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.
Finally, it appears before me—a small shop with a green awning facing the Seine, a tree and bins full of books outside, an old wooden door at the entrance. I make my way inside and examine their collection of English-language poetry, classic novels, and history books, lined up on the shelves and stacked high in cluttered rooms. I’m having trouble conjuring up the ghost of Hemingway though. A white and ginger-colored calico cat sitting by a window and lazily licking itself adds a touch of charm. I’m not the only one who thinks so. A group of young tourists are oohing and aahing over the cat and trying to take its picture. The shop is full of people who appear to be from all over the globe. I suddenly realize how tired I am and look for a place to sit down, but there are none. I head out in search of a place where I can relax and have a decent dinner.