Oil lamps left an eerie yellowish glow on the false fronts of each building, a glow that was at once comforting and strangely foreign, as we dashed from doorway to doorway, arc of light to arc of light, along the uneven cobblestone street in the old part of town. We knew, of course, that they were there just for show, that each of the buildings we passed had all the modern conveniences hidden away beyond the parts the public could see, but somehow in the sudden storm, they made the shadows appear to live, giving chase to us as we searched for the cafe that had been so highly recommended.

“What’s the address, again?” my husband asked, impatient with me for not being able to keep up, though he tried to hide it, as he always did.

“Four-twelve,” I said. We looked up at the doorway where we’d paused. The numbers were blurry, but we could tell we were in the three hundred block. “Almost there,” I added, although it was obvious.

Another few buildings, a dash across a rain-slick brick street, and we were opening the door into warmth and light, wood smoke, and the scent of something amazing.

The chimes on the door brought an old woman bustling from the back. She was wearing one of those skirts that could have just as easily been from last year or a hundred years ago, and a crisp white blouse, with a red shawl tied around her waist. Her hair was glossy black; her eyes a rich brown – she looked, in fact, very like my great-aunt, except that Aunt Maria would never have been caught dead in lipstick that shade of orange.

“You are Mireille’s friends?” It was technically a question, but there was no doubt in her tone. We nodded, as she continued, “Welcome, welcome, the cassoulet is ready, and the wine just needs to breathe.”

We joined her other patrons around a single, round, butcher-block table, and ate while we watched the rain continue to fall beyond the plate-glass window, and the green-painted door.

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