He had even learned a little French. Of course it wouldn’t help us find our way back to the hotel, since it was an Anakin Skywalker line from Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith: “Vous sous-estimez ma puissance.”
When India returned to our room, she brandished a doll in each hand, holding them aloft in a proud I-told-you-so silence as if they were a pair of trophy salmon she’d caught in a river reputed to have no fish.
At dusk, Kate slipped off for a fashion show, and I took the kids down to the Seine for a picnic, stopping for some ham, baguettes, apples, and chocolate at a tiny grocery store. The kids were thrilled to tour a supermarket that looked like it was made for the Calico Critters. The proprietor gave them some caramels. We crossed the Quai Voltaire and set up on a bench down by the river. “Batter moosh!” India cried (her new favorite phrase). The floodlights of the bateau-mouche flung our shadows against the stone embankment. Oliver ventured down a set of stairs that tapered into the black water and tried to heft a giant mooring ring. He let the tendrils of an old willow tree caress his face, looking, for a moment, like someone entangled in a fortune-teller’s beaded door.
We rode through the heart of Paris on a bateau-mouche the next night, and the night after that we went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, from which la Ville Lumière was spread out like a bed of coals and the Seine rolled below like an avenue of black velvet. In the Carrousel du Louvre, India found the perfect pink Hello Kitty handbag. She wore it on her shoulder like a femme fatale; unlike a femme fatale, she clutched it in her hands all night as she slept. We spent a morning at Versailles, where Oliver let a French sheep lick his hand. In the cathedral of Notre-Dame, we lit a candle for Kate’s mother, Glynne, who had died in June and whose absence was still uncoiling in all of us, especially her two grandchildren.
And maybe that’s why I wanted to drag my kids down to the Pont des Arts, intent on showing them where their lives began. The beauty of the place was part of what created them, and yet here it was guttering on a wick, as if it were part and parcel of mortality itself. It was a windy afternoon, a slight chill in the air, evening coming on. I tried to take pictures but India kept holding her new purse in front of her face, and Ollie was experimenting with French gang signs. They were in no mood for Dad’s tiresome sentimentality. I watched them gambol about the bridge like colts and thought of the city they would see one day when they came back to light candles on their own.
Chip Brown is a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine.