Judy Guilliams-Tapia has shape-shifted among various versions of herself throughout her adult life: graduate student living and occasionally studying in Nice, France; wordsmithing career federal bureaucrat; frazzled feminist Mom of two kids and assorted other creatures; anxiety-prone perfectionist introvert; three-time cancer survivor; Buddhist impostor; and long-time partner of an extroverted Chilean.
She lives in a suburb of Washington DC, USA, and most recently, in her sixties, has shape-shifted into a writer, mainly of essays. Her writing explores what it means to be a multi-faceted human in our dysfunctional world and has previously appeared in The Metaworker. You can find her on Instagram at @judywrites-essays.
I am plodding along on leaden feet in ninety-five-degree (thirty-five degree in celsius) heat, trying to figure out the crisscross pattern of Paris streets around me so I can find the bookstore Shakespeare and Company, well-known as a former haunt of Ernest Hemingway in the 1920s. It is June 2017 and I have been exploring various corners of the Latin Quarter on foot all day.
I started the day contemplating life in the Middle Ages, as depicted in stained glass windows and tapestries at the dark and melancholy Musée de Cluny, and then walked southeast to the Jardin des Plantes. Once there, I strolled through steamy greenhouses full of exotic plants and under sunlit arches adorned with red, yellow, pale pink, coral, and purple rose blossoms. I then made my way back north uphill along the narrow and ancient Rue Mouffetard, lined with inexpensive little shops, bars, and pizza joints that cater to students of la Sorbonne. I am now somewhere near the university and am trying to get my bearings. My guidebook is no help, since it only shows the main streets and not the one I’m on, and my Wi-Fi access in the city is sporadic. And to be honest, I’ve always been directionally challenged, prone to getting lost. No matter. I have a week to myself in Paris and am determined to soak in as much of the city as I can, following the detailed itinerary I’ve put together. I ask a pedestrian for directions in my rusty French, realize that I’ve been walking the wrong way, and try again.