I missed the shot. It’s been seven years since we went to Paris, but the image is still seared into my brain.
There we were, standing on the famed Boulevard Saint-Germain. The day was winding down and the street was just beginning to bustle with the energy of commuters weaving through the streets to make their way home. Friends clustered on sidewalk cafes, scarves artfully wrapped, lips primed and puckered for the double air-kiss greeting, and cheek bones accentuated by the long, deep drags of their cigarettes.
As we prepared to brave the busy intersection en route to Café de Flore, I saw her. She had a Vidal Sassoon-style bob. Smooth, glossy, perfectly coiffed despite her hurried pace and the slight breeze gently blowing through her hair. She wore a crisp navy blazer, perfectly tailored, with a striped boatneck tee peeking out from underneath. Skinny dark jeans, shiny black flats and a simple red scarf tied elegantly around her neck perfected the look. A cognac leather backpack adorned one shoulder, brass buckles gleaming in the sunlight and the flap shifted over to make room for a single, slender baguette sticking out of the top.
I hastily reached for my camera and fumbled over purse straps and lens caps. I quickened my pace to catch up to my muse. But as soon as the light changed to green, she was off. She walked briskly, confidently toward a balmy tree-lined side street, and by the time the viewfinder made contact with my eye, she was gone.
What was it about that image that I needed to capture? That I simply can’t forget all these years later? Sure she was attractive, but far from gorgeous. There was an undeniable elegance and effortlessness to her style. But that wasn’t even it…
It was the baguette. Totally jarring, unexpected. A big, fat middle finger pointing directly at our grab ‘n’ go, convenience-driven culture. In contrast to the sad loaf of hard but healthy sprouted grain Ezekiel bread in my fridge, this was a delectable surprise that offered a glimpse into Parisian life. Was this her routine? A post-work ritual, stopping in a favorite boulangerie to pick up her daily bread? Or was she planning a romantic picnic at the Luxembourg Gardens, racing to meet her lover with a wedge of Camembert and bottle of Beaujolais tucked away at the bottom of her knapsack? Or perhaps she was trying a new bouillabaisse recipe and hence needed a thirsty baguette to soak up all the flavors of the sea?
I have no idea. But the image gave me permission to dream. About her life. And mine. To contemplate what I wanted to take from this magical place, to savor and eventually bring home.
I missed the shot…well my camera did. But the image is still with me, along with countless others that shaped a tapestry of life as it should be lived.
The French call it “joie de vivre.” It’s not just about the beauty, but the ethos of the people and the place. The art of living: dressing without self-consciousness, eating without guilt, making time to laugh with friends in cafés, singing on street corners, or simply sitting in quiet contemplation.
Seven years later, I am reminded. We don't have to be in Paris to live like this...