You can take it with you

Much has been debated about the worth and point of the souvenir, which, appropriately, is French for “to remember” or “memory.”

Some argue that memories exist best in the mind and souvenirs just become stuff when back home, or wherever you first took off from on your other-worldly adventure.

Others, like writer Dominque Browning, who just recently wrote a Sunday Styles article, feel, “In accumulating, we honor the art of the potter, sitting at a wheel; we appreciate the art of the writer, sitting at a desk; we cherish the art of the painter, standing in front of an easel.”

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I side with Dominique. Some may say my apartment back in New York, and now slowly my apartment here in Paris, is a bit stuffed with…stuff. They’re not wrong. But it’s stuff I’ve collected from all over the world! Tea glasses from Turkey. A woven doormat from Guatemala. A collage painting from Argentina. Most of it, if not all of it, is proudly displayed as decor or serves a useful purpose, like the salt ‘n’ pepper shakers from Mexico. When on the road, I honestly try to think of something I “need”—a term I’ll use lightly—and fill in the blanks wherever I may roam. Therefore, nothing gets buried or forgotten about in the back of a closet. Rather everything I bring home is celebrated and honored. It becomes a way to remember where I’ve been and what exists beyond the walls I spend most of my time in.

There were a few times in recent years when I tossed out the idea of picking up gifts or souvenirs for myself, choosing instead to savor the memory with a photo and my money for more travels. For seeing the Alhambra in Granada. For smelling the eucalyptus in Costa Rica. For practicing yoga amongst Italy’s olive trees. For doing and experiencing as opposed to buying or having. I haven’t completely abandoned this naked and pure way of remembering my travels, but I have started to pick up stuff again. Call it the I-Have-A-New-Apartment With More Space Syndrome. But I know I’m not alone in being a middle-of-the-road collector and I’m not ashamed.

Some of us, rare breeds, tend toward the minimalist; some tip into a disorder of hoarding. Most of us live in the middle range. How marvelous it is to simply accept that, and celebrate it. — Dominique Browning

Which brings me to Morocco (and I promise this will be the last post I write on that trip)! There was no way I wasn’t bringing stuff home. The country’s overall “look”—the colorful, patterned poufs and carpets, the copper lanterns, the beaded necklaces—is my style on crack. Back home, I get it all from Anthropologie. Now I could go straight to the source—and for a fraction of the price. In fact, bargaining was part of the experience itself.

“Don’t, under any circumstance,” we were told, “pay more than half of what they’re asking.” If, say, they ask for 600dh (about $60), offer 200dh with the hopes of settling on 250dh or 300dh. After a lot of haggling and several moments of just walking away, you will get what you want. It worked time after time. (Just ask my cousin Jessica who finally had me do her bargaining after she kept getting sucked in and I kept getting two things for the same price a guy originally gave me for one.)

I have to admit, there were times it felt a bit wrong to pay so little for items made by hand (or foot, in the case of many of the wood work). Especially since after a few turns in the souk, you’d likely catch the artisans themselves hammering or sewing away. But while some may say, “There is no real price—you make it,” after a bit of haggling, it was clear some merchants just wouldn’t go lower on certain items. They knew what an item was worth there in Morocco, and that’s when you ask yourself: “How badly do I want this? How much would I pay for it at home?” Then you realize you’re still getting a good deal and probably hand over your cash.

That said, it was hard not to buy gifts for every single family member, best friend and their babies, along with one more handbag for myself because THERE WERE SO MANY, but I had to stop somewhere. And this trip, somewhere was at a carpet. While I did want one for beside my bed, buying a carpet is an ORDEAL. It takes time. It takes patience. It takes a semi-normal decision-maker. Plus, while it would’ve been cheaper than what I’d get at home, it was still going to be expensive. I’m talking hundreds of dollars here, not $30 or $50, which is the most I paid for any one thing.

As you’ll see from the photos below, most of the items I bought have a ‘purpose’ and seem to blend right in!

Click photos to enlarge.

Of course, two of the items required some additional shopping back here in Paris: Both the pouf and the pillowcase came unstuffed for ease of travel. In true discovery-begets-discovery form, in my search for filling I realized I live a hop and a skip near the place to be crafty in Paris—aka, Paris’ Garment District. Turns out, the Marché Saint-Pierre and Reine department stores, along with a handful of other stores for tissu (fabric) are dotted at the foot of Sacré Coeur. Should you want to make yourself, say, a Halloween costume or sew that button back onto the shirt that’s been sitting unworn for weeks, this would be where to go. And to bring that pouf and pillowcase to life, bien sur. (Thanks Adeline, for the rec!)

Now I look around my petit Paris studio and smile at all these new additions. When I light the sweet musky candle from the Royal Mansour, I can close my eyes and be transported back to the hotel’s insanely gorgeous blue-tiled restaurant where we ate a decadent Moroccan meal from a Michelin-starred chef. And when I put my wallet and phone and lipgloss into one of my new clutches, I am reminded of the men hammering the grommets into its tan leather and being shown how if you add oil, it changes the color. When I wear one of my two new necklaces, full of color and personality, I feel like myself: a wander woman of the world who knows that, in fact, you really can take it with you. Better yet, you can even do so without having to pay for an overweight or extra bag! (I know you all were wondering.)


A sampling of souvenirs


Whaddaya think?