Morocco vs Paris vs San Francisco

By December 8, 2008 Insights

Roger Cohen’s column in today’s NYT beautifully articulated so much that I’ve been trying to express since returning from Rabat last week. Branding and consumer culture and the bustle of SF city living have been my life for longer than I care to admit, and chances are will continue to be a part of my future. But these things bombard me now and my de facto participation is leaving me with a sense of guilt instead of the satisfaction of being home again.

Don’t get me wrong – I like my iPhone and the convenience of my microwave, and certainly my cab ride yesterday where the driver politely asked me to buckle up was much safer than a run-down grand taxi in Rabat. But the richness of the market street in the medina where fish scales stick to your shoes and the smells of mandarines are mixed with fresh herbs and incense cannot be found in the perfectly orchestrated experience of the Ferry Plaza Farmers market.
Where Cohen laments a safer and more sanitized Paris, I agree to a point, yet having spent a long weekend there last month, to me it is still Paris even if the cafes are non-smoking. In my youth I excitedly ran down the Champs Elysees to meet a boy under the Arc de Triomphe and tearfully said goodbye in the busy and dingy Gare St. Lazare. But I still think one can find those things in Paris, perhaps it just requires youth.
Like Cohen’s description of Havana, I miss the “pungent texture” of Morocco, the primitive branding of the medina poultry seller, and the toothless grin of of the street merchant. But unlike Cohen’s Paris, it’s still there and I most certainly will go back.