In Paris with a Broken Camera

Image: Alexander Andrews

 

by Cristina Montes

Exactly five years ago, at this time of the year, I was counting off days before a trip to Paris with my brother. They say part of the fun of traveling is planning the trip, and this trip was no exception.

As I looked forward to the trip, I foresaw that during the trip, I would take a lot of pictures, share them generously on Facebook, garner a lot of “likes”, and spend a lot of time replying to the comments of my friends sharing in my joy at having finally visited Paris.

But my camera clicked its last in Sainte Chapelle while I was trying to photograph the colourful, intricate stained glass art. What a trick of fate it was, for my camera to have gotten broken just when I was in my dream destination!

Later on, I realized that that was the best thing that happened during the trip.

Back then, I had just discovered Facebook and the novelty of that social media site had not yet worn thin on me. It was a convenient way to keep in touch with my family and friends back home — I was studying in Spain then — as well as a handy place to keep a record of memorable times. However, I was not totally immune from the negative effects of frequent Facebook use on our lives, such as letting our lives be governed by the perceived need to publicly document them.

Indeed, while Facebook is a useful tool for documenting our memories, it can dominate us to the point of conditioning our decisions according to how they would look like when posted on Facebook. But that’s not the kind of life I would want to live. I want to savor moments, not obsess about whether I am documenting them enough.

Being in Paris with a broken camera taught me this.

The experience turned out to be liberating. I was not worried about whether I was taking enough pictures or whether I should take one or not or whether the last one I took was good enough, because I could not take pictures anyway. I therefore felt free to soak in the scenic River Seine, the transcendental beauty of Notre Dame du Paris, the chillingly cruel atmosphere of the Conciergerie, the lively chain of restaurants and cafes lining the streets, the paintings at Musee D’Orsay, the fireworks surrounding the Eiffel Tower and the accompanying wild music for Bastille Day celebration, the extravagance of the Palace of Versailles, the dizzying array of books in Shakespeare & Co., the house of Victor Hugo who wrote Les Miserables which I love…

I enjoyed seeing things I’ve read about history, philosophy, literature, and the humanities come to life. I enjoyed recognizing , for example, names of streets that have been mentioned in the lyrics of some songs in Les Mis, or the names of towns we passed on the way from the Beauvais airport that figured in some books I’ve read about St. Joan of Arc, or how the paintings of flowers in Musee D’Orsay resemble the actual flowers in fields we’ve passed by. I enjoyed observing things, thinking thoughts about the things I’ve seen and heard — like how many of the names of the Paris metro stations are names of saints.

Most of all, I enjoyed my brother’s company, more so because since I had no camera and he had one, we were forced to share it. It was fun looking at the pictures together with him instead of each one of us looking at our own pictures separately. To this day, I enjoy looking at the pictures he posted on his wall, admiring his photographic skills and reading the captions he has made that I would not have thought of by myself.

I have not completely forsworn Facebook and digital photography since that wonderful trip to Paris with a broken camera. But the lesson on prioritizing life over documenting it and showing it off has not been forgotten. While I still like taking pictures and sharing them on social media, sometimes there is not enough time to both savor a moment and document it, and a choice has to be made. And that’s not a problem. C’est la vie.

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