until they can do it for a living.  In my past post about Carr’s NY Times article, I discussed the ways people in publishing are taking matters into their own hands.  Laryssa at Comma ‘N Sentence recently wrote about the ways she is handling the new media landscape by creating her own endeavors along the way.  The message is to simply do what you want now and not to wait for anyone.  If you want to direct movies, pick up a camera and start filming your own.  Start writing, taking pictures, making clothes, creating a business, cooking, or teaching, Whatever it is you want, start doing it now.

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New Guide Section

by Elena on November 24, 2009

GuidesAfter several hours of playing around with my new Canon Rebel EOS XSI and taking pictures of various nonessential objects in my bedroom, I decided I need to step away from the camera!  My ‘new’ camera arrived yesterday from Quakertown, Pennsylvania.  Since my old camera died a slow death about a month ago, I had to start my search somewhere.  Gotta love eBay!

My lack of a camera has forced me to focus on other endeavors.  The new GUIDE section links to posts I have already written, as well as guides that I will be writing as time goes on.  I apologize for the “coming soon” pages, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.  The GUIDE will consist of anything from travel tips, food guides, street guides, and site maps.  I really hope you enjoy and welcomes any feedback you may have.

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Cairo Nights Travelogue

by Elena on November 19, 2009

The cab driver weaves in and out of traffic accelerating and decelerating in a matter of seconds.  I reach over the driver seat and point to the small piece of paper the receptionist gave us at the hostel.  “This is our address,” I repeat for the second time, accenting my voice ever so slightly, as if imitating the Egyptian accent would help him better understand me.  He nods his head again and smiles at my persistence.  I resign myself to my seat, further digging my fingernails into the cushion each time he brakes suddenly.  The city is chaotic, there is no doubt.  Goats sprint down the road that runs parallel to the Nile River, along with men on bicycles holding large crates full of fresh bread.  There is a car to our left filled to the brim with people, speeding along at our same pace.  If I wanted, I could reach out and touch the hand of the man sitting in the driver’s seat.  I am tempted to try but decide not to test my luck.

On a quest for something truly Egyptian, we make our way to the souk, the famous street market.  No matter our efforts to dodge the crowd, we end up bumping into every person walking by.  You learn quickly that there are two currencies in Egypt, the tourist price and the Egyptian price.  Lesson number one, you will always pay the tourist price, unless accompanied at all times by an amicable Egyptian friend.  Lesson number two, you shop at your own risk.

Cairo Egypt 2

Photo © Elena Vazquez

The vendors are extremely anxious to get us to spend our money.  “Hello! Hola! Bonjour!” they shout from their stands.  Immediately one vendor jumps up and takes matters into his own hands.  He rushes over with a handful of shawls and dutifully places one over my head.  “I give you good price,” he says with a smile.  I politely decline seeing as I already bought one from another vendor; but he is insistent.  He showers me with compliments and occasionally he throws in a habibi, the Arabic equivalent to darling or sweetheart.  Finally I agree to buy another shawl.  Did he charm me into buying something I don’t need?  No I convince myself; after all I could always use an extra shawl.

As the sun begins to set, we hear the familiar chanting we’ve heard each day this week.  It is Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting.  Muslims around the world fast from sunrise to sunset as a gesture of self-restraint and piety.  The crackling of intercoms echoes throughout the city as a reminder to everyone that they must go home to pray.

Cairo Egypt 1

Photo © Elena Vazquez

Cairo Egypt 5

Photo © Elena Vazquez

Cairo Egypt 6

Photo © Elena Vazquez

After prayer, Egyptians get together at cafés to talk, play cards, and smoke hookah (a water pipe used to smoke flavored tobacco covered in molasses).  Going by a tip from one of our friends, we go in search of a particular floating restaurant along the Nile, a favorite amongst Egyptians themselves.  We find ourselves in a huge space, filled with unfamiliar sights and smells.  Brightly colored fabrics hang from the ceiling so low you could jump up and pull them down if you ever got cold.  Arabic words murmur throughout the crowd as Egyptian pop music plays in the background.  A group of men sing and laugh at the table next to us.  One of them takes in so much smoke from his hookah, it seems virtually impossible to fit in his lungs without him bursting at the seams.  But then again he has had lots of practice.  They get together to tell stories, laugh, smoke almost every night.  After what seems like an eternity he blows out every last puff of smoke contributing to the sugar, fruit, and jasmine scented cloud hovering above our heads.

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Old Friends and Good Times

by Elena on November 16, 2009

When you travel frequently you get the pleasure of meeting some of the most incredible people.  Unfortunately when you leave you have to say goodbye.  But that is what reunions are for.

Friends in Montreal 1

Friends in Montreal

Friends in Montreal 3

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It’s Warm In Canada

by Elena on November 12, 2009

It’s warm in Canada in mid November.  This is not what I remember from last year, where the first snowfall came before Halloween.  There are vague memories of running out of my apartment in a tshirt and flipflops with a friend who had never seen snow before, only to turn right back around once the novelty wore off and my toes started to get numb.  It was just a dusting, but snow just the same.

This weather is unexpected but most definitely a welcomed surprise.  Hence after an eventful day of query and cover letters I will be off again to wander about and enter various cafes and bistros.  I need to work on the pending assignments I had been putting off.  Not a bad gig afterall, working while sipping a latte and having a Montreal bagel.  Despite all the gripes and difficulty I may have experienced with my transition to freelance, there have most definitely been many perks, my jaunt through Montreal being one of them.  Although I still haven’t figured out a complete balance with the freelance world, maybe that is the point.  Working for oneself has it own set of problems and with freelance you are working by yourself, not necessarily for yourself.  After complaining for about a week or so, I’ve decided to stop, get to writing, and maybe have a cafe au lait or two.

Montreal

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