Even observed from the front door of Chez Georges in Paris, looking through the long narrow dining room with low amber lighting, the square-shouldered, lantern-jawed woman sitting alone on a banquette at a corner table had a self-possessed public posture that was familiar to me.

She could have been one of my aunts, gracious but firm, warm but wary, hospitable but assessing, and supremely sure of her place in the world. She would probably be a little aloof, too, because, as my Bostonian grandmother advised her daughters, “when you’re not sure about someone, be civil but strange.”