We probably should have started with one of those outings that have introduced so many generations to the city: a bateau-mouche ride on the Seine, perhaps, or a visit to the Eiffel Tower. Even a jet-lagged promenade around the Tuileries Gardens, eating French ice cream and listening to Edith Piaf on iPods, might have gotten the kids—Oliver, nine, and India, almost four—off on the right foot.
I didn’t want my kids just to like Paris; I wanted them to fall in love with the city where my wife, Kate, and I had gotten engaged on the Pont des Arts 13 years before—and where, in a sense, the idea of their existence had been conceived. I wanted them to glimpse the spiritual glory of civilization in the city’s gold-gray façades and mansard roofs, in the chestnut-lined avenues, the intimate streets, the parks and gardens, the high-strung dogs, the femmes fatales. In that prayerful way of parents, I was hoping that years from now, Oliver and India would trace some essential part of themselves to the cultural and aesthetic awakening they had that first night with mom and dad in la Ville Lumière.
Did I mention my kids were nine and almost four?
Kate, who used to live in Paris and now visits several times a year for French fashion shows, had booked a room in a Left Bank hotel. After we unpacked, the kids sacked out for naps on the foldout couch. In the evening, we all headed for a soirée in honor of Suzy Menkes, the fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune. Suzy had told Kate it was fine to bring kids; her grandkids would be there and other children, too.
When we arrived at the Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris, Kate wisely asked the cab to wait. I didn’t see a lot of people accessorized with children. As if we weren’t conspicuous enough, India began to bellow “pamplemousse” like Richard III calling for a horse. “Pamper moose! Pamper moose!” she cried, loudly enough to be heard over the techno pumping from speakers twice her size. She must have simply been enamored of the word because when I came back from the bar with a glass of “pamper moose,” she took a lusty swig and coughed it right back up, crestfallen that something so much fun to say could actually be grapefruit juice—and worse, fresh grapefruit juice full of yucky pulp. A waiter glided by with what appeared to be a plate of golden Oreos infused with chocolate swirls. The chocolate was actually dried olive paste. After a bite, India coughed her second taste of French cuisine into her pamper moose and thrust it at me with a please-revoke-my-visa-now expression. This is not the Paris I know, nor do I care to!
Meanwhile, over by the wall, Oliver was locked in a pantomime light-saber battle and looked about to lay waste to a display of purple flowers. I suggested he might divert himself with one of the computers in the lobby displaying a selection of Menkes’s work. He agreed, not because he was keen to know more about the use of mesh and perforation in the latest Miu Miu show, but because he was chafing to continue his Wikipedia research into a monster named Rancor from Star Wars: Episode VI.
India had marched over to where Kate was having a conversation with the fashion designer Donatella Versace.
“This is my daughter, India,” Kate said. Donatella held out her hand and crouched down to greet India eye to eye. India screamed and jumped back.
When I spotted event marshals pulling Oliver off the computer, it was obvious our company had delighted everyone for long enough. I flashed Kate the “evacuate now” signal, and we tacked through a crowd on the front steps where photographers were mobbing Carine Roitfeld, the kohl-eyed Parisian landmark who until recently served as editor-in-chief of French Vogue. She was wearing a sheath dress topped by a beveled white collar that looked like one of those prophylactic neck cones that keep French dogs from biting Americans.